Arriving Solo in South Africa
It was right there in the guidebook on South Africa. “Visitors are not advised to take taxis from Johannesburg airport.“ There was a warning about the dangers.
What was one supposed to do? My hotel was in Hyde Park near the harbor in a different part of the city. I was joining a tour group there who were arriving from America 12 hours later than I came in from London where I had a 12-hour layover between 2 overnight flights from America. I arranged it that way so I could see my brother and his wife.
My answer was to find a private tour to Pretoria, which was not included in our itinerary. I arranged it through the internet. Mr. De Bruin met me at the airport on landing in Johannesburg, and after our visit to Pretoria, the Administrative Capital of South Africa, returned me to my hotel in Hyde Park.
What was one supposed to do?
I learned a lot of history in the day, which started with a visit to the Voortrekker Monument, built to commemorate the trek north from the Cape during the years 1835-54 by many Afrikaner Pioneers who did not like the British domination of the Cape. Representatives of the Dutch East India Company ( Boers) had been the first to settle around the southern coast of South Africa, but the area had been taken over by the British and the Boers did not agree with some of their rules such as forbidding slavery. They were farmers and wanted more land, too. They built fourteen covered wagons pulled by teams of 8-16 oxen. These were their homes for the months it took them to make the treacherous journey north. They traveled with cages of chickens under the wagons.
The impressive monument, built between 1937-48 at the top of a hill where the first settlers arrived to start a new colony, is approached by many steps. The granite building is surrounded by grass where the story of the wagon’s trek is told in the carvings on the inside walls, a masterpiece of sculptures. There are statues at the corners of the building, 3 of original Voortrekker leaders and one un-named representing leaders of all the groups which followed.
Inside, the cenotaph is the central focus of the monument, and can be viewed on the same level from the Hall of Heroes, or from the dome which is unique in that a hole in it allows a ray of sunshine to fall on the cenotaph at noon on 16th December annually, illuminating the words translated from Afrikans as “Us for you, South Africa.” The date, 16th December, commemorates the Battle of Blood River.
Us for you, South Africa.
On the lower floor, there is also a remarkable long tapestry in vibrant colors and intricate detail depicting the Voortrekkers journey.
We drove through the Voortrekker Monument Nature Reserve seeing Wildebeast, Zebras, Antelopes, Crested Guinea Fowl, and Weavers who build communal connected nests for their colonies. Then we continued into the city where we headed to the Union Buildings of South Africa.
Built in 1908, the sandstone buildings surround a courtyard. They are private, but one can enjoy the formal terraced gardens where the 9 metre-tall steel statue of Nelson Mandela stands with his arms outstretched looking over the city. It was unveiled on 16th December 2013, just 11 days after his death.
After the end of the Second Boer War in 1902, the British created 3 capitals of the Union of South Africa, the Administrative one in Pretoria, the Judicial one in Bloemfontein and the Legislative one in Cape Town where the parliament buildings are.
The day provided an informative welcome to South Africa for me. Mr DeBruin was an excellent guide and driver, but I found it difficult to keep my eyes open in the car during the hour-long drive back to my hotel in Hyde Park where I arrived safely.