Voortrekker Monument

Bourke-White’s first stop upon her arrival in South Africa was the inaugural ceremony for the Voortrekker Monument, designed by Gerard Moerdyk (1890-1958). As the first South African story in Life pointed out, the architect was a great “admirer of Mussolini’s Italy.” As Moerdyk intended, for Afrikaners the inauguration of the Monument celebrated both triumph over their British rivals and the successful defense of “white civilization” against the country’s dispossessed Black population. In the printed program for that day’s events, Moerdyk wrote:

The Voortrekkers paid a terrific price for this country. To their descendants the monument is akin to a deed of transfer, proving their lawful ownership through blood and tears.

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The inaugural ceremony, held on December 16, 1949 to commemorate the Voortrekkers’ 1838 triumph over the Zulu at the Battle of Blood River, featured both Afrikaner Nationalist Prime Minister Daniel Malan, and his defeated United Party rival, Jan Christiaan Smuts. As Life magazine put it, in Malan white South Africans “voted in a man who hoped for a Nazi victory in World War II.” For her part, Bourke-White observed an effort of all concerned “to make it a day of reconciliation”—at least between British and Afrikaner. South Africa’s Black people, she pointed out, were only present as servants.

In his speech to the crowd that day, Smuts said to the Afrikaner audience:

 May this monument of our historic beginnings be a symbol…not only of our past strife, but also of our reconciliation and eternal peace—and of our vow always to pursue, in our race and colour relations as well, the just, the good and the beautiful.

But he and his United Party also believed in segregation and white minority rule, softened only by a faith in European paternalism.

Despite the end of apartheid in South Africa in 1994, the Voortrekker Monument remains a symbol of Afrikaner cultural pride. A Voortrekker Ox-wagon stands in a museum inside the Monument even today.

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