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Notes on the Geography of South Africa: Pretoria/Tshwane

Pretoria, a municipality now embedded uneasily in the freshly created "metropolitan municipality" of Tshwane, reverberates with the historic South African tensions between white and black and English and Boer.

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Old Paul Kruger, the leader of the Transvaal and the Boer Republic of the 1880s and 90s, stands glumly in Church Square or Kerk Plein.

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On the platform supporting the statue, bronzes recount the national story of the Boers, driven inland by the advancing British.

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An inscription on the north edge of the square leaves no doubt about who was in charge after the Boer War.

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On the north side of the square is the City Hall.

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The Supreme Court is on the opposite side.

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An inscription at its base apparently is thought to need protection.

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Guess who laid the cornerstone.

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Several banks rim the square. By their own bulk they hint at the financial clout of the British. Here, for example, is the Standard Bank.

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And here is the comparatively modest Dutch Nedbank, where surely the clerks sit on tall stools, wear eyeshades, and tally figures the old-fashioned way.

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Interior detail.

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It's hard to top that lock, but the Dutch architectural influence is strong in the surrounding blocks.

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We'll head north, off to the right past this coffee shop.

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Less than three blocks later, the Paul Kruger Church stands shut tighter than a drum.

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Across the street, the lions outside Kruger's house are too tired to move. Postcard racks mark the entrance to what is now a little-visited museum.

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Another block west: a cemetery in poor shape.

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In fact, it's locked tight. There's a reason: this is the entrance to the cemetery once called Heroes Acre, where apartheid's leaders were laid.

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While apartheid prevailed, the cemetery was well maintained and proudly open to visitors. Here: Hendrik Verwoerd, the South African prime minister in 1961, when the country became a republic and broke away from the British Commonwealth. Six years later, reviled internationally, he was assassinated. He carried his zealous pursuit of racial purity to such an extreme that in his own home he made a point of employing only white servants.

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A block away, the old Pass Building, where blacks lined up to beg permission for the hated documents used to control their movement.

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And here, rising behind the Kruger House, are the highrises that now house several thousand of those same people, or their descendants.

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The buildings occupy the former site of Schubart Park.

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Here, even the name Pretoria is barred, let alone names like Kruger and Verwoerd.

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Another view.

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Nearby, a government building. It was built during the last days of apartheid. Any ideas about its occupant?

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Not a big surprise.

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Another view.

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From the other side.

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We've withdrawn a mile to the east to the immaculate gardens of the Union Buildings, built after the Boer War as the administrative capital of the Union of South Africa.

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The buildings were designed by Herbert Baker, who went on to help design New Delhi.

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One of the sadder policies of President Thabo Mbeki was closing off the Union Buildings to public view. Back in 1990, they looked like this. Grand as they may be, Baker actually planned a third tower, higher than the existing two and set back from them. A drawing showing this third tower, the Temple of Peace, appears in Michael Keath's Herbert Baker: Architecture and Idealism, 1892-1913, the South African Years, [1992], p. 170. The existing towers, according to Baker's 1944 autobiography, Architecture and Personalities, were conceived as "symbolizing the two races of Southern Africa," presumably meaning British and Afrikaner.

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A view back toward the city.

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Baker added many nice touches.

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Everything was customized, even the drains, here with a logo for the Union of South Africa.

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The Boers in the 1930s decided to create their own monument, the Voortrekker Monument. There it is in the distance.

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It was completed and dedicated in 1949. In its somber mass it echoes the Battle of the Nations monument in Leipzig, completed in 1913 to mark the centennial of one of Napoleon's major defeats.

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Here, with a symbolism unique to the Boers, the monument is ringed by 64 stone wagons, drawn into a protective circle.

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A closer look.

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Figures at the corners of the monuments include this one of a marionettish Piet Retief, massacred by the Zulus under Dingane in 1838 and avenged later that year at Blood River by Boers under the command of Andries Pretorius.

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At the entrance, an iconic but almost faceless pioneer woman. The sculptor, Anton van Wouw, had previously made the statue of Kruger back in Pretoria, and he went on to make the figures at the memorial to women in Bloemfontein.

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Inside the "Hall of Heroes," the saga is told figuratively. Here Retief attempting sweet reason.

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The massacre.

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The Boer woman direct their men to seek revenge. The men seem none too enthusiastic, but the woman aren't just asking politely.

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This time it's the Zulus who are slaughtered.

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The women stand at the ready, too.

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The Boers weren't always quite so messianic. Here's the country home of General Smuts.

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It's the least pretentious home imaginable, cobbled together from mobile military buildings sold by the British. It's a museum now, and in Smuts' time was apparently a chaos of his rampaging children. Smuts did have a study to which he could retreat.

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Nearby, in the town of Irene, the more pacific or at least rustic ideal of Boer culture lives on.

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And west of Irene there's a brand new mall, most interesting because it sits smack atop a townsite formerly called Verwoerdburg Stad.

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A part of it survives here in what was the Verwoerdburg Town Hall. There are no signs to indicate the name change, and the place has now reverted to its earlier name of Lyttelton Manor.

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There's a local shopping center here, too.

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And a train station, where the foolhardy or desperate can snag free rides.


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