Voortrekker Monument Operates as an Architectural Signifier Essay

In the following essay I will be discussing how the Voortrekker monument operates as an architectural signifier in the discourses constructing the imagined community of the Superior Afrikaner. I will be focusing on the five main discourses namely Taming the Interior, the Christian Nation, the Imagined Community, a Unified Nation and the Authentic Nation. Through these discourses I will discuss how the Afrikaner is portrayed as The Elite Race.

Taming the interior: As Andrew Crampton said, “ the Vortrekkers journey is represented as a heroic mission that established civilization and a independent Afrikaner nation in South Africa’s interior”(2001:228). The monument produces a number of national heroes’ who lead this mission to civilization, these are found in the heroic sculptures of figures outside the monument, which stand in the external corners representing the three Voortrekker leaders, and one leader who stands for the rest. As well as the “hall of heroes”, a collection of friezes, which depict the history of the trek. Crampton-2001-228). The friezes serve as a symbolic document showing the Afrikaner proprietary right to South Africa. ” A people that have sacrificed so much blood and tears, have left their mark on such a country and therefore spiritually and physically that country belongs to them and their descendants” (Annie. E Coombes-2004-28). The friezes deliver a message of a civilization that is understood primarily as a law abiding ordered society and is at peace with itself. That civilization is then juxtaposed with a chaotic and irrational native other. Crampton -2001-230). As Moerdyk (1949-51) said “ children appear in the scene to remind us that the Voortrekkers were never conquerors but family men, seeking a new home and new country”. In panel eight ‘ negotiations with the Borolong chief, Moroka” in the “hall of heroes” Dingaan’s reneging of the peace treaty is presented as a betrayal of civilization by barbarism (Crampton -2001-229). Another panel presents “ the massacre of women and children at Bloukrans” as Moerdyk said, “ its atmosphere pulsates with the barbarians thirst for blood” (1949-53).

We will write a custom essay sample on
Voortrekker Monument Operates as an Architectural Signifier Essay
or any similar topic only for you
Order now

Panel 8 of the friezes shows us the Voortrekkers never stole but rather bartered with the natives. The viewer then is feed the idea that the Voortrekkers were noble and humble men. In contrast to this perception of the Voortrekker the natives are represented as warring barbarous, chaotic, undisciplined and unordered. Coombes has said “ Nowhere in any of the friezes in the hall of heroes was there portrayed even a single gesture of kindness, mercy, magnanimity or heroism by any black. Instead they are shown kneeling or killing”(2004-35).

Sixty-eight ox-drawn wagons (the number used at blood river) circle the monument and act as a wall. The symbolism of the ox wagons circling the monument represents the protecting of the monument from the outside forces (Leslie-2001-33). The wall symbolically was designed to protect the tradition and sancity of the Afrikaner nation against any attack (Coombes-2004-1). Havenga, the minister of finance said, “ the Voortrekkers were the founders of a tradition of freedom, civilization and maintenance of moral law where formally only the laws of the jungle existed”(16 December).

This statement gives the idea that the voortrekers were the civilization of Africa. Another signifier is the black wildebeest that sit in front of the building, according to the monuments guidebook they symbolize Dingane’s warriors, but also represent the barbarism that yield the civilization. Below this stands a statue of a white mother and two children; they represent the civilization and Christianity. The message of the civilized Afrikaner and the animal other is clearly shown here.

Coombes has said that “historically the voortrekker monument is of critical significance for the foundational myths of Afrikaner nationalism- in particular the idea of the great trek as the moment of emergence of the Afrikaner as the founding ethnic group of a new nation, the white tribe and divine right of the trekkers to the land”(2004-28). The community is also presented with a series of black, erected wrought iron spear, which make up the entrance gate. This represents the power of Dingane and the blocking of the white civilization (Leslie-2001-34).

Andrew Crampton has said, “ the Voortrekkers are portrayed as a great and worldly civilization”( Crampton -2001-228). We see this through the fact that the Voortrekkers expressed themselves as powerful and great enough to build a monument in remembrance of their struggle. During this stage in history monuments of great scale such as the Great Wall of China, Domdes Invalids in Paris, the tomb of Napoleon, the Volkeschlacht Demkmal in Leipzig ECT. Where build based on huge historical events and the voortekkers viewed the Great Trek equivalent these events (Crampton -2001-228-230).

The monument thus stands as the symbol of the Afrikaner’s lawful ownership of the country ( Beningfeild-2006-55). The Christian nation: “ The monument constructs the Voortrekker society as a Christian society”( Crampton -2001-232). This is presented by prayers and hymns in the monuments program, the design and the symbolism of the monument itself (Crampton -2001-232). One on the signifiers of the buildings architecture that shows us this is the ascending stairs that lead up to the monument creating the effect of crowds shoring up to the monument (Coombes-2004-1).

As Andrew Crampton said “ according to the Voortrekker historians before the battle of blood river the trekkers surrounded by up to fifty thousand Zulus and facing almost death made a vow to honor God if they prevailed. The mythology that developed around the vow and its narration at the monument led the Afrikaners to believe that the voortrekker journey into the interior was only possible with divine blessing and that the Afrikaners were Gods chosen people”(2001-232-233). In Afrikaner ideology the right to nationhood comes from God and Christianity and therefore ate inextricably linked” (Crampton -2001-235). Michael Leslie said “ they’re conservative, they’re Christians, they are the white tribe of Africa, the Afrikaner”(2001-33). The architecture of the monument has a shrine like nature, which is present in religious mainly Christian structures and. The monuments windows are stained glass similar and referring to that of a church.

The yellow glass gives a golden glow to the monument and conveys a sense of holy religiosity. The visitors dress code to the monument also holds a sense of holiness, respect and dignity that one would give to God, shorts, bare feet and caps are not tolerated (Crampton -2001-233-234). Michael Leslie said, “In the monuments chamber I got the impression that the Afrikaner are the chosen people”(2001-35). The architectural design of the monument was designed to allow a ray of sunlight through a small opening in the upper dome.

Each year on December 16th at midday the sunray falls onto the cenotaph in the center of the monument and lights the inscription “Ons vir jou Suid Afrika”. The ray of sun light is known as the “lig van bo” (light from above) it symbollicy connects the natural and spiritual world through the architectural design of the voortrekker monument. The ray of sunlight acts as a ritualistic moment which authenticates the myth of the vow and the remembrance thereof. This meant that Gods presence was included in the monument.

It also reinforces the Afrikaner belief that the “veld” and nature itself responded to the presence of the voortrkkers, recognising their presence and ‘speaking’ to them (Beningfeild, j -2006-69). The significance of God and nationhood is bought together by this dramatic design feature (Crampton -2001-233-234). The ray of sunlight is intended to symbolize God’s blessing on the voortrekkers and the civilization-ness that Afrikaners believe they bought to South Africa (Leslie-2001-35). It provides a visible connection between the earth bound tomb and the intangible presence of God” (Beningfeild, j -2006-69). As Delmont has said “in conflicting the spiritual symbol of altar with the symbolic grave of a war hero and the closing words of the national anthem, and the sunlight with divine blessing, the connection between god and the country is overtly made”(1993-88). “Most important, the monument had a historical status as the centerpiece of an orchestrated mass spectacle of Afrikaner unity and power” (Annie. E Coombes-2004-25).

According to the Afrikaner legend the voortrekkers saw themselves as carriers of Christianity to the untamed and barbaric African interior, they swore to God that if he granted them victory they would make December 16th a day of thanksgiving and establishment of the white supremacy as the chosen people. The monument connects “veld” and sky, heaven and earth. The naturalness of the land surrounding the monument and the stretch of open veld in such close proximity to a metropolitan area seems suddenly archaic, it’s a fragment of land that separates the land from the concrete towers of Pretoria.

There is a moment of emptiness where all buildings have been covered and the elevated form of the monument still dominates the low grassy hills. Here the physical relationship between veld and the monument has been maintained. The idea of the voortrekker monument standing on this open landscape (the “veld”) and claiming the fatherland is presented to the community ( Beningfeild, j -2006-67). The Afrikaner believed that if they were saved they were chosen by God himself to rule the South African land and its riches. (Leslie-2001-35).

The voortrekker monument stands on a prominent hill in Pretoria so it can be seen from within and outside the city of Pretoria. It is a symbol of strength, might and order Harley had said “ the voortrekkers believe themselves to be divinely appointed to the center of the universe” (Beningfeild, j -2006-64). Imagined community: As Benedict Anderson has said “ pilgrimage in developing national communities and national consciousness carry a system of meaning that those participating began to imagine themselves as forming some kind of community”(1991).

The inauguration of the Voortrekker monument carried this function to the early pilgrimages Benedict discusses (Crampton -2001-235). ”It was primarily an occasion through which an Afrikaner identity was produced on the basis of a heroic Voortrekker past, but was also a site for redefining South Africanism. As Beningfeild Said “The African nation are again there not to honor the heroic events from the great trek period but also to prepare for the task which still waits” ( Beningfeild, j -2006-62).

The Vortrekker monument and inauguration festivities reproduced a specific Voortrekker identity as an originary moment in modern day Afrikaner identity”(Andrew Crampton-2001-241). Firstly the arrival of the “rapportyer” bringing messages of support from across the nation. They bought inspiration to the entire Afrikaner people and came with messages from churches, communities and individuals. Secondly the arrival of the flame of civilization. The flame had been lit eleven years prior and carried by runners across the Cape, Free state and Transvaal for laying the founding stone.

Thirdly the oxwagon which marks the arrival of civilization in the interior and having traveled throughout the nation, generates shared experiences and mapping of the nations geographical scope. All of which signifies that civilization conquered barbarism and the journey to nationhood is complete. (Crampton -2001-235-236). Afrikaners gathered together at the monument and camped, sharing food and fires, creating the imagined community. Afrikaners from all over came together to celebrate the inauguration creating a community as nations are conceived by a deep horizontal comradeship.

A unified nation. The concept of a joined Afrikaner community and nation is clearly shown in the friezes in the “hall of heroes”. The Voortrekker history is presented in a way that emphasizes the contribution of English speakers and their race unity that existed in the past. (Crampton -2001-237). This signifier can be seen in the frieze where the English settlers gave a bible to the Voortrekkers prior to their departure into South Africa’s interior (Crampton -2001-237). The act gives the idea of a brotherhood, which existed between the forbearers.

The construction of the monument became a means of integrating narratives of blood and sacrifice with the future of the African (Beningfeild, j -2006-60). Havenga has said, ”the great moral principle which the Voortrekkers handed down to us is the principle of equality and unity”(1949-5). Andrew Crampton said “The monument therefore symbolizes much more than Voortrekker Achievement, it symbolizes a coming together and a nation reconciled and at peace with itself” (2001-239). General Smuts compared the Voortrekker monument to Christ on the Argentine (Crampton -2001-235-239).

This shows the power the Monument holds. By the monument standing for the Voortrekkers and the comparison to the monument of God it gives the idea that General Smuts saw the Voortrekkers equal or able to hold the same power of God. The sculpture out side the entrance of the monument, of the Afrikaans mother and children represents, according to the official website of the monuments, the triumphant carrier of western civilization ( Beningfeild, j -2006-61). The authentic nation: We see this idea in the accurately reproduced lives of the Voortrekker pioneers depicted in the friezes (Crampton -2001-240).

This signifier is shown in Panel one of the Hall of Heroes. Where Voortrekkers are shown packing their belongings onto ox wagons. Moerdyk has said that “much careful research was undertaken to ensure that everything was historically correct and all items existed at the time. Expects gave advice about the oxen, sheep, wagons and so on”(1949-49). Built to last the hall of heroes was carved out of Italian quercetta rather than cararra marble, its know for its resilience under extreme weather conditions (Annie. E Coombes-2004-28). Another signifier is the voortrekker descendants that were used as models. Crampton -2001-240). Example Paul Kruger’s great grandson posed for the frieze of Paul Kruger fighting at the Battle of Vegkop at the age of ten. (Moerdyk- 1949-50). Delmont has said “The function of this sculpting technique is significant less for its ability to be ideologically manipulated and more the fact that the discourse at the Voortrekker Monument sought to represent itself as truth”(1993-92). In conclusion from the above statements and argument made it can be stated that the voortrekker monument uses architecture to create the superior Afrikaner against the barbaric native other.

This is done through the perception of the Afrikaner being the peaceful chosen race. References Andrew Crampton. (2001). the voortrekker monument , the birth of aparthied and beyond . political geography. 221-246 Annie E. Coombes. (2004). visual culture and public memory in a democratic South Africa. History after apartheid. 19-53 Beningfeild,J. (2006). map and monument. The frieghtened land. 55-72 Michael Leslie. (2001). Afrikaners and the new South Africa. Bitter monuments. 24 (3), 33-39.


Hi there, would you like to get such a paper? How about receiving a customized one? Check it out