I regularly exercise in the Union Buildings gardens and since 2017 I have been advising the Department of Public Works of water leaks and other maintenance issues, most of which were dealt with promptly by Bennitto Motitswe, but since his transfer, things have gotten much worse. I sent a comprehensive list of issues to the Department in May 2019, along with photos. Apart from a water leak repair and a significant improvement in the maintenance of the gardens themselves, none of the other more serious issues I raised have been dealt with.
The following is an extract from a paper by Art Historian Professor Alexander Duffey in which he explores the many artists who contributed in one way or another to establish the Union Buildings as an important icon, not only of Pretoria, but also South Africa. These artists can be grouped into two distinct categories: those who contributed directly to the embellishment of the buildings and their surroundings and those who made representations of the buildings and their surroundings.
The remains of the largest fortification built by the British during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) is still to be seen today on Strubenkop in Lynnwood, Pretoria. The site today is a nature reserve managed by the City of Tshwane but apart from the remains of the fort nothing much is left on the hill. It is therefore believed that the reserve was proclaimed to preserve what was left of the building.
Combined with a brief reflection on Pretoria’s railway history, this article primarily sets out to reflect on the history of the two railway station buildings that were erected at the foot of a hill in Pretoria.
The American Government was assembling a site in Arcadia, Pretoria. They wanted the entire suburban block so they could build the largest embassy in Africa. One property stood between them and the full realisation of their plan, an old home called Arkleton belonging to Dr van Bergen. The Americans appointed an independent valuer to determine the market value of the property.
In May 1900, Lord Roberts of Kandahar, Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces, was poised to culminate his illustrious military career by marching triumphantly into his enemy’s capital city and concluding the South African War. But it was a charade. There could be no victory without a vanquished foe and the Boer leaders were still at large with a fighting remnant of their army. Another two bitter years of warfare lay ahead.
From Here We Shall Never Move. These were the words inscribed almost a century ago onto a cross and mounted on a mulberry tree in a small village to the northwest of Pretoria by Fr Camillus De Hovre OMI.
The Belgian Oblate priest could not have known how these words would act as a forecast to the significance of the Most Holy Redeemer mission in the history of the Catholic Church in Pretoria, and in South Africa in general.
Over a period of ten years (2010-2020), a set of 20 houses of different styles located on the UNISA (University of South Africa) Sunnyside campus in Pretoria was studied informally for their spectacular deterioration and accumulation of rubbish. Several times each year since 2010, the author (an art student on the campus) visited the houses and took photographs, building up a photographic record of increased dereliction. All in all, the appearance of the houses over the years became very forlorn, yet evocative. It was like seeing Time in action.
An article by Adrian de Villiers on The Heritage Portal in 2017 highlighted the history and importance of Kirkness bricks made in a Pretoria brickyard, starting in 1888 (click here to view). At the UNISA Sunnyside campus, bricks from this historic Pretoria brickfield were used and individual bricks are lying about in the gardens, as the photograph above (taken in 2020) attests. Many famous buildings in Pretoria like the Raadsaal f
On 14 March 2020, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, Professor Tawana Kupe officially unveiled the Pierre van Ryneveld memorial stone in its third location at the university’s Hillcrest Experimental Farm Campus
In Church Square, Pretoria, stands a statue of President Paul Kruger flanked by four bronze sculptures of Boers. They spent nearly twenty years, from 1902 to 1921, in England before being returned to South Africa eventually to take up their position on the square in 1954. The general belief has been that Lord Kitchener, Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in South Africa from 1901 to the end of the war ‘stole’ these statues as ‘spoils of war’.
The last tram journey in Pretoria took place during 1939 - eighty years ago. Therefore, today it may only be citizens born prior to around 1933, who resided in Pretoria at the time, who may recall the tram activity or may even have travelled on a Pretoria tram as a child.
In March 1922 the Italian painter and sculptor Francesco La Monaca produced a bust of Sir Henry Rider Haggard, the author of King Solomon’s Mines, Allan Quatermain and She, which formed part of an exhibition at the Bromhead, Cutts and Company’s Fine Art Gallery, 18 Cork Street, London, featuring 34 busts in bronze and marble by La Monaca of eminent English figures of the time including George Bernard Shaw, Sybil Thorndike, and Randall Davidson, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Residents of Arcadia and Pretoria are mostly unaware that trams were used to serve as public transport in the early 1900s, later being replaced by trolley buses and eventually buses as we know them today.
Trams are loosely defined as light rail vehicles running on steel tracks, serving as urban public transport, designed to travel on streets, sharing road space with other traffic and pedestrians.
During the early commercially embryonic era of photography, photographers from all over the world attempted to generate an income from this new art form. Many aspirational photographers arrived and settled in South Africa from countries such as Ireland, England, Australia, Switzerland, Holland, Latvia and Germany, to mention but a few.
During Pretoria’s first 20 years of existence it had no public parks. The only spaces accessible to the public at the time were the Church and Market squares.
As early as 1874, the space where Burgers Park is located today, was allocated to become Pretoria’s first botanical garden.
Today a declared heritage site, the park was only officially named Burgers Park during 1894.
The first 10 years (1874 to 1884)
Rudolf Gottfried Steger was born in Germany on 11 March 1871. He left his country of birth aged 10 to attend school in Switzerland and then went on to complete four years of religious studies in Rome. Whilst in Switzerland, he also trained as a medical assistant at the Red Cross in Geneva – a skill that would later come in handy.
Steger arrived in South Africa during 1894 and became a naturalised burger (citizen) whilst based in Paarl during 1896. He established his first studio in Pretoria during 1898 aged 27.
During the restoration of the Pretoria Railway Station in the early 2000s, a swastika was found in the plasterwork above the clocktower. In the article below, originally published on the Brand South Africa website on 19 March 2002, Lucille Davie unpacks some of the theories behind the Swastika. She also takes an in depth look at the restoration process. Click here to view more of Davie's work.
Established during 1786, Graaff-Reinet is the fourth oldest magistrate district in South Africa. At the time, this town was also the most important Eastern Cape based interior centre of trade in South Africa in that it was on the route of many travellers, mainly to and from the Algoa Bay harbour.
In the article below, researcher and journalist Lucille Davie, tells the story of Nongoloza, the mythic figure who established the infamous Ninevites gang. The piece was first published on the City of Johannesburg's website on 9 January 2008. Click here to view more of Davie's work.
Historians, researchers and collectors often come across situations of surviving family members having thrown away or having destroyed historical family documents and photographs as they may either have no sentimental interest or simply cannot relate to their relative’s historical past. Sadly, in these instances, no thought is given to donating such documentation / items to charity organisations where researchers and collectors in turn can “scratch” out relevant material to record potential significant historical information that may be contained therein.
Joseph Calder Munro, a Scot by birth, made a significant contribution to Pretoria’s photographic history. Many of his photographs have survived and can be found in various national and private research collections. Photographs produced by him still surface on a regular basis - mainly at antique fairs.
In the wonderful article below, Raymond Smith takes the reader on a journey to six iconic sites in Pretoria: the Union Buildings, Church Square, Unisa, Freedom Park, //hapo Museum and Marabastad. He describes the experience as a 'peripatetic walk contemplating diversity, dislocation, overlap and cohesion within an urban environment strained under its conflicting past, yet bravely attempting to respond to contemporary demands with varying degrees of success'.
In the article below, Graham Dominy highlights a number of heritage battles currently raging across Tshwane. The battles reveal many of the issues that continue to plague the heritage sector. Thank you to the editors of the Arcadian for giving us permission to republish.
H Ferdinand Gros was of Swiss origin. He arrived in South Africa circa 1869. On July 16th 1870 he was advertising that the Photographic Salon 'will resume again' in the 'Burgherdorp Gazette'. In the 'Diamond News' on March 9th 1872 he announced that he was taking over the studio of Weber and Gros and that he would soon open a 'Superb Salon' at New Rush (Kimberley). The New Rush studio was advertised for sale in 'Diamond News' 13th April 1872.
The Anglo-Boer (1900-1902) Vereeniging Peace Agreement document ending the war between the Boers and the British was signed at Pretoria’s gracious Melrose House on 31 May 1902 and formally announced on 2 June 1902 in front of the Raadzaal, Pretoria. This again put the whole country under the British rule. Alfred Milner, the High Commissioner for South Africa and Governor of Transvaal and Orange River Colony was responsible for the design and execution of the policy of South Africa until 1905.
A few years ago a wonderful collection of old documents was found in the basement of a Johannesburg inner city building while the tenant (Nedbank) was moving out. One of the boxes we looked at contained details of Nedbank's 50th anniversary celebrations (circa 1938). It was here we found a remarkable set of images of a few Town / City Halls around the country. It appears as though the photographs were taken in the late 1930s. Enjoy...
Below is the second part of an article compiled by NZASM expert Robert de Jong in the late 1980s (the Nederlansche Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg-Maatschappij (NZASM) was a Dutch company responsible for the construction and administration of many early Transvaal railway lines). The first piece looked at the structures and buildings of the Rand Tram while this one looks at the Southern Line.
In the early 2000s Intersite Property Management Services published the newspaper 'Pretoria Station Update'. The purpose of the paper was to publicise plans for the precinct and to track the restoration project which followed the tragic 2001 fire. The December 2001 issue carried a fascinating story unpacking the mystery and debate of a swastika found on the famous clock tower.