Pretoria Things to Do Tips by CatherineReichardt Top 5 Page for this destination
Pretoria Things to Do: 161 reviews and 227 photos
General Jan Smuts
Jan Smuts' House in Irene (a southern suburb of Pretoria) is a serene place to spend a couple of hours. Added to that, you have an opportunity to gain an understanding of General Jan Smuts, possibly South Africa's most prominent international statesman prior to Mandela.
Smuts was a paradox - an Afrikaaner who fought against the British in the Boer War, yet he was a total Anglophile and royalist who commanded Allied Forces in both the First and Second World Wars. Many people would consider it unlikely that a South African could have been such a prominent world leader in the 20th century, yet he was one of the chief negotiators of the Treaty of Paris at the end of World War I and played an instrumental role in the establishment of the League of Nations (the predecessor to the United Nations). He was eventually voted out of power by a narrow margin in 1948, and was replaced by D.F. Malan of the National Party, who subsequently launched the disastrous system of grand apartheid. Make no mistake - Smuts was no saint - but this wiley fox is a complex and compelling character who provides a very different perspective on South Africa's early 20th century history that you probably won't get to appreciate anywhere else.
Smuts hobnobbed with the influential and famous during his time as Prime Minister and even had royalty such as the present Queen and her parents to stay - which doesn't sound like much of an achievement until you understand that he accommodated them in his personal home (rather than a state residence). Even more remarkably, the house in question was a modest wood and corrugated iron farmhouse that had been originally fabricated in Britain and was bought on auction at the end of the Boer War (although admittedly, considerably extended and upgraded thereafter). The spirit of his wife Ouma (literally 'Grandma') - who was a very unassuming woman who hated the limelight - is apparent in the modest furnishings.
The house is much as he left it, and the walls are covered with fascinating photos that conjur up the life and times of a most remarkable man. The displays are well pitched in that they provide a good overview of his life, but it is the visual images - which present a veritable 'who's who' of celebrities of the first half of the 20th century - juxtaposed with a very simply furnished house that really makes the impact.
The house is surrounded by a tranquil garden and it is possible to take a short walk up to Smuts Koppie (translated as 'little hill', although 'koppie' actually means 'little head' in Afrikaans), where Smuts used to retreat to think: this is where the ashes of both Smuts and his wife were scattered.
There is a cafe (which was rather good when I was last there) and the property also hosts a flea market (open on the first and third Saturday mornings of the month and particularly vibrant in the run up to Christmas), so you could easily combine both attractions if you visited over a weekend.
Assuming that you're driving, Irene is also quite close to the Voortrekker monument: given the antipathy between Smuts and the National Party leaders who succeeded him, it would be particularly interesting to combine both attractions in a day! It's also easily accessible from Freedom Park, which would provide an interesting contrast with a post-Apartheid view on South African history.
Given the other historical attractions that Pretoria has to offer, this would be easy to overlook if you're hot and tired, but I think that to miss out on Jan Smuts' house would be tragic from a historical and aesthetic perspective. Presuming that you're staying in Johannesburg, do yourself a favour and make this the last stop on your Pretoria foray: you won't be disappointed.
Voortrekker Monument looms over the trees
Several other reviewers have provided excellent information on the Voortrekker monument, so I won't repeat what they have said. Suffice to say that I believe that this is an underrated tourist destination, and would certainly be on my Must Do list for anyone spending more than a couple of days in the Johannesburg/Pretoria region. Remember that the two cities are only 60km apart (although the seemingly endless roadworks on the Ben Schoeman Highway, which have been ongoing for the two decades that I've lived here can make it seem much further!) and the Voortrekker monument can be combined with several other interesting attractions such as the Union Buildings, Pretoria Zoo or Jan Smuts' House in nearby Irene.
Whether you agree with apartheid politics or not (and these days, it is difficult to find anyone honest enough to admit that they did, which begs the question, "Who exactly did vote for the Nats for all those years?") the Voortrekker Monument is an amazing place, and from its position overlooking Pretoria, it is an intense and brooding reminder of the history and values that the previous regime held dear. I suggest that you park your prejudices and go with an open mind - chances are that you will emerge with admiration for the sheer resilience of the Afrikaaner nation.
I have not had the opportunity to visit the Voortrekker Monument since the unveiling of the South African Defence Force Wall of Remembrance at the Voortrekker Monument in October 2009. To quote the website: "The Wall was erected to pay tribute to the members of the SADF who lost their lives in service of their country over the period May 31 1961 (the coming of the Republic) and 27 April 1994 (the birth of the SANDF). The wall was made possible through private donations and contributions in kind." This contrasts with the Wall of Names at Freedom Park - located on a hill just over the highway - which commemorates, "those who died during eight conflicts within South Africa’s history", but does not recognise those who fought in the South African Defence Force.
If you have a choice, visit in the winter (end of May to end of July) when the aloes are in bloom. The contrast of the dry brown winter veld, the stone of the monument and the blaze of red, orange and yellow aloe flowers against the cloudlessly clear blue winter sky is absolutely stunning, and if you sit long enough, you should see tiny, hyperactive sunbirds (similar to - but slightly larger than- humming birds in the Americas) busily gathering nectar.
It is also possible to go horse riding in the grounds of the Monument - haven't done it yet myself, but it is on my To Do list!
Update (October 2011):
Admission fees at present are as follows:
Heritage levy (which annoys me as it should be included in the fee, not a separate addition): R5
Private car: R20
These are a considerable hike on the previous rates, but this is a unique opportunity to gain insight into the heart of the Afrikaner nation and is still still excellent value for money - don't miss it!
P.P.S. (December 2012): The good news is that the interminable roadworks on the Ben Schoeman Highway are now complete - the bad news is that due to a recent High Court ruling on tolling, you'll soon (timing unspecified) have to pay for the pleasure! However, I recently revisited the Voortrekker Monument and found a myriad of other terrific things to do, so please watch this space ... in the interim, it's still well worth the petrol money and imminent toll fees ...
It is difficult to overstate Paul Kruger's significance to the Afrikaaner people, and so it is no surprise that a monument to his memory was placed in pride of place in Pretoria's Church Square.
'Oom' Paul (a respectful term for an uncle) is a towering figure of Afrikaaner history, and was the State President of the South African Republic. He is probably best known as the Afrikaaner leader at the time of the Second Boer War (1899 - 1902) against the British, and as the man who lent his name to both the Kruger Park and the Kruger rand.
Kruger was a former farmer who rose through the ranks of the Afrikaaner resistance movement who opposed the colonial British forces. He was a deeply religious man, to the point where he was often quoted as having said that he had only read one book in his life: the Bible. Kruger was an effective leader on domestic matters, but one whose weak spot was his poor understanding of foreign policy. After the Boers were defeated at the Battle of Berg-en-Dal (see my Machadodorp page), he fled into exile in Switzerland, where he unsuccessfully tried to rally international support for the Afrikaaner cause, and subsequently died. With him went the contents of the State treasury (estimated at 800 000 sterling in 1900), which was never found, leading to the legend of the missing 'Kruger millions' - still eagerly sought by treasure hunters over a century later.
This bronze statue is by the celebrated Dutch sculptor, Anton von Wouw, and is a stunning piece of work that perfectly captures the demeanour of the man. In his time, Kruger was a cartoonist's dream, with his dour, grumpy expression and chin strap beard, and yet von Wouw manages to convey the gravitas of a man who may have been ridiculed by the colonial forces, but was beloved by his people.
The detail of the rest of the monument is equally impressive, particularly the figures of the Afrikaaner commandoes that sit in quiet contemplation at the four corners of the base (see other photo).
If you're interested in learning more about Oom Paul and the towering influence that he had on Afrikaaner history, follow Church Street westward for a few hundred metres to the excellent Paul Kruger House museum, and thereafter a couple of kilometres further west to his last resting place in the former Heroes' Acre.
Update (October 2011): In doing some research on Anton von Wouw in preparation for a visit to the collection of his work displayed in his old house which is now part of the University of Pretoria (but which has been closed to the public due to resource constraints), I was fascinated to discover how much this statue had moved around. It was actually completed in Rome (yes, the Italian one) in 1899, and shipped by sea to Delagoa Bay - now Maputo - in Mozambique. However, this unfortunately coincided with the outbreak of the Anglo Boer war, and so the statue was left in a warehouse and handed over to Lord Kitchener, the commander of the British forces when the Boers were defeated. It was only erected in Pretoria's Prinsepark - without the commando figures - in 1913 and was relocated to a position in front of the railway station (this time with commandoes in attendance) in 1925.
The completed product was finally installed in its current location in Church Square in 1954.
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