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Published: December 21st 2009
Today was the day we all finally parted ways. The others were all bound for the airport while I was due to leave for another hostel before setting off for Swaziland tomorrow. We had a last breakfast together and then I headed for the internet while the others went to finish packing. I got some bad news while I was in reception, not only were they unable to run the day trip of Pretoria I wanted to do but there was a problem with the three day trip into Swaziland as well. I went back to our room with the assurance they would sort something out in a couple of hours and arrived back in my own building to find there was no water and the others were complaining about not being able to get showers before leaving. We packed up our room and walked along the street to the main building, buzzed ourselves through the gate, dumped our bags in the storage cupboard and gathered in the dining room. I returned to reception to find out about my trips and was told I could take the new tour bus around town if I wanted to see Pretoria, and the best
they could offer with regards to Swaziland was to stay an extra night at the hostel and if they could arrange a driver I could go to Swaziland a day later and they'd drop me off at the airport on my way back. I took the map for the tour bus and having said the last of my goodbyes to the remaining members of our group marched off in the direction of the Pretoria Art Museum which was apparently the closest place to catch the tour bus. The walk was longer than I expected. My flipflops slapped along the hot pavement and lizards darted away from my passing into the shade of nearby shrubs. I finally saw what looked like an art gallery and began the life threatening process of trying to cross the busy roads, having already learnt that in this country, the green man doesn't necessarily mean it's safe to walk. I got to the art gallery and scanned about for a bus stop but not noticing anything obvious went into the gallery to ask. I was directed to the green bus stop in the car park and doubtfully sat down to wait on the empty green frame
completely devoid of a timetable, route map, or even a sign declaring it to be a bus stop. A large group of school children in vibrant green uniforms came out of the gallery. A large proportion of them seemed to have bought toy guns as a souvenir, and I was a little taken aback as the teachers herded them onto the waiting coaches and several children pretended to shoot me through the windows! After waiting 10 minutes past the time the bus was due to arrive I hurried back into the art gallery to double check I was in the right place. The man assured me I was waiting in the proper place and called the bus company to confirm the tour was running. I returned to my spot, thoroughly bored with my view of the car park and the roads running around it and after another quarter of an hour went back to the gallery to see if they could call the bus company. I was told I could try a taxi but warned it would be very expensive. Resigned to the fact I might have to pick one place to visit and just pay the taxi fair I
walked to the road where several taxis were parked. I walked up and down the road but every single taxi was lacking a driver. Eventually I gave up and marched along the hot streets back to my hostel. I arrived back at the hostel fuming and walked into reception to find out what was going on. The woman at reception was hugely apologetic and sympathetic, but ultimately not a lot of help. She phoned the company who could tell me that the bus was running and the next one was due to arrive in less than 20 minutes outside the art gallery, but none of the buses were in contact with the head office so they couldn't tell me where exactly the bus was now. Determined to catch the bus and have my day of sightseeing after all these delays I hurried back along the streets to the art gallery and arrived back at the car park, hot and breathless and more than a little fed up at the way the day was turning out. I asked a group of women sitting in the sun of they knew anything about the tour bus but they just shrugged and pointed back
at the green bus stop. I decided to wait by the edge of the road where I had a clear view of the traffic coming from each direction and decided I'd wait until I saw the bus and then flag it down. A group of workmen were putting in a automatic barrier across the entrance of the car park and one approached me and told me he'd seen me waiting earlier and asked where I was trying to get to. I showed him my map and explained what I was trying to do at which point he told me the bus had come while I was at the bus stop the first time and driven straight past me! He told me to stay on the road where I could be seen and I noticed him looking up from his work every now and then to scan the traffic streaming along the roads. When the bus finally appeared he yelled over at me and waved and pointed at me as the bus drew close. He ran up and had a lengthy conversation with the driver obviously arguing on my behalf while the driver shook his head and looked at me sympathetically
saying 'aw, shame, shame'. I was ushered onto the bus by my new friend and as I thanked him for his help the driver pointed me to a seat waving aside my query about paying for the ticket and we set off. On the bus was a family of father, son and daughter the mother evidently working for the day giving a speech in front of some important gathering or other. Our first stop was the Voortrekker monument. As the bus finally drove away from the annoyingly familiar streets I'd been walking most of the morning I relaxed a little, and was impressed when I caught my first glimpse of the impressive monument seated on a high hill.
We paid for our tickets, I asked for a student discount only to be told it only applied to South African students. My driver apologetically explained he couldn't do anything about it and complained that they were just out to make money. I assured him it was ok and paid for the adult ticket and we drove through the gates before being deposited at the foot of a large flight of steps leading both to the the cafe and toilets and the
monument itself at the top. I headed straight for the cafe and 10 minutes later sitting in the sunshine with a toasted sandwich and chips and the all important cup of tea I felt much better.
After lunch I climbed the steps to the monument. The Voortrekker Monument was built in honour of the Voortrekkers (Pioneers), who left the Cape Colony in their thousands between 1835 and 1854. The architect,Gerard Moerdijk, said he wanted to design a "monument that would stand a thousand years to describe the history and the meaning of the Great Trek to its descendants." The corner stone of the monument was laid by three of the direct descendants of the Voortrekker leaders, Piet Retief, Andries Pretorius, and Hendrik Potgieter on 16th December 1938. The monument is built in Art Deco style and was built from 1937-1949 when it was finally inaugaurated by the then Prime Minister Dr D F Malan.
As I ascended the main steps the first thing I saw was the scultpure by Anton van Wouw of a Voortrekker woman and her children. The Voortreeker woman was placed at the foot of the monument because 'without her contribution, perseverance and sacrifice, the Great Trek
would not have resulted in the permenant settlement of the interior.'
The Great Trek is the name given to the migration of thousands of Dutch-speaking colonists, the Boers, into the interior of South Africa in an attempt to escape British rule. During the 19th century the Cape was occupied by both Dutch and British colonists. In 1820 around 5000 middle class British immigrants were persuaded to leave England behind and settle on the tracts of land between the Boers and the Xhosa tribes in an attempt to create a buffer between the feuding groups. The move was unsuccessful and within three years most of the new immigrants had retreated to towns such as Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth. The increase in British immigrants did nothing to solve the disputes between the Boers and Xhosa but did drastically alter the make-up of the country and created two distinct groups with seperate languages and cultures in addition to the various black tribes. The educated middle class British immigrants began to dominate politics, trade, finance and the largely uneducated Boers were pushed from the towns to their farms. The gap between the British settlers and the Boers increased with the abolition of slavery in
According to their Calvinist beliefs the Boers were God's chosen people and they believed in the segregation of the races which the British proclamation of equality of the races threatened. Increasingly dissatisfied with British rule in the Cape Colony many of the Boers hoped to find new land to settle in the interior of the country and began a mass migration away from the colonies into the uncharted territory to the north.
The trekkers, dressed in traditional dopper coats (short coats buttoned from top to bottom), kappies (bonnets) and hand-made riempieskoene (leather thong shoes), set out in wagons which they called kakebeenwoens (literally, jawbone wagons, because the shape and sides of a typical trek wagon resembled the jawbone of an animal). The wagons themselves were of an ingenious design and surprisingly light, so as not to strain the oxen, and to make it easier to negotiate the veld, narrow ravines and steep precipices which lay ahead.
The monument is a testiment to the Boers courage and pioneering spirit and in particular marks the Battle of Blood River on 16th December 1838, when 470 Boers, led by Andries Pretorius defeated 12,000 Zulus. The Boers were a people's army in the
true sense of the word, with the whole family being drawn into military defence and attack. The loading of the sanna (the name they gave to the muzzle-loading rifles they used) was a complicated procedure and so the Boers used more than one gun at a time - while aiming and firing at the enemy with one, their wives and children would be loading another.
Dominating the interior of the monument is an impressive bass-relief depicting scenes from the Great Trek. After circling the interior I ascended the stairs to the roof which gives impressive views of Pretoria and the surrounding landscape. Afterwards I walked down to the lower floor museum which includes some interesting exhibits such as children's toys made from oxen bones and the 1938 Torch Flame, the symbol of the light of civilisation carried by the Voortrekker movement. A large oil painting from the 1960s dominates one wall. The painting is the work of artist W. H. Coetzer who became known for his depictions of the Great Trek.
I walked through further museum rooms and then realising the time hurried back up and relaxed in the gardens at the front of the monument and waited for the
coach to return. The driver returned for us, surprisingly more-or-less at the time he had promised, and we moved on to the next stop; Freedom Park, a heritage site dedicated to the history of all the people's of South Africa. Due to the time constraints and the lack of buses on the tourist route none of us opted to visit the park properly. We were given a short time to take photos from the hill and then we drove on. We stopped briefly at Pretoria Station, a beautiful 1910 building designed by Sir Herbet Baker and then stopped near to the City Hall and Transvaal Museum, again merely to take a few photos. I was given a little longer at Church Square and was able to actually walk across the road and enjoy the different archictecture surrounding the main square which was full of people meeting friends and relaxing in the sunshine. Church Square derives its name from the marketplace meetings of farmers with their ox-wagons who gathered at the time of 'Nagmaal' or the Holy Communion.
Back on the coach I got another brief stop at the Unio Buildings, the administrative headquarters of the South African government. The Union
Buildings, also designed by Herbert baker, were modelled on the Villa d'Este in Tivoli, Italy. The cornerstone was laid in 1901 and the buildings were completed in 1913. It is here that Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as president of the Government of National Unity in April 1994.
The tour finished the coach left me back at the Art Museum. When told the price I casually asked the driver, who had so ardently protested my right to a student discount at the Voortrekker Monument, if there was a student price for the day tour as well! He laughed... and charged me full price.
I walked back to the hostel and wearily asked about my trip and room. I have been given a nice double room in the main building and while it doesn't have an en suite, which at this point would feel like the height of luxury, it does have a bathroom right next door and apparently not more than two other rooms sharing it which doesn't seem so bad. I have yet to have any good news regarding my trip to Swaziland although none of the staff seem overly concerned. I'm glad I've been able to see some of
Pretoria, and my driver/tour guide was really nice, it's just unfortunate the tour bus is still in the teething stage and obviously not very well organised at present. The day could have been a lot more enjoyable, but for now I'm just going to look on the bright side and enjoy having my own private room and indoor bathroom. :D
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