Monday, December 14, 2009
Visit to the Voortrekker monument
Some call it the world's biggest advert for Trotters Jelly. To others it is symbolic of South Africa's racist past.
This is the Voortrekker monument, a monument erected to remember the Great Trek of the first white pioneers in Southern Africa who traveled by ox-wagon from the Cape of Good Hope inland to where we now have the countries of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
The architecture is astounding! Built between 1938 and 1949, this monument is structured in such a way that at noon on December 16th, the sun's rays fall directly on a large stone with the words inscribed "We, for you, South Africa". It's walls contain the carvings of the stories of the Great Trek. And so, we spent the morning sharing this part of South Africa's history with our boys.
It was a violent history, but also one telling of the Afrikaner's determination to get away from Dutch and British oppression, surviving, innovating and choosing to travel north. This was met with great battles and conflict against the local inhabitants.
Very few of my ancestors came from these people. My mom is a third generation Dutch immigrant. Her maiden surname is "Van Goeverden", a family related to Dutch royalty. My father's family came to South Africa during the second Anglo-Boer war. Seven Bentley brothers landed in, what is now KwaZulu-Natal to fight the Boers. One of these brothers became a captain in the British military and was stationed at a Boer concentration camp. There he fell in love with one of the captive Boer women and later married. This lady, my great-great-great grandmother was the only one of my family who knew the hardships of the Dutch pioneers. A family name from her family, Wessel, was then passed on from generation to generation. This name has stopped with me, unless my sons choose to give it to one of their children.
I am reminded of how far we have come as a nation. On the walls there are pictures of how the Boers faught against the Zulu's, Matabeles, Xhosa's and others. I now have friends from all these nations, and count them to be some of my best friends.
It was a good visit. I don't know what to do with all the conflicting emotions inside, but for now, I remembered the stories and I am reminded that one's search for liberation and freedom is often shortlived. New institutions are formed, new conflicts, new power struggles. Politics always interferes.