I have a confession to make: We’ve lived in South Africa for almost two years, and until last week I had never set foot in Pretoria, its administrative capital, even though it is only 40 minutes from where we live. But two things conspired to make us finally explore it – a visitor from Germany interested in new sights, and the fact that the Jacarandas are beginning to bloom. It was a very educational trip, so much so that I feel like my head is going to explode if I don’t write it all down.
The first bit of learning occurred before we had even left the garage. I wanted to read up on the history and locales before we got there, and searched our travel guide’s index for Pretoria – in vain. It was not to be found. I finally stumbled across it under “Tshwane,” to which Pretoria apparently had been rechristened in 2002. Really? I had no idea! It’s still known and talked about as Pretoria by everybody I’ve ever come across, and incidentally our NAVI also knows it as Pretoria. So that’s what I will keep calling it for the purpose of this post.
We – Zax, Noisette, my sister-in-law, and myself – started our day at Church Square. It’s a beautiful spot, for the very reason that one doesn’t find that type of square here in Joburg (I now imagine loud protests from the people who have ventured into Joburg more than I have). Pretoria strikes you more like a European city, with older buildings, wide tree-lined avenues, monuments galore. In fact, I pointed out the trash-littered sidewalks to Zax and remarked “just like Paris,” at which he was aghast and insisted that Paris (which he has never been to), being a “proper” European city surely must be absolutely clean and orderly. Ha!
|The Jacaranda City|
|It’s hard to do Pretoria’s spectacular jacarandas justice in pictures; they are much more impressive in real life, but coming about a week later and capturing the early morning or late afternoon late would have yielded better pictures than these|
With my new friend Photoshop (and thanks to some awesome tutorials on a friend’s blog, I was able to improve it a bit. When I have time, I’ll figure out how to remove the lamp post!
Around Church Square you will find the Ou Raadsaal, the Palace of Justice (where I thought the Rivonia Trial took place*, an event I’ll get to in my post about Lilieslief Farm), the Main Post Office, and in the middle a giant monument of Paul Kruger, if you can see it amongst all the pigeons.
|Paul Kruger’s statue on Church Square with Ou Raadsaal in the background to the right|
Europeans first settled in South Africa in 1652 at the Cape of Good Hope, establishing an outpost of the Dutch East India Company under Jan van Riebeeck. This colony subsequently changed hands several times between the Dutch and the British, and after the abolition of slavery in 1834 a number of discontented Afrikaner farmers or Boers set out in what is called the Great Trek, angered by the British declaration of race equality, and searching for new land to settle in the interior.
These so-called Voortrekkers initially believed to have found the promised land of abundant pastures for their cattle, but this land had only been abandoned due to a destructive war, also called mfecane, between the aggressively expanding Zulu kingdom led by the legendary king Shaka, and other black tribes. New conflicts arose, one of which was the infamous Battle of Blood River in Natal (today’s Kwa-Zulu Natal), where the Voortrekkers defeated a Zulu army far superior in numbers.
While Natal was soon annexed by the British, the other two Boer republics of Orange Free State and Transvaal (literally “across the Vaal” meaning to the North of the Vaal River, also called Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek or ZAR) remained in Afrikaner hands, with the latter becoming more or less independent in 1884 under the leadership of Paul Kruger, who is revered as the father of South Africa.
The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand shortly thereafter reignited the simmering conflict between British and Afrikaner rule, eventually leading to the Anglo-Boer war in 1899. Kruger fled to Europe, guerilla tactics were adopted by the Boer general Jan Smuts, the British retaliated with a scorched-earth policy and the use of concentration camps in which many civilians died, and by 1902 the Boers were defeated and the peace of Vereeniging was signed. It led to the incorporation of the Cape Colony, Natal, the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal into the Union of South Africa in 1909, which remained a British territory but gave home-rule to the Afrikaners. Under this Union and the leadership of Jan Smuts, South Africans fought alongside the British in both World Wars, although some Afrikaner nationalist elements sympathized with the Nazis, and it is in part from these elements that the National Party eventually rose to establish the system of apartheid.
|Kruger House Museum in Pretoria|
|Old light switch in Kruger House, one of the first buildings with electricity in Pretoria|
|Paul Kruger’s presidential railway car in which he left Pretoria to go into exile|
|Cafe Riche on Church Square|
Our next stop, after we felt sufficiently refreshed, was the hill with the Union Buildings. Those were built in when the South African Union came into existence and the two lovely towers are meant to symbolize the two cultures or rather languages this union was built upon (the existence of the black tribes and multitude of languages was conveniently left out at that time). It is here where Nelson Mandela was sworn in and gave his historical inauguration speech as the first democratically elected president of South Africa in 1994. You can go crazy here with your camera – there is so much beautiful architecture, the gardens below are a spectacle of color to behold, and the view of Pretoria down below is breathtaking. One interesting tidbit: The statue of Nelson Mandela that now graces Mandela Square in Sandton was originally meant to stand in the courtyard of the Union Buildings. I’m not sure why the location was changed. Another fact I found interesting is that Pretoria boasts the second largest number of foreign embassies in the world, after Washington DC, and many of those can be found in the vicinity of the Union Buildings.
|Lovely view of Pretoria from the site of the Union Buildings|
|The Union Buildings, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, are theofficial seat of South African government|
|I couldn’t get enough of the Union Buildings from every single angle|
|One of the Afrikaner symbols is the covered wagon (conveniently housing the toilet here)|
|Lots and lots of covered wagons surrounding the Voortrekker Monument|
|One of the Voortrekkers|
* Thank you to Andrew, a reader of Joburg Expat, to make this correction:
“Your remark on Pretoria (Palace of Justice where the Rivonia Trial took place,) is not correct. The trial took place at the Old Synagogue on the east side of Paul Kruger Street, in the third block, North of Church Square. Many articles on the web make this mistake. Look up the ‘Old Synagogue Pretoria’ on the web. The synagogue was refurbished as a court.”