Dif­fer­ing views on the cen­te­nary trek of 1938

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

One of the sub­sidiary head­lines over the re­port on the start of the Great Trek cen­te­nary re­play in 1938 recorded, in a hope­ful tone, the “‘peace and unity’ note in speeches”.

Yet it is clear these nearly 80 years later that the two speak­ers on the day, if not ex­actly talk­ing at cross pur­poses, were ad­dress­ing very dif­fer­ent na­tional qual­i­ties, and both had in mind a very lim­ited sense of what “na­tion” amounted to.

H J Klop­per of the trek’s spon­sors, the Afrikaanse Taal en Kul­tu­urverenig­ing ( Afrikaans Lan­guage and Cul­ture As­so­ci­a­tion or ATKV), was anx­ious about Afrikaner unity; Cape Town mayor W C Fos­ter hoped to see “the English and Bo­ers as they were called at the be­gin­ning of the cen­tury” col­lab­o­rat­ing to forge “one great na­tion”. It was left to the bulk of so­ci­ety merely to spec­tate.

What was clear over the next decade was that, not for the last time in South African pol­i­tics, his­tor­i­cal myth proved ef­fec­tive in ral­ly­ing chau­vin­is­tic sen­ti­ment. By the time the Voortrekker Mon­u­ment was un­veiled in an elab­o­rate cer­e­mony in 1949, the con­jured ro­mance of the 1830s Great Trek had helped to shore up the logic of a brand of Afrikaner unity that would de­lay the coun­try’s des­tiny as an in­di­vis­i­ble so­ci­ety for more than four decades. Here is how the cen­te­nary trek was re­ported at the time. A crowd of more than 10 000 peo­ple, lin­ing Ad­der­ley-street and crowd­ing the cir­cus at its foot, wit­nessed the start of the “Great Trek” of the two Voortrekker wag­ons to the Rand and Blood River from Van Riebeeck’s statue at 1.30 to-day. The ser­vice, at which Mr. O Pirow, Min­is­ter of De­fence, and Mr. W. C. Fos­ter, Mayor of Cape Town, were speak­ers, took place in the blaz­ing sun­shine, with Ta­ble Moun­tain a shim­mer­ing blue back­cloth to the scene.

The wag­ons, drawn by teams of red Afrikan­der oxen, and the mounted com­mando which will ac­com­pany them on the first “skof,” or trek of the journey, were as­sem­bled in the Cas­tle.

For sev­eral hours be­fore the start the great court­yard rang with the bus­tle of mounted men in flow­ered waist­coats, short black jack­ets and cor­duroy trousers. Women in long dresses of flo­ral ging­ham and tra­di­tional “kap­pies,” with chil­dren in the garb of 100 years ago, gave re­al­ism to the open­ing scene in this pageant which, cel­e­brat­ing the cen­ten- ary of the Great Trek, will move ever north­ward from town to town and vil­lage to vil­lage un­til, some­time in De­cem­ber, it reaches its journey’s end.

The streets were so crowded when the trek moved out of the Cas­tle that all traf­fic had to be sus­pended as it slowly pro­gressed down the streets to the cir­cus which sur­rounds Van Riebeeck’s statue. Here, it was re­ceived by the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the or­ga­niz­ing Afrikaans Taal en Kul­tuur Vereenig­ing and by State and civic rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Mr. H. J. Klop­per, chair­man of the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee of the A.T.K.V. re­called the sol- emn prom­ise made by Charl Cil­liers on the eve of the Bat­tle of Blood River, and ap­pealed to the na­tion to at­tend the cel­e­bra­tions in the spirit of that prom­ise.

“Let us go to the cel­e­bra­tions as one na­tion. Let us build a mon­u­ment of united Afrikaner hearts, stretch­ing from the Cape to Pre­to­ria.

“We trust that the two wag­ons of the A.T.K.V. will be the means of get­ting Afrikaner hearts, which to-day may not beat in uni­son, to beat as one again.”

The Mayor, Mr. W. C. Fos­ter, ap­pealed to youth to sink their dif­fer­ences and to work for the great cause of weld­ing them- selves to­gether into one great na­tion with­out prej­u­dices of race or lan­guage.

“We know only too well the un­for­tu­nate strife and un­hap­pi­ness which ex­isted be­tween the English and Bo­ers as they were called at the be­gin­ning of the cen­tury,” he said, “but the dif­fi­cul­ties aris­ing out of these are surely not in­su­per­a­ble when we com­pare them with pre­vi­ous dif­fi­cul­ties which have been over­come.

“The Bri­tish and Dutch are two of the premier Euro­pean races and their union should re­sult in some­thing ex­traor­di­nar­ily good, and that is why I am ap­peal­ing to our youth to set to and to jus­tify them­selves.”


‘Boer’ horse­men cross a bridge dur­ing the 1938 cen­ten­nial re-en­act­ment of the Great Trek.

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