Man first settled where Pretoria is today around 350 years ago. These were Nguni speaking people from the same migratory group as the Zulus and Swazis. The Sotho tribe who were already living in the area referred to them as maTebele (‘refugees’, or ‘people who hide’), also known as the Matabele.
The area consisted of two warm and fertile and the newcomers built their huts along the banks of the river which became known as the Tswane (‘little ape’, or ‘Apies’). They were noted for the colourful patterns painted on their homes and for their spectacular colourful costumes that were made with beads and distinctively patterned blankets.
These people were peaceful and living a happy life, but around 1825 a second group of runaways appeared in the area. Although they were also called maTebele they were renegade Zulu warriors led by a young commander named Mzilikazi. They had broken away from the Zulu army and set out on their own to cause havoc with the peaceful tribes living in the highveld who all fled.
Mzilikazi made his stronghold in the valley of the Apies River and the first European traders visited him there, among them the missionary Robert Moffat. The Zulus whom Mzilikazi had deserted learned of his whereabouts and stories of his newfound prosperity and success spread. The great chief Shaka sent regiments after him and he was driven into the North West Province as it stands today.
The area of present day Pretoria was abandoned until 1837 when the Voortrekkers discovered the valley of the Apies and created a number of farms there. One of the Voortrekkers was Andries Pretorius who established a farm named Grootplaats in the valley just where the Apies River joins the Crocodile River. In 1853 Andries Pretorius died of pneumonia at the age 55 of and the valley of the Apies River was chosen as the home for the capital of the South African Republic.
The son of Andries Pretorius was Marthinus Pretorius and he selected a site on a farm called Elandspoort and on 16 November 1855 the new town was named Pretoria in honour of his father.
Pretoria was quiet and remote but became involved in fighting during the Boer Civil War of 1863 and during the short-lived British annexation between 1877 and 1881 it was the home of the novelist Sir Henry Rider Haggard.
During the Anglo-Transvaal War the town was besieged by republican forces between December 1880 and March 1881 and at the end of this war Paul Kruger became president of the South African Republic and he held this office for a further 19 years. Pretoria will always retain rich memories of Paul Kruger’s remarkable character and today his house is a museum and national monument filled with his personal belongings.
Pretoria suffered no damage during the Anglo-Boer War. It was occupied by the British forces under Lord Roberts on 5 June 1900 and then the peace treaty of Vereeniging was signed on 31 May 1902. Pretoria remained as the capital of the British colony of the Transvaal until 1910 and then it became the administrative capital of the Union of South Africa. It became a city in October 1931 and the administrative capital of the Republic of South Africa in 1961.
Pretoria is a sunny and spacious city, noted for its beautiful gardens and especially the flowering jacaranda trees dotted all over the city. It has a wonderful spirit and atmosphere and many South African men have said that the Pretoria women are among the most beautiful in the world. I had to do some explaining of note because of what I wrote in the last sentence but I am purely writing facts that I have heard on numerous occasions from my fellow South African male citizens. I wouldn’t dare mention the ‘Blou-Bulle’!
Church Square - Pretoria became a city in 1931 and is the fourth largest city after Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. When the town was laid out it was centered and built around Church Square with Church Street leading through it from east to west and Paul Kruger Street from north to south and these two are the principal streets of Pretoria today. A statue of Paul Kruger dominates Church Square and was sculptured by Anton von Wouw.
The southern side of the square was built to look like Trafalgar Square in London and the northern side after the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The square is steeped in history and is shared with many pigeons.
Cullinan – Back in 1902 a man by the name of Thomas Cullinan discovered an extraordinary diamond pipe in an area now known as Cullinan and ever since it has been a seemingly inexhaustible source of diamonds. In 1905 the world’s largest diamond was found in the area and was named the Cullinan Diamond. The stone had a mass of 3106 carats and was bought by the Transvaal government and given to King Edward VII.
Today it is worn by the British Royal family as part of their priceless array of ceremonial jewels.
Fountains - The source of the Apies River is a fountain of crystal clear water in a tree-covered valley on the southern side of Pretoria. The Fountains Valley is a nature reserve and peaceful recreation area with miniature lakes populated with swans and other pretty aquatic birds the area is also home to many beautiful flowering plants.
Hammanskraal - The town of Hammanskraal is named after a cattleman named Hamman who built a kraal to protect his livestock from lions that used to roam the Springbok Flats, hence the name Hammanskraal. The town is home to a large African population. A road leading from Hammanskraal reaches the Pretoria Salt Pan where an extinct volcano is mined for its mineral salts.
Meintjeskop - The hill which once dominated the centre of Pretoria is now the site of the Union Buildings and back in 1856 was exchanged for a pony by Andries du Toit to Marthinus Pretorius who founded Pretoria. In 1870 Andries Du Toit’s farm on the hill was bought by Stephanus Meintjes who named the farm Meintjeskop. In 1910 Herbert Baker was commissioned to design a central government building for the newly created Union of South Africa. He selected Meintjeskop as the ideal site and the Union Buildings were constructed from delicately coloured sandstone and today a beautiful garden surrounds the buildings with sweeping green lawns.
In the grounds is an equestrian statue of General Louis Botha and a memorial to soldiers killed in the First World War battle of Delville Wood where 2 683 South African soldiers lost their lives.
Melrose House - Melrose House was built in 1886 on Mare Street in Pretoria and was the home of George Heys, who ran one of the principal transport companies in the Transvaal. It is a beautiful and superbly maintained Victorian house. The dining room is the room which saw the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging which ended the Anglo-Boer War back on 31 May 1902.
Onderstepoort - The Veterinary Research Institute at Onderstepoort is the main and largest veterinary institute in Africa. The institute was founded in 1908 on a farm called Onderstepoort in the north of Pretoria. Dr. Arnold Theiler was the first director and was knighted for his achievements. Mainly the finding of vaccine controls for very serious livestock diseases such as rinderpest, distemper, blue tongue and horse sickness.
Onderstepoort is the foremost training school for veterinary students who want to become surgeons and the only faculty of veterinary science of its kind in the country.
One of the main and many achievements of the Veterinary Research Institute at Onderstepoort was the discovery of a widespread phosphorus deficiency in South Africa, and its connection with the disease of botulism, or lamsiekte. This discovery had a huge positive impact on the livestock-rearing techniques in South Africa and it stimulated similar work throughout the world.
Onderstepoort occupies around 200 hectares of a 7000 hectare farm and is the home of more than 3500 farm animals.
Wonderboom - The Wonderboom (‘wonderful tree’) which gives its name to one of Pretoria’s northern suburbs is a massive Ficus tree which is estimated to be around 1000 years old. It was discovered in August 1836 by Hendrik Potgieter while on his way to join Louis Trichardt in the Soutpansberg.
The tree is 23 meters high and many travellers have camped in its shade. The tree has a 450 hectare nature reserve around it with several small antelope species and many birds and plants.