The Voortrekker Monument is located just south of Pretoria in South Africa. This massive granite structure is prominently located on a hilltop, and was raised to commemorate the Voortrekkers who left the Cape Colony between 1835 and 1854.
The idea to build a monument in honour of God was first discussed on 16 December 1888, when President Paul Kruger of the South African Republic attended the Day of the Covenant celebrations at Blood River in Natal. However, the movement to actually build such a monument only started in 1931 when the Sentrale Volksmonumentekomitee (SVK) (Central People's Monuments Committee) was formed to bring this idea to fruition.
Construction started on 13 July 1937 with a sod turning ceremony performed by chairman of the SVK, Advocate Ernest George Jansen, on what later became known as Monument Hill. On 16 December 1938 the cornerstone was laid by three descendants of some of the Voortrekker leaders: Mrs. J.C. Muller (granddaughter of Andries Pretorius), Mrs. K.F. Ackerman (great-granddaughter of Hendrik Potgieter) and Mrs. J.C. Preller (great-granddaughter of Piet Retief).
The Monument was inaugurated on 16 December 1949 by the then-prime minister D. F. Malan.The total construction cost of the Monument was about £ 360,000, most of which was contributed by the South African government.
A large amphitheatre, which seats approximately 20,000 people, was erected to the north-east of the Monument in 1949.
The Cenotaph, situated in the centre of the Cenotaph Hall, is the central focus of the monument. In addition to being viewable from the Hall of Heroes it can also be seen from the dome at the top of the building, from where much of the interior of the monument can be viewed. Through an opening in this dome a ray of sunlight shines at twelve o'clock on 16 December annually, falling onto the centre of the Cenotaph, striking the words 'Ons vir Jou, Suid-Afrika' (Afrikaans for 'Us for you, South Africa'). The ray of light is said to symbolise God's blessing on the lives and endeavours of the Voortrekkers. 16 December 1838 was the date of the Battle of Blood River, commemorated in South Africa before 1994 as the Day of the Vow.
The Cenotaph Hall is decorated with the flags of the different Voortrekker Republics and contains wall tapestries depicting the Voortrekkers as well as several display cases with artefacts from the Great Trek. Against the northern wall of the hall is a niche with a lantern in which a flame has been kept burning ever since 1938. It was in that year that the Symbolic Ox Wagon Trek, which started in Cape Town and ended at Monument Hill where the Monument's foundation stone was laid, took place.
At the foot of the Monument stands Anton van Wouw's bronze sculpture of a Voortrekker woman and her two children, paying homage to the strength and courage of the Voortrekker women. On both sides of this sculpture black wildebeest are chiselled into the walls of the Monument. The wildebeest symbolically depicts the dangers of Africa and their symbolic flight implies that the woman, carrier of Western civilisation, is triumphant.
On each outside corner of the Monument there is a statue, respectively representing Piet Retief, Andries Pretorius, Hendrik Potgieter and an "unknown" leader (representative of all the other Voortrekker leaders). Each statue weighs approximately 6 tons.
At the eastern corner of the monument, on the same level as its entrance, is the foundation stone.
Under the foundation stone is buried: A copy of the Trekker Vow on 16 December 1838. A copy of the anthem "Die Stem". A copy of the land deal between the Trekkers under Piet Retief and the Zulus under king Dingane.
In the years following its construction, the monument complex was expanded several times and now includes:
An indigenous garden that surrounds the monument.
The Wall of Remembrance dedicated to those who lost their lives while serving in the South African Defence Force.
Fort Schanskop, a nearby fort built in 1897 by the government of the South African Republic after the Jameson Raid and now a museum.
The Schanskop open-air amphitheatre with seating for 357 people that was officially opened on 30 January 2001.
A garden of remembrance.
A nature reserve was declared on 3.41 km² around the Monument in 1992. Game found on the reserve include Zebras, Blesbok, Mountain Reedbuck, Springbok and Impala.
A Wall of Remembrance that was constructed near the Monument in 2009. It was built to commemorate the members of the South African Defence Force who died in service of their country between 1961 and 1994.
An Afrikaner heritage centre, which was built in order to preserve the heritage of the Afrikaans-speaking portion of South Africa's population and their contribution to the history of the country.