Brooding alone and impassive in the morning sunlight, as it appears to contemplate the past, the present and the future, is the solid bulk of the Voortrekker Monument outside Pretoria. It is not an attractive structure, although some say that is part of its charm. Smaller than other monuments around the world it is still impressive. Although not yet 100 years old it seems impervious to the passage of time, and stands unyielding as if determined to see out its designers aim that it “would stand a thousand years to describe the history and the meaning of the Great Trek to its descendants.”
The concept of a monument was first raised on 16 December 1888 when President Paul Kruger attended the Day of the Covenant Celebrations in Natal. However, it was only in 1931 that a committee was formed to pursue this idea. The sod turning ceremony took place on 13 July 1937; the cornerstone was laid on 16 December 1938 by three descendents of the Voortrekker leaders, and the monument was inaugurated by Dr D.F. Malan, on 16 December 1949. It cost approximately 360 000 pounds. The foundations contain over 18 million kilograms of concrete; the historical frieze weighs 180 metric tons; and the four statues of the Trekker leaders, at its corners, each weigh about 6 tons. The base is approximately 40 metres square, and the height is also about 40 metres.
Entrance is through the ‘assegaai’ gate which symbolizes the barrier to the interior represented by Dingaan and his warriors. Inside, the monument is protected by a circle of 64 granite ox wagons, the same number that formed a protective laager at the Battle of Blood River. It was here that the Voortrekkers had made a ‘Covenant with God,’ which they then commemorated on 16 December each year. The website records that this laager “by implication.. also protects the Afrikaner nation and its culture against foreign onslaught.”
On your way, pause before Anton van Wouw’s impressive bronze sculpture of a woman with her two children. It pays tribute to the indomitable spirit of the Voortrekker women, and the vital role that they played in some of the most difficult conditions and circumstances imaginable.
Once inside the building you will find the Hall of Heroes and The Cenotaph. The Hall houses the Historical Frieze, which is the largest marble frieze in the world. The 27 panels depict the history of the Great Trek from 1835 to 1852, and include details of everyday life. The Cenotaph, or ‘empty tomb’, is the main focus of the monument. It is the symbolic final resting place of Piet Retief and the others who died on the journey. The famous tapestries, containing 3.3 million stitches, and depicting scenes from the Trek, are displayed on the walls. At 12 noon every 16 December, a ray of sunlight shines through an opening in the dome of the building and illuminates the words ‘Ons vir Jou, Suid-Afrika’ (Afrikaans for ‘We for Thee, South Africa’) in the middle of the Cenotaph.
The architect, Gerard Moerdijk, was born in 1890 in Nylstroon and was the first South African to become an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He was, apparently, influenced in his concept by the Völkerschlachtdenkmal in Leipzig (The Battle of Nation’s Monument,) as well as by Egyptian temple architecture. There have been some questions raised about the spiritual significance of his design both in terms of masonic and ancient Egyptian symbolism.
A number of other places are worth a visit, including the Museum, Gift Shop, and Nature Reserve, and you will want to give yourself time to enjoy them. A visit to the website will help you to plan, and get the most from, your trip.
Hours: 08:00 – 17:00
Costs: Cars R13; Adults R32; Scholars R10
For further information follow the links alongside.