Globetrotter - The Boers: South Africa's Pioneers
Published 10:18 am, Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Coming out of the African Savanna to the bustling city of Johannesburg, South Africa, was a dramatic change from our eight days of living in tents in the national parks of Zimbabwe and Botswana.
The city had its own challenges, however, the biggest of which was the prevalent crime. Each of the beautiful homes had a high wire fence or was part of a gated community. The hotel we stayed at in a suburb of the city had a shopping mall attached with an underground entrance.
Once we had accepted the need for the precautionary measures, the thing that intrigued me most was the history of the Boers which was so similar in some respects to the westward pioneers in our country. Indeed, there was a covered wagon outside the Memorial to the Dutch Vortrekkers outside Johannesburg very similar to those of our 19th century frontiersmen. The only difference was that the Vortrekkers went north not west.
As we passed the covered wagon and went in to the museum our guide, Keith, talked of the history of South Africa, the Boer pioneers and their encounters with the Zulu tribes -- not unlike our battles with American Indian tribes.
Adjacent to Johannesburg is Pretoria, the seat of the executive branch of the government. We explored the capitol building where President Nelson Mandela had his offices. Then, for more of the South African colonial history we visited the 19th Century home of Paul Kruger, the president prior to and during the Boer War. The house was furnished in Victorian style. Many of President Kruger's belongings were on display including a model of the presidential railroad. We might have been visiting Mount Vernon.
The pride in South African colonial history was also evident when we reached Cape Town. This city, where parliament meets for six months of the year, is really beautiful -- surrounded by hills and situated on the Atlantic Coast. To get the full effect, upon our arrival we took the cable car up to Table Mountain which overlooks the city and its harbor.
The atmosphere here reflects the British colonial influence more than that of the Dutch/Boers. The city has a central square with the South African History Museum, the Parliament Building and the Episcopal Cathedral all located in a park with beautiful gardens.
We returned to Boer country, however, when we drove to Stellenbach a Dutch settlement on the west coast north of Cape Town. The town reminded me of a New England village, or Williamstown, Virginia. We visited houses depicting four different stages in the colonial history of South Africa with construction and furnishings from each period. Models wore the typical dress of the times.
The Dutch and British were not the only Europeans to build colonies in South Africa. I was surprised to find that the French Heugonauts had settled there too. There was a monument to the Heugonauts in the town of Franschoek surrounded by the Drakenstein Mountains.
The French must have brought the tradition of winemaking with them because there were a number of wineries in the area. We visited a couple of the vineyards, learned about the wine making process and, of course, tasted some of the product.
At the end of our South African stay, as if to confirm our common pioneer heritage, we celebrated Thanksgiving Day with turkey and all the trimmings at a castle overlooking the city of Cape Town -- a fitting climax to our visit.