Union Buildings

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The Union Buildings are considered South Africa's architectural masterpiece. Designed and built by Herbert Baker and completed in 1913, the Union Buildings housed the administrative offices of the Union of South Africa. Today it is still the official seat of government and houses the offices of the President of South Africa. It is situated on Meintjieskop and overlooks the city.

 

The building is made from light sandstone and is over 275m long. It is built in a semi-circle design with two wings at either side. The wings represented the union of a formally divided nation i.e. the English and the Afrikaners. On the grounds are the Dellville Wood War Memorials, which pay tribute to South African troops who died during the First World War.

The terraced gardens are magnificently laid exclusively with indigenous plants and boast a 9000 seat amphitheatre. There are various monuments and statues within the spectacular gardens.

The Union Buildings have been the site of many important events, one being the march of Afrikaner women to the Union Buildings in 1915, to ask for the revision of prison sentences for those who rebelled against the government's decision to take part in the First World War.  Forty years later, in 1956, some 20 000 women, protesting against apartheid laws, undertook a procession to the Union Buildings to hand over a memorandum to Minister J.G. Strijdom. The Prime Minister was not in the city so the women were bitterly disappointed that they could not hand over the petition to the Prime Minister himself. Some of the leaders in the march included Lilian Ngoyi of the ANC, Helen Joseph of the Congress of Democrats, Sophie Williams of the African People's Party and RahimaMoosa of the South African Indian Congress.

The Union Building was not only a site of protest, it later served as a venue for many important events in South Africa, such as the inauguration of South Africa's first democratically elected President, Nelson Mandela.

Last updated : 30-Jan-2012

This article was produced for South African History Online on 14-Jul-2011