War Museum of the Boer Republics (Bloemfontein, Free State Province)
Welcome to our road trip of December 2021. We are travelling by car across South Africa (from the west coast → north coast → KZN south coast → back to the west coast). The distance we will cover, will be around 5,000km (3,106 miles).
Our main purpose for this trip, besides seeing places we have not seen before, is for Berto to scuba dive in Sodwana Bay and then to be a little more adventurous … diving with sharks in the ocean in Umkomaas on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal. We hope to share lots of pictures to show you our beautiful country.
Museum Visit – Day 20:
We only had to travel 450km (279 miles) today to our next overnight stop and thought, while in Bloemfontein, we have time to visit a bit of our own heritage. A visit to the War Museum of the Boer Republics was actually a great way of concluding our road trip.
But before any such excursions could take place, we had to make sure our tummies were filled with a delicious breakfast at the City Lodge Hotel where we stayed for the night.
We were very happy that the sun was shining – it was actually quite hot – and the perfect day to visit the museum and to wander in their beautiful gardens.
War Museum of the Boer Republics:
The War Museum of the Boer Republics (also known as the Anglo-Boer War Museum) was established in 1931 and display items relating to the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 – 1902.
One of the most significant events in the history of South Africa was the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 – 1902. Although the protagonists were Britain and the two Boer Republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, the population of South Africa as a whole became embroiled in the war, either directly or indirectly. (Source: Website of War Museum of the Boer Republics).
At the entrance of the museum, there is a sculpture of a ball of wool and knitting needles – a craft the Afrikaner women practiced in the concentration camps.
Unfortunately, the taking of photo’s are not allowed inside the museum. The unique art collection and exhibitions are wonderful and one can see how the course and development of the war unfolds as you progress through the museum. It took us more than an hour to walk through the museum, but I presume it can take you much longer if you read all the amazing material supplied at the exhibitions.
National Women’s Memorial:
President MT Steyn (1896 – 1902) felt strongly that a memorial dedicated to the women and children who suffered during the war had to be erected.
An obelisk of 35.5m (120 feet), with a group of sculptures at its base is prominent in the garden outside the museum … a monument dedicated to the 26,370 women and children that died in the concentration camps.
The story of Emily Hobhouse:
Emily Hobhouse was a British welfare campaigner and anti-war activist. She came to South Africa during the Anglo-Boer war and immediately addressed the terrible conditions in which women and children were held in the concentration camps.
She had persuaded the authorities to let her visit several of the concentration camps and do deliver aid. As a result of her reports on conditions at the camp, a team of investigators was sent to investigate the camps. Overcrowding in bad unhygienic conditions were the causes of 26,370 deaths (of which 24,000 were children under sixteen and infants). After Emily’s report, conditions began to improve, but it was too late for the many women and children who suffered and died. (Source: Wikipedia)
Emily became an honorary citizen of South Africa for her humanitarian work. Although she died in Kensington (UK), her ashes were ensconced in a niche at the National Women’s Memorial.
Garden of Remembrance:
After our visit to the National Women’s Memorial, we turned our attention to the beautiful “Garden of Remembrance”.
Although the garden is beautiful, I was overcome with sadness. We were confronted with the hundreds and hundreds of names of women and children on the walls who died in the concentration camps … some of those children barely saw daylight before they died due to a war that they knew nothing about.
We also walked over to the wall with the men’s names who died during the war. It was interesting to see that there were far less soldiers who died than the women and children in the concentration camps.
There are quite a few monuments in the Garden of Remembrance. Here are just a few of them depicting scenes from the war.
Children’s Memorial Labyrinth:
For our final visit, we entered the Children’s Memorial Labyrinth. I was really overwhelmed when walking around here … in my opinion, wars are unnecessary and no child should suffer due to the disagreements between adults.
Approximately 83% of the casualties in the White and Black concentration camps were children aged 16 and younger. This memorial signifies the tragedy of war and children – testified by the boy and girl standing guard at the entrance of the labyrinth.
The indigenous tree in the centre of the labyrinth is a symbol of life and also a representation of our connectedness with our forefathers. The black on the inside of the surrounding wall represents mourning.
When I walked the labyrinth and saw the words, I was overcome with emotion… the suffering that these children (or any child at any war for that matter) were going through, is just heart breaking! They say to walk a labyrinth brings inner peace and the opportunity to pay tribute … walking this labyrinth was our tribute to thousands of children suffering due to wars in this world!
Here are the words spoken by children (the languages are Afrikaans, English and Sesotho – 3 of the 11 official languages in South Africa – Sesotho being the indigenous language spoken most in the Free State Province):
After walking the labyrinth, I looked towards the wall and the words left me so sad (I have loosely translated it for our English speaking friends) …
The cruelty of war was truly evident here at the War Museum and we left quite emotional. I am extremely grateful to see how well maintained this place is and urge our fellow South Africans to pay this museum a visit whenever you’re in Bloemfontein.
In our next post (the last one of our road trip series), we will take you to an amazing place in the small town of Vosburg in the Northern Cape – this was the best place to celebrate the end of our road trip! See you guys there!