Voortrekker Monumentality

The Voortrekker Monument, inaugurated in 1949, marks the high noon of Afrikaner nationalism.

Loved and loathed, today it remains the country’s monument par excellence in the conventional sense. Located on a hill that overlooks the southerly entrance of Pretoria, its block-like structure of steel and concrete stands all of 62 meters tall. Grandiose as it is from the outside, the inside ‘Hall of heroes’ contains something no less imposing: a 92-metre frieze, one of the world’s largest historical narratives in marble. It depicts the Voortrekkers or Boer pioneers who conquered South Africa’s interior during the ‘Great Trek’ (1835-52).

The genesis of the monument and frieze can be traced, directly and in detail, to the country’s socio-political debates of the 1930s and 1940s. Proceeding step by step, Elizabeth Rankin and Rolf Michael Schneider have charted its evolution from the earliest discussions through all the stages of its design to its physical realization in marble in post-war Italy and final installation inside the Monument. From Memory to Marble: the historical frieze of the Voortrekker Monument (De Gruyter and African Minds, 2019-2020) is a two-volume study based on unpublished documents, drawings and models. The book examines how visual representation transforms historical memory in what it chooses to recount, and the forms in which it depicts this. It also investigates the active role the Monument played in the development of apartheid, and its place in postapartheid heritage.

Voortrekker Monumentality is a curated archive related to From Memory to Marble, providing high-resolution images and documents on which the book was based, most of them previously unpublished. The website provides unique insights into political imaginations and debates of mid-20th-century South Africa. At a time when public commemoration is under discussion, their content will contribute to broader discussions about the nature and limits of public commemoration amid political change, their susceptibility to reframing and greater inclusiveness, and the nature of monumentality itself.

Core People