The Voortrekker Monument

For reasons outside of my control I had to spend two nights in Johannesburg. Trust me, I would’ve rather spent two extra nights on the Wild Coast or in the Drakensberg region. But rather than sulk about it I made the most of my time by visiting as many places in the area as possible. One of the places which I made it to was the Voortrekker Monument on the outskirts of Pretoria.

The imposing Voortrekker Monument

The imposing Voortrekker Monument

Getting to the monument turned out to be an adventure in itself. Max, a German guy I met at the hostel, and I asked around and scoured the internet for a way to reach the monument via public transport. The first part of the journey was easy: riding the Gautrain from Rosebank to Pretoria Station. We gathered that we could take a combi van from outside the public library a few blocks away from Pretoria Station to within walking distance of the monument.

On the way to the library we got caught in a massive thunderstorm and had to take shelter while the storm passed over us. Since our information was imprecise at best we asked a guy in military uniform (we were standing outside a military administrative building) where exactly the combi van station was. We lucked out cause the guy was super nice! First he told us the directions, then showed us on a map, then eventually walked us to the pickup point right across from the Tram Shed building. It turned out he had to take the same combi van to get home. Between him and the friendly university student sitting next to the driver who couldn’t believe why we would visit Pretoria because “it’s soooo boring here!”, they made sure we both got to the monument and paid the correct fare. It’s quite common for tourists to get overcharged on the combi vans; it had already happened to me two times.

After about 10 minutes, we were dropped off at the entrance to the monument. Unfortunately for us, it turned out to be a secure side entrance for employees. The visitor’s entrance was about 2km away on the other side of the hill. A 2km walk is no problem at all under normal circumstances. But we had to walk along the shoulder of the highway with cars zipping past at 100km/h. Oh, and I did I mention that it was raining too?

By this point we were determined (and stranded) so we walked in single file along the highway to the entrance. The lady at the gate was pretty surprised to see us walk up. I think just about every other visitor arrived by car and by this point I wish we had too. We paid the admission fee and walked the last few hundred metres to the memorial itself.

Caravan friezes line the inside of the monument's circular wall

Caravan friezes line the inside of the monument’s circular wall

The monument was built to commemorate the difficult overland migration of the European (Boer) settlers from the Cape Colony to the South African interior. In addition to venturing across unknown terrain they had to defend themselves against multiple local tribes who weren’t too happy about having the Voortrekkers coming in and settling on their land. Let’s be honest, you wouldn’t be too happy about someone showing up in your backyard and setting up camp. Thanks mainly to their musket guns and battle tactics the Voortrekkers won many decisive victories which enabled them to settle new lands in the interior.

A statue of a proud Voortrekker woman and her children

A statue of a proud Voortrekker woman and her children

A very intricate tapestry on display in the monument

A very intricate tapestry depicting a scene from the Drakensberg leg of the journey

One section of the massive frieze on the main level

One section of the massive frieze on the main level

The monument features artifacts from the migration, a huge commemorative frieze on the main level, and numerous explanations about Voortrekker culture, religion, and lifestyle. In several introduction texts, the monument goes the extra distance to justify its own existence by comparing the Voortrekker migration to one of the great migrations in human history not in terms of number of people but in terms of significance. The argument could go both ways but honestly I don’t think it quite compares with, for example, the Irish exodus during the potato famine or the Polynesian expansion across the Pacific. I guess it depends on who you ask.

To get back, we simply took a combi van at the road junction close to the monument entrance (it’s marked on the map). Unfortunately for us were didn’t have a local “chaperone” so we charged a bit more on the way back to Pretoria.

In conclusion, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a “must-see” if you have some time (and a car!) in the Johannesburg / Pretoria area I would definitely recommend going to the Voortrekker Monument for a visit. The view from the top of the building alone is worth the journey.

The view from the roof of the monument

The view from the roof of the monument

Have you been to the Voortrekker Monument? What did you think of the site and of the significance of the Voortrekker migration?

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