The Great Trek grew out of the unsettlement on the Eastern Frontier of the Cape. The unsettlement that the frontier farmers, made up mainly of Dutch Colonists and French Huguenots, felt arouse from conflicts between them and the Xhosa people of the region, who where both contending for land. There was also a feeling of political estrangement between the frontier colonists and the British government.


The frontier farmers felt a lack of confidence in the British government, who originally was not strong enough to support and protect the farmers. The farmers had to fend for themselves. As the British government became stronger British authority and military became increasingly felt in the region. This resulted in the curtailing of the Burgher commando’s, which had a large contribution to the feeling dissatisfaction and insecurity amongst the farmers.


The frontier farmers felt much damage and loss of property especially during the 6th Frontier War, in which they had to provide their own horses and equipment. The British government promised compensation, but this promise was never fulfilled.


Overpopulation and overgrazing on the Eastern frontier was another factor contributing to the Great Trek. Both the frontier farmers and the Xhosa where stock farmers and therefore needed vast amounts of land in order to adequately satisfy the needs of their livestock. As the need for land increased so did the conflict and the feeling of insecurity.


After the 6th Frontier War (1834-1835) the Frontier farmers felt their existence on the frontier was intolerable resulting in the mass emigration of the Great Trek. The Frontier farmer (who became known as the Voortrekkers) broke their ties with the Cape Colony to journey into the interior of South Africa in order to find their own state based on their own ideas of freedom and justice. The farmers divided themselves into Trek groups, who loaded as much of their possessions as would fit on to ox wagons and left the Cape Colony. Emigration did not take place simultaneously but in stages over the period between 1835-1836.


Throughout the entire journey the Voortrekkers had to contend with the forces of nature and continuous attacks from native African people, whose land they crossed.


(An Illustrated History of South Africa p127-139) 





On the 15th December 1838 a group of Voortrekkers, under the leadership of Andries Pretorius, received word that the Zulu forces where approaching. Pretorius ordered the group to create a laager (a protective circle formed out of ox wagons) between what is now the Blood River and a ditch on the opposite side. On the morning of the 16th December, 10 000 zulu warriors led by Dambua and Ndela attacked. The 470 Voortrekkers succeeded in repelling the attacks, only three Voortrekkers were wounded, while 3 000 Zulus were killed in the Battle.


The Voortrekkers attributed the victory to divine intervention; the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria is a testament to that divine intervention.


(An Illustrated History of South Africa p134-136) 




Gerard Leedert Pieter Moerdijk was born on the 4th March 1890, on the farm Zwaershoek near Nylstroom in the then South African Republic. His father, Jan Leendert Moerdijk, a teacher, emigrated from the Netherlands in 1888 and married Cornelia Dorst (also from the Netherlands) in Nylstroom in 1889.

During the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) Gerard Moerdijk was kept in the Standerton Concentration camp with his mother, two brothers and two sisters. After the war, the family lived in Pretoria where Gerard was a pupil at the school, which later become Pretoria Boys High. He matriculated with honours in 1909 and qualified as an architect at the Architectural Association in England. He also studied in France where he was exposed to and studied classical Roman and Renaissance architecture in Italy. He was the first South African to become an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. 

Gerard Moerdijk returned to South Africa in 1913. He started his own practice and during his time as an architect, received more than eighty commissions for churches. Other commissioned works for which he was famous are the Merensky Library at the University of Pretoria, and the Voortrekker Monument, both of which were in some way influenced by The Zimbabwe Ruins. 

The South African Academy for Arts and Science awarded him an honorary membership in 1936 and in 1950 the University of South Africa awarded him and honorary doctorate.

Gerard Moerdijk died in Nylstroom on the 29th March 1958 at the age of sixty-eight.






FIGURE 1: Photograph of the Voortrekker Monument.


The Voortrekker Monument (Figure 1) set on Monument Hill in Pretoria pays tribute to the Voortrekkers who as a result of the Great Trek laid the foundation for a white civilisation in the interior of South Africa. The foundation stone was laid in 1938 the monument was completed and inaugurated 11 years later in 1949. the inauguration ceremony was attended by nearly 250 000 people (Figure 2).

FIGURE 2: The inauguration Ceremony.

The monument, designed by Gerhard Moerdijk, was opened on the day of the Covenant, 16th December 1949. The Monument comprises of a massive 40m-high block ringed by a laager of 64 synthetic granite ox wagons (Figure 3), the same number as those used in the Battle of Blood River. At the monument's entrance is Anton van Wouw's sculpture (Figure 4) of a Voortrekker mother and children. This sculpture pays tribute the women Voortrekkers for their bravery in the Great Trek and their role in insuring the survival and increase of the Voortrekkers in the interior of South Africa.

FIGURE 2: Granite ox wagons surrounding the Voortrekker Monument.

FIGURE 4: Anton van Wouw’s sculpture of a Voortrekker mother and children. 

The Wildebeests on either side of the statue symbolise the dangers of Africa. Above the Sculpture is the entrance to the monument, which is defended by a buffalo. Above the entrance is an arched window zigzagged with lines in granite(Figure 5), this zigzag line in cuneiform writing symbolises water, essential to fertility of Africa.

FIGURE 5: Windows with zigzag lines in granite. 

The four corners of the monument are accentuated with statues of the four leaders of Voortrekkers During the Great Trek, Piet Retief, Adries Pretorius, Hendrik Potgiter and an unknown leader.

The interior of the main block consists of two chambers. Firstly the domed, 30m-high Hall of Heroes, its walls lined with a frieze of 27 marble panels (their combined length is 92 m) depicting the Great Trek's main events (Figure 6). The frieze forms an integral part of the monument’s structure, symbolic of the integral role the Voortrekkers played in the development of white civilisation in the interior of South Africa. In the dome 30m above the hall of Heroes a hole allows a ray of light to penetrate the building. The floor has been laid out in increase circles leading from a focal point a hole in the centre of the floor over looks the cenotaph below.


FIGURE 6: Photograph of the frieze in the Hall of Heroes.


Below the Hall of Heroes is a second hall which features a granite cenotaph, the focus of the monument, so situated that a ray of sunshine falls on the inscription, “Ons vir jou Suid Afrika” (Us for you South Africa) every noon on 16 December every year to commemorate the Battle of Blood River. The ray of light symbolises the divine intervention, which the Voortrekkers believed allowed them victory in this battle. Many of the descendants of the Voortrekkers still to this day gather at the monument on this day to pay tribute to their ancestors. This hall also contains a marble niche holding burning flame, which was lit by a flame carried in the opening procession, an ox wagon procession that began in Cape Town and ended at the monument. The flame has been lit ever since.  


A spiral staircase leading off the Hall of Heroes gives access to the Hall below it and to the of the monument which is surrounded by an arched walkway, providing views in every direction of the surrounding environment, which includes Salvo Kop (Figure 7).



FIGURE 7: Photograph of Salvo Kop taken from the top of the Voortrekker Monument. 




CAMERON, T. 1986. An Illustrated History of South Africa. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball Publishers.

HARTDEGEN, P. 1988.  Our Building Heritage: An Illustrated Guide. Halfway House: Ryll’s Publishing Company.                                                                               GERARD MOERDIJK (4 March 1890 - 29 March 1958)                                                Architect of the Voortrekker Monument!


                       (7 February 2003)