Visiting Pretoria

Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, was the first stop of our whirlwind South Africa tour. We were staying in the Brooklyn area of Pretoria, so most of our stops this day were relatively close to the guest house. Our trusty driver, Jimmy, was there to pick us up around 10am (I didn’t want to push the jet lagged students too much on this first day) and we were off to our first stop – a prison museum!


Well, we thought this would be our first stop. My guide book said that the museum was open Tuesday through Saturday from 9-3pm. It turns out that the only person who has the key to the museum was out of town for a long vacation. As our driver said, “Welcome to South Africa!”

While we were waiting around to find out if they could let us in, I wanted to take some photos of the prison. The only problem was that I didn’t know if I was allowed to. Since I didn’t want my memory card to be confiscated by prison guards, I decided to take a test shot…of a feather…with the prison in the background.


I then counted to thirty and, in the absence of angry prison guards, I took a photo for real.


We were pretty bummed that we couldn’t get into the facility, but it was still a neat experience going through a prison checkpoint. As a bonus, we did get to see some inmates working in the trench on our way out of the facility.


It’s probably weird that we were thrilled to see inmates, but as criminal justice folks, we’re fascinated by the different cultures of control in various countries. Once of these years, I’ll plan a “famous prisons around the world” tour. Sounds like fun, right?

After our failed prison visit, we were off to Church Square, the historic center of the city of Pretoria. Church Square had two notable features, the first of which is the statue of Paul Kruger, former president of the South African Republic.

Walking into Church Square with the Kruger statue right in the center.
Walking into Church Square with the Kruger statue right in the center.

Fun fact: When the idea of a statue was proposed to Kruger and his wife, it is said that they thought it was an excessive and unnecessary tribute. When the creators of the statue insisted on creating it, Kruger’s wife requested that his hat be made into a bird bath so that at least it was be somewhat functional and not purely decorative.

Paul Kruger's bird bath hat.
Paul Kruger’s bird bath hat.

Also located on Church Square is the Palace of Justice building. From its website, “The Palace of Justice was the scene of arguably the most famous political trial in South Africa’s history, the Rivonia Trial. During this trial, Nelson Mandela and a number of other ANC terrorists were charged with treason, found guilty and subsequently incarcerated.”


From Church Square, we headed over to the impressive Union Buildings.

All the gang posing in front of the Union Buildings
All the gang posing in front of the Union Buildings

Here’s a description from their website, “The Union Buildings form the official seat of the South African government and also house the offices of the President of South Africa. The grand Union buildings sit on Meintjies Kop and overlook the city of Pretoria.

View of Pretoria
View of Pretoria

The Union Buildings were built from light sandstone and were designed by the architect Sir Herbert Baker in the English monumental style. The Buildings are over 275 m long and boast a semi-circular shape, with the two wings at the sides. This serves to represent the union of a formerly divided people. The east and west wings represent two languages, namely English and Afrikaans.

Using the sandstone arches as a photo op
Using the sandstone arches as a photo op

From the Union Buildings (are you tired yet?)  we headed to our last stop of the day – The Voortrekker Monument. In a nutshell, the Dutch originally settled in Cape Town. Not long thereafter, the British swooped in and took control of Cape Town. Not wanting to live beneath British rule, the Dutch embarked upon the great trek into the African interior (these were the voortrekkers) and they finally settled in what is now Pretoria. It was a trip laden with strive, skirmishes (lead primarily by Shaka Zulu – nicknamed the ‘Black Napoleon’), but at last, they were victorious. Please forgive me if I got any of that wrong – it was a 3 hour tour of the monument, but that was the gist of the it.

Our group waiting for our tour (with the Monument behind them).
Our group waiting for our tour (with the Monument behind them).

Our tour guide was a very impassioned Afrikaner. You could tell that the history of her people was very personal to her. I’m glad the students got to hear from her. It was very informative.

View from the top of the Voortrekker Monument.
View from the top of the Voortrekker Monument.
Little 'ol me at the top of the monument.
Little ‘ol me at the top of the monument.

Funny story – as we were leaving in the minibus, my mom said, “Look, they have a statue of an animal outside.” As we all stared at it, it moved. We screamed. And then we started snapping pictures like mad. Our tour guide probably thought we were completely nuts!

Pay no attention to me...I'm just a statue.
Pay no attention to me…I’m just a statue.


Dang it, they're onto me. I better get out of here.
Dang it, they’re onto me. I better get out of here.

After that we ate, we slept, and we were excited to see Johannesburg the next day…



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