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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

12/1: Kruger to Pretoria's Voortrekker Monument

As we had a long day ahead of us driving first to Pretoria and then on to Johannesburg (Joburg for short) to see a major tourist sight there before flying out in the evening to Cape Town, we got a very early start leaving our hut in Kruger's Skukuzu Rest Camp.
It was certainly with mixed emotions that we left Kruger National Park as we had spent five fantastic days discovering a good swath of the park and so much of its amazing wildlife. The experiences we had were ones I am sure we will never forget.

It was just before 7 when we drove through Paul Kruger Gate, the closest entrance to Skukuza and the quickest way to get in and out of the park from Kruger's 'capital'. 
At the western exit, we were confronted by the large, somewhat controversial bust of Kruger by sculptor Coert Steynberg. 'The former president of the Transvaal Republic was a fervent Afrikaner nationalist and also a racist. But he was also an anti-colonialist who had environmental foresight and a love for the bush.' I read that the attempts to have the bust removed in the interests of political correctness have failed.

As we had a good six plus hour drive ahead of us just to Pretoria, I didn't think we had time to stop and look more closely, and price, these pretty hangings or sheets blowing in the wind. They sure looked stunning from a distance as we sped by, though.

At one point of the drive, there were banana plantations as far as the eye could see.

We also drove past beautiful farmland for vast distances and many areas with grape vines which wasn't surprising as South Africa is world famous for its wines.

Unfortunately, we only had time to drive through the Pretoria central area en route to the city's Voortrekker Monument and Museum. The city, located 30 miles north of Joburg, is South Africa's administrative capital and was named after Afrikaner leader Andries Pretorius, who, with his fellow Voortrekkers, left the Cape Colony to escape British rule.
I had really wanted to stop for a bit at Lillian Ngoyi Square in the heart of Pretoria but time made that impossible. During the country's apartheid times, the square was dominated by a huge bust of a former pro-apartheid leader. However, exactly 40 years to the day after the government had declared South Africa a republic, the supporting structure fell and the bust was destroyed on May 31st, 2001. The public square was then renamed in honor of Lillian Ngoyi, a prominent anti-apartheid activist.
Parts of the downtown reminded us of many buildings in the Bourbon area of New Orleans.

We would also have liked to have had time to spend at Freedom Park, which was dedicated in 2013 to the struggle for freedom and humanity, as well as other aspects of South African heritage.
Our initial view of the Voortrekker Monument and Museum, the reason why we had come to Pretoria. The famous landmark is widely regarded as a symbol of Afrikaner nationalism and independence. Afrikaners are a Southern African ethnic group descended from predominantly Dutch and Huguenot settlers who first arrived in South Africa during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They traditionally dominated South Africa's agriculture and politics prior to 1994.
Even though I studied Latin for five long years many decades ago, it wasn't until I looked up online and saw that the huge Quo Vadis sign at the monument's entrance meant 'Where are you going?'
The biggest monument in Africa, completed in 1949, honored the Voortrekkers who journeyed into South Africa's hinterland between 1835 and 1854 in search of independence and freedom. Their trek came to be known as the Great Trek.
The monument was surrounded by a circle of 64 wagons protecting it symbolically.

At the foot of the Monument was a bronze sculpture of a Voortrekker woman and her two children, which paid homage to the strength and courage of the Voortrekker women. 

The main entrance of the building led into the domed Hall of Heroes. This massive space, flanked by four huge arched windows made from yellow Belgian glass, contained the biggest marble frieze in the world.
The frieze consisted of 27 bas-relief panels depicting the history of the Great Trek, but also included references to the everyday life, work methods and religious beliefs of the Voortrekkers. The set of panels illustrated key historical scenes in their momentous Great Trek beginning with their leaving the Cape Colony in 1835.

The Folk Art - creative decorating of objects, books and structures by a group of people of a nation - and decorations of the pioneers were influenced by their European background as well as by their contact with the South African indigenous peoples. 

Almost as impressive as the marble friezes were the 15 fabulous, Voortrekker Tapestries that traced the historical high points of the Voortrekkers' migration.

The final tapestry illustrated the Battle of Blood River when a small force of Boers defeated a large Zulu army without losing a single life.
In the center of the floor of the Hall of Heroes was a large circular opening through which we could view the Cenotaph, the central focus of the monument, and situated in the center of the Cenotaph Hall. I wasn't clear before that the word cenotaph means 'empty grave' while a grave containing human remains is known as a sarcophagus. 

During the planning of the Monument in 1938, there was talk of placing the remains of certain Voortrekkers in the mausoleum but that never materialized. The cenotaph became the symbolic resting place of the Voortrekker leaders to remind their descendants and the world the ultimate sacrifice the migrants had made for their freedom.
Through an opening from the dome at the top of the building, a ray of sunlight shines at noon on December 16th annually, falling onto the center of the Cenotaph, striking the words 'Ons vir Jou, Suid-Afrika' (Afrikaans for 'We for Thee, South Africa'). 
The ray of light is said to symbolize God's blessing on the lives and endeavors of the Voortrekkers. December 16th, 1838 was the date of the Battle of Blood River, commemorated in South Africa before 1994 as the Day of the Vow.
As a result of the Great Trek, the largest part of northeastern South Africa was subsequently divided into two British colonies and two later Boer republics that were united into one state in 1910. Though the Great Trek is seen as an Afrikaners-peoples movement, in reality, only one tenth of the Cape Afrikaners -12,000 to 14,000 people - and many black and colored employees participated in the migration. The word 'great' in the Great Trek was not an indication, therefore, of the large numbers of people who migrated but of the importance of the event. The pioneers or trekkers called themselves 'emigranten' and their migration an 'emigratie'; the names 'Great Trek' and 'Voortrekkers' were only used after the 1870s. 

The canon mounted on the back of this wagon was used during the Battle of Blood River.
Spending time at the Voortrekker Monument and Museum helped us to gain a much better perspective on how modern South Africa came about. It reminded me of so many early Americans who also made their own 'Great Trek' west across America in similarly tough conditions and inhospitable terrain.

From the Monument, we drove south to Joburg to visit Constitution Hill before our flight on to Cape Town. Our visit to Constitution Hill is the subject of my next post.

Posted on January 25th, 2017 from Littleton, Colorado.

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