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Notes on the Geography of South Africa: Bloemfontein

Bloemfontein, now embraced in the greater municipality of Mangaung, was founded in 1846. It's the judicial capital of South Africa but its abundance of heavyweight architecture dates from the late 19th century, when, between 1854 and 1900, it was the capital of the Orange Free State. In 1900 the British reasserted control and reduced the place to a provincial capital.

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The Old Raadsaal, completed in 1896.

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The proud pediment.

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A century after the Boer War's conclusion, the losing side's greatest warrior, General Christiaan DeWet, still stands ready. The echoes of the Boer War reverberate in the city.

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The Old Presidency was completed in 1886 and painfully ceded to General Roberts at the conclusion of the war.

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The sixth of the seven presidents of the Orange Free State: Francis William Reitz, president from 1889 to 1895.

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Indefatigable Johannes Brand, the fifth president, who with the exception of a few brief periods was president from 1864 to 1888. He stands before the National Afrikaans Literary Museum.

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The Supreme Court.

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The appeal court.

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Time moves on, and the post office is a testament to art for people who know what they like.

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A still newer government building and the city's tallest building: the C.R. Swart Free State Provincial Government Building. Will it wear as well as the city's older buildings? One guess. (Swart was the last governor-general of the Union of South Africa and the first president of the Republic. As for his own politics, it's no accident that he strengthened the South African Police.)

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The Freshford House of 1897 is a reminder that life, despite appearances, wasn't all politics and government.

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People went shopping, too.

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The city has tried reinvigorating some of its older commercial buildings. Here, the public market.

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The cornerstone.

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The rotunda remains little used.

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More successfully, Church Street has been mallified.

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Originally a department store, Cuthbert's has been subdivided and rented to an assortment of businesses.

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The country's biggest hotel chain is here, none too charmingly.

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A suburban shopping center.

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Also on the edge of town, this obelisk brings us back to the topic that's always simmering.

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This is the national women's memorial, part of the Anglo-Boer War Museum.

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The sculpture, by Anton van Wouw,shows a dead child on the lap of an exhausted woman. J.D. Kestell, chairman of the committee that oversaw the monument, wrote, "The eyes of the woman are saying 'My child is dead, but I shall not entirely die out. My people shall not be exterminated.'" Writing in Women's Studies (33:8,2004), Sabine Marschall counters that "not a single woman was involved in the actual monument committee...."

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Translation: To our heroines and our lovely children. "Your will be done." This national monument was erected in memory of the 26,370 women and children who perished in the concentration camps and the other women and children who perished elsewhere as a result of the war of 1899-1902. Unveiled on December 16, 1913.

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Newer works have been placed on the grounds. This group, entitled "Farewell," was unveiled in 1986.

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Closer.

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From 1983, "The Exile," repressenting Boer prisoners of war.

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Die Bittereinder, the "bitter ender."


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