By Brenda Fineberg
A tourist in Pretoria
Anyone who knows Pretoria, knows that for the most part it is just a big busy city, not a typical tourist destination. So a few months back when a friend living in the UK told me her son was to be out in South Africa for his first holiday here and asked me to show him the sights around Pretoria, I was in a bit of a quandary as I didn’t know where I would take him. Often there are write-ups in local newspapers about what’s going on in and around Pretoria, but most of those suggestions tend to focus around places to eat and drink. Tourist attractions in safe areas were what I needed to fulfil my mandate.
Here is the itinerary that evolved.
First off, a trip to the Voortrekker Monument. This impressive heritage site must be one of the best maintained monuments in Pretoria. The story it tells of the Pioneer history in South Africa is beautifully told in a variety of mediums including a tapestry with more than three million stiches, and the world’s longest historical marble frieze. Designed by Gerard Moerdijk, the monument was inaugurated in 1949. It is situated in a nature reserve, which is home to a variety of antelope and small mammals, and horse outrides are available to visitors wanting to experience the reserve from a different perspective.
Staying with the theme of the pioneer settlers, next on the itinerary was a trip to Fort Klapperkop. This was the third fort erected prior to the start of the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902) and was erected as part of Pretoria’s defence. (One of the other forts – Fort Schanskop is in the grounds of the Voortrekker Monument.) The various rooms in the fort have been restored to tell the story of life during the Anglo-Boer War, and the historical artefacts bring the different parts of the war to life – the hospital, stables, ammunitions, and telegraph room amongst others.
A short drive away, in the suburb of Irene, a different aspect of the war is evident. The Irene Concentration Camp was built with the original purpose of accommodating the Boer women and children that were forced off their lands by the British “Scorched Earth policy”. Many died in the harsh conditions in the camp where diseases were rampant, and today the graves of many of them can be seen and some of their stories are told in this national heritage site.
Whilst in Irene, a visit to the Smuts House Museum will provide a peek into the life of General Jan Smuts who lived here for 40 years. Smuts served as Prime Minister of the Republic of South Africa and was a prominent military leader and statesman. He was pivotal in setting up the League of Nations which was the precursor of the United Nations. One can also enjoy a refreshment at the quaint tearoom situated in the gardens.
Shifting gears away from the historical aspects of Pretoria to a more bushveld environment, we set off to Rietvlei Nature Reserve. Rietvlei is an unexpected gem in the middle of a bustling city. Rietvlei Dam was completed in 1934 to assist in supplying the city with water (there is a water purification plant adjacent to the dam). The 3 800ha nature reserve was subsequently proclaimed in 1948 and provides both a tourist attraction allowing visitors to see many of South Africa’s unique wild life, as well as being part of valuable conservation initiatives. Tourists can drive themselves around the reserve, and there is a picnic site with facilities for visitors to enjoy a typical South African braai whilst overlooking the water with the chance of viewing hippo. Numerous hides enable bird enthusiasts to view the plentiful species that inhabit this grassland area.
For those that enjoy architectural splendour, there are numerous buildings in Pretoria designed by Sir Herbert Baker. Baker was born in Kent and educated at Tonbridge School. His career in South Africa spanned from 1892 to 1912 and during this time he designed many of the famous buildings in the country. One of his finest works is The Union Buildings which he designed in 1909. Unfortunately, visitors are no longer able to enter this seat of national government, but they are able to stroll through the adjacent terraced gardens where the statues of President Nelson Mandela and General Louis Botha stand impressively.
Pretoria is within easy access from OR Thambo International Airport. So, if you are visiting South Africa and have a couple of days to spend in the city en route to other exciting destinations around our beautiful country, you will be able to fill your days with cultural, historical and ecological pursuits. And, there are plenty of stunning eateries around the city which will keep you sustained for the duration of your stay.