Voortrekker Monument Operates as an Architectural Signifier

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  • Topic: Afrikaner, Voortrekkers, Battle of Blood River
  • Pages : 8 (2472 words )
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  • Published : August 5, 2010
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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). 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...
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