Sunday January 25th ~ Near Johannesburg, South Africa
Our plans were to have a half day tour through Soweto, a neighborhood of Johannesburg, but due to a violent outburst that left several dead, and a looting problem, our tour was cancelled. In fact all of the major tour companies were left scrambling to rearrange schedules, feeling that the area might not be safe for us to enter, even on our large tour busses.
Fortunate for us, Tesse (our Gate 1 tour guide), had lived in the area and was comfortable to substitute a tour through the neighboring administrative capital city of Pretoria, plus a few extra sites.
Designed by architect Gerard Moerdijk, this building is meant to honor the brave Afrikaner pioneers who traveled north from the British-controlled Cape Colony. Thousands made the journey between 1835 and 1854 in what became known as the “Great Trek”.
“Just past the gates, surrounding the monument, is a wagon laager. Made out of granite, the 64 wagons symbolize the protection of the monument. The same number of wagons were used in the Battle of Blood River.” ~ SouthAfrica.com
Once inside the Hall of Heroes, you can pass by the centerpiece, an empty tomb, called a Cenotaph. The writing on top translates to “We for thee, South Africa”. The building was carefully designed so that on December 16th, light will shine through a hole in the domed ceiling and shine directly on the tomb. December 16th is the anniversary of the Battle of Blood River.
The four large arched windows are made of Belgium glass.
You can take an elevator to the upper level, and then climb additional stairs to reach the upper dome level for impressive views of the city of Pretoria as well as a look down on the empty tomb.
The walls are lined with 27 panels that depict the Great Trek, as well as daily life of the Trekkers. This is the largest marble frieze in the world.
Down stairs is a museum as well as numerous stitchery and tapestry panels.
On December 16, 2013, just a few days after his burial, the largest statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled in front of the 100-year-old Union Buildings.
“The nine-metre statue stands on the lawn of the government headquarters where Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president in 1994.” ~ http://www.abc.net.au
Apartheid is at the heart of the story of 20th century South Africa, and this museum took on the immense task of telling that tale. We only had about an hour and a half to spend here, and I could have easily spent several hours.
Well laid out, the visitor is taken through 22 individual exhibitions that describes the state-sanctioned system that was based on racial discrimination and the struggle of the majority to overcome this system.
No photography was allowed inside.
At the entrance, written on a large concrete wall are these words of Nelson Mandela:
“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – June 1999
Many columns of metal were inserted into a base and when lined up at just the right angle, the face of Mandela became visible.
Our Gate 1 tour had come to an end and we topped off the evening with a farewell dinner at our hotel. I was sad to once again say goodbye to a wonderful group of people who we had shared so much with in such a short amount of time.
A special “thank you” and shout out to “Tesse” our terrific tour guide and someone I am now delighted to call my friend.
Gratitude Moment: Today I am grateful to have a more clear understanding of the struggles that went on in South Africa, of the strength of the people to overcome the oppression, and that today they are rebuilding a society based on freedom for all her citizens.