Bloemfontein, City of Roses, in the strategic heart of South Africa

I took this photo of a rose in front of the City Hall of Bloemfontein/Mangaung, also known as the City of Roses.
I took this photo of a rose in front of the City Hall of Bloemfontein/Mangaung, also known as the City of Roses.

A country in turmoil

In the first half of the 19th Century the interior of Southern Africa was in turmoil. To the east the the Zulu Kingdom under King Shaka was a rising power with expansionist ideas. The expansion of the Zulu Kingdom was driven by economic and ecological factors – there were huge trade opportunities opening up while an extended drought brought tremendous suffering to the Zulu people.

To take advantage of the first and obviate the problems of the second factor King Shaka aggressively and violently attacked his neighbours, deposing their rulers and absorbing their territories into the Zulu Kingdom. This time was known to the Nguni speaking people as the mfecane (crushing) and to the Sotho people on the Highveld as the lifaqane (hammering).

The destabilising factor to the west was the massive uprooting of whites from the Cape Colony in the Great Trek, which started in about 1834, a large-scale infiltration of the interior by people with superior arms and a firm belief in a God-given mission to establish themselves in Boer states independent of the authority of the British Colonial power.

In all this turmoil a young prince of the royal house of the Basotho used his considerable diplomatic and political skills to protect his people from the effects of the lifaqane. His name was Moshoeshoe and he saw the implications for his people and his country of the two infiltrations, that of whites from the south and of amaZulu from the east.

The area between the Orange and Vaal Rivers had been annexed to Britain as the Orange River Sovereignty,.

A British Resident in the region, Major Henry Douglas Warden, bought the farm “Bloemfontein”, literally “Flower Spring” in Dutch, from one Johannes Nicolaas Brits, in 1846. Warden wanted to set up a military post in a place convenient to route from the Cape to Winburg, the oldest town in the province now called Free State, which was formerly the Orange River Sovereignty and then became the Orange Free State Republic. Bloemfontein also had the advantage of being free from the horse sickness then ravaging the country.

King Moshoeshoe I. Image Wikipeida
King Moshoeshoe I. Image Wikipeida

The strategic role

Bloemfontein is almost in the middle of South Africa and so has played some significant roles in the history of the country.

One of the earliest of these roles was the Bloemfontein Convention which was signed on 23 February 1854 and which marked the first withdrawal of British Colonial Sovereignty from a previously annexed territory. It also marked the end of the Great Trek, by giving the Trekkers what they had sought – independence in their own land. The reason for the British withdrawal was that they had to cope with frontier wars in the Cape Colony, seriously over-stretching their resources, and their troops had suffered two humiliating defeats at the hands of Moshoeshoe's soldiers in battles at Viervoet and Berea Mountain.

With the signing of the Bloemfontein Convention the Republic of the Orange Free State came into being with Josias Philippus Hoffman as president, though his presidency was short-lived and he was succeeded by J.N. Boshof.

Punch cartoon of Rhodes as Colossus. Image from Wikipedia
Punch cartoon of Rhodes as Colossus. Image from Wikipedia
Vanity Fair cartoon of Paul Kruger. Image from Wikipedia
Vanity Fair cartoon of Paul Kruger. Image from Wikipedia

War clouds gather

In 1899 tensions between the Boer republics and the British Colonial authorities were rising, fuelled by the imperialistic ideas of the Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain and the man he sent to represent his ideas in South Africa, Sir Alfred Milner.

The main cause of the tension was the perceived unfair treatment of the so-called “uitlanders” (foreigners) in the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR - South African Republic, later the Transvaal) who had flocked into the Boer republic after the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886. Arch-imperialist Cecil John Rhodes became Prime Ministers of the by-then self-governing Ape Colony in 1890 and he dreamt of an Africa under the British flag. Obviously the two Boer republics were obstacles in his way and he looked for was to overcome these blocks to his dream.

In order to get his way Rhodes, with the tacit assistance of Chamberlain, fomented an uprising of the uitlanders and planned an invasion of the ZAR from the western border with the British protectorate of Bechuanaland. The invasion took place in January 1896 but the uprising fizzled out and the invaders were captured. But it had done the damage of inflaming Boer sentiment against the United Kingdom and Rhodes, with tensions reaching boiling point. Rhodes lost the 1898 election in the Cape and W.P. Schreiner (brother of the famous South African author Olive Schreiner, who wrote The Story of an African Farm) became the Prime Minister. He intervened, with the support of President M.T. Steyn of the Orange Free State Republic, to try to mediate a resolution of the crisis. They arranged a meeting between Milner and Paul Kruger, President of the ZAR, in Bloemfontein, which began on 31 May 1899. Milner went into the conference with little intention of giving up and so his demands were firmly rejected by Kruger.

As one writer has put it: “In Bloemfontein, two worlds had passed each other by: that of the sophisticated, imperialistic Milner who increasingly wanted a confrontation, and that of the unaffected, nationalistic Kruger who preferred peace, but not peace at any price.” (A.M. Grunglingh: Prelude to the Anglo-Boer War, 1881 – 1899, in the wonderful An Illustrated History of South Africa, edited by Trewhella Cameron, Jonathan Ball Publishers, 1986).

And so the opportunity to prevent the war had come and gone and before the year had ended the two Boer republics were pitted in a painful and bitter contest with the might of the British Empire.

But this was not the end of the strategic and historic roles Bloemfontein was to play.

The Fourth Raadsaal with statue of Christiaan de Wet. Photo Tony McGregor
The Fourth Raadsaal with statue of Christiaan de Wet. Photo Tony McGregor

The Fourth Raadsaal

The Orange Free State Republic, which had come into being in 1854, needed new buildings to house its Volksraad (legislature) and so in 1882 tenders were issued for a suitable building. Architect Lennox Canning won the design competition and President F.W. Reitz laid the foundation stone on 27 June 1890. The beautiful, classically styled building was opened in 1893.

During the Anglo-Boer War it was used as a hospital and after the war it served as the Legislative Assembly of the Orange River Colony. After Union in 1910 it housed the country's Appeal Court.

In front of the building is an equestrian statue of Boer War General Christiaan Rudolf de Wet (7 October 1854 - 3 February 1922) who, at the end of that war was, for two whole days President of the Orange Free State. He was also a delegate to the Closer Union Conference which culminated in the creation of the Union of South Africa in May 1910.

The Appeal Court building. Photo Tony  McGregor
The Appeal Court building. Photo Tony McGregor

The Union of South Africa

When negotiations on closer union between the four British Colonies started during the first decade of the 20th Century the colonies vied for various prestigious concessions. Each colony (except Natal) was given something – the Transvaal got the administrative capital in Pretoria, the Cape got the legislative capital with Parliament being situated in Cape Town and Bloemfontein got the status of Judicial Capital, with the Supreme Court being located there.

A competition was held for the design of this impressive building. The competition was won by a Cape Town firm of architects, Hawke and McKinlay, who specialised in public buildings. The firm was influenced by the fin de siècle Arts and Crafts movement which advocated the use of local materials and a certain simplicity, almost austerity, of design.

This building, called by one writer, “a solidly secure 'citizen' of the Edwardian period.” (Desiree Picton-Seymour, Historical Buildings in South Africa, Struikhof, 1989). It was completed in 1906.

The building is still in use, now as the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in South Africa.

John Langalibalele Dube (1871 - 1946). Image from the ANC website.
John Langalibalele Dube (1871 - 1946). Image from the ANC website.

The African National Congress

After the four colonies of South Africa, Natal, the Cape, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State came together in union in 1910, the new parliament set about dealing with what was called “the Native question.” The four colonies, which were now provinces in the Union of South Africa, had very different legal dispensations regarding Blacks in their territories. In the Cape Black males had a limited franchise based on property holdings and were accommodated in schools which used the Cape Education Department's curriculums and examinations. But the same did not apply in the other three provinces.

One of the earliest Acts of the Parliament of the Union of South Africa was the now-infamous Land Act of 1913, which limited Blacks to 13% of the country's land area, although they made up more than 80% of the population.

In order to try to influence this Act and other measures planned, a group of Blacks got together in Bloemfontein in 1912 to discuss the best way to respond to the planned measures. Out of this meeting, attended by mostly middle class and professional people, was born the South African National Native Congress, officially formed on 8 January 1912, with the John Langalibalele Dube (1871 - 1946) as its first president. Dube was a man of great learning who had travelled to the United States in the

1890s where he had come under the influence of Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute.

The African National Native Congress became the African National Congress in 1923 and was in the vanguard of the struggle against apartheid after the Second World War, becoming the ruling party after the first democratic elections in April 1994.

A reflecting pool in the city centre. Photo Tony McGregor
A reflecting pool in the city centre. Photo Tony McGregor

Bloemfontein today

Bloemfontein today is a thriving city of almost 700000 citizens of all races. The city is also known by the Sotho name Mangaung. It is also the seat of the Provincial Government of the Free State.

Copyright Notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2010

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Comments 40 comments

Tatjana-Mihaela profile image

Tatjana-Mihaela 6 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

Your country is very interesting and so beautiful. 2 weeks ago I watched documentary about South Africa and I was amazed with all beauties of nature you have there.

Love and Peace


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Wow Tatjana, that was quick! Thanks so much for dropping by and being the first to comment here. South Africa is a wonderful country - when are you coming to visit us?

Love and peace

Tony


"Quill" 6 years ago

Thank you for the history lesson and all you have shared with us, very informative and filled to the brim with information.

Blessings


sheila b. profile image

sheila b. 6 years ago

I enjoyed reading this history and seeing the pictures.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Quill - your comment is much appreciated, thank you.

Sheila - thanks for dropping by.

Love and poeace

Tony


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 6 years ago from Canada

again another wonderful hub, I think i have learned more about South Africe here than i thought possible... excellent work of course rated up and bookmarked for reference.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

REbecca - thanks so much for that wonderful comment. I really do appreciate your coming by and reading. I am glad you find my scribblings about this beautiful country interesting.

Love and peace

Tony


ocbill profile image

ocbill 6 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

uh oh, now it is in full swing. You posted the times for FIFA matches. One month away. A great sports month indeed.


Hussains profile image

Hussains 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

Thanks for sharing historical facts about South Africa. It's a great tour of history and geography for some one like me, who has never been there.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Bill - thanks for you comment. Just the schedule for one city, admittedly, but, yes, it's all systems go!

Hussains - thanks for dropping by and commenting. Maybe it's time you did come here! It's a wonderful place to visit.

Love and peace

Tony


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

An intersting round up of your countries history. The world cup will hopefully bring some welcome good publicity


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Hi Ethel - yes I hope it will bring some of the right sort of publicity! Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

Love and peace

Tony


chasingcars 6 years ago

Wonderful, informative hub. It's so good to hear about your country first-hand. It has a rich history of struggle for freedom and independence.


De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

Yours is such beautiful country and yet so little of it's history is popularly known, MORE! :-)


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Cars - our country is rich in human memories and the struggle for freedom has been long and painful at times. And the line between the "good" and the "bad" is not always clear.

DG - more is on the way very soon! It is certainly a hope of mine to share more knowledge about the great country with people elsewhere. We lived for so long in isolation that people in other countries are generally only awar of the negative things about South Africa.

Thanks to both for commenting.

Love and peace

Tony


jayjay40 profile image

jayjay40 6 years ago from Bristol England

Great to know this information, it's good to learn. Thanks for sharing your knowledge


JannyC profile image

JannyC 6 years ago

This was enchaniting! and informative I wish there was hubpages when I was in highschool I would of saw this and for sure gotten a A on that report on Africa I did. I got C. Hahaha


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

JJ - you are most welcome. It is indeed my pleasure to share my insights about South Africa. Thanks for the visit.

Janny - a C is no disgrace! Thanks for dropping by.

Thanks for the comments

Love and peace

Tony


msorensson profile image

msorensson 6 years ago

Wow, and here I was thinking what they were showing in the tv program Shaka Zulu was all imagination! Granted it was the Hollywood version but now at least I know it was not all made up!

Thank you, Tonymac04. I enjoyed learning about your country.


BBMan 6 years ago

Great hub - superb info - I'll add this to my Word Cup hub you previously commented on - I really wish I could visit South Africa - so beautiful! BTW I'm also putting this on my 'other' account where I have a hub dedicated to South Africa and the World Cup Schedule!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Melinda - yes indeed it was not all made up. Those must have been frightening times, but then I guess all of human history is made up of frightening times! Thanks for the comment.

BB - thank you for your visit and comment. Thanks for the link also.

Love and peace

Tony


marijanareynders profile image

marijanareynders 6 years ago from Toodyay, Western Australia

Wow Tony, what a wonderful composition of facts and information about my home country and its colourful, living history. Such beautiful photographs too and taking us through events in such a conversational and factual manner, right to the doorstep of the upcoming soccer cup. A very interesting and excellently written article. Thank you!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Marijana - thanks for you much-appreciated and very kind words. Your visit is most welcome!

Love and peace

Tony


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

Thank you for the history, struggle of a country -- the essnce of being and becoming of a nation, I rated this up, Maita


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Thank you Maita. You are sweet!

Love and peace

Tony


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

It occurs to me that I do know something of South Africa. I have known of it since I was in elementary school. My Lutheran church in Minnesota put on the play, "Cry the Beloved Country" and my parents were actors. I watched this play with horror and sadness. It was quite impactful. I feel happy that your country has had what appears to be a happy ending... or happy middle... considering that the Khoikhoi and San were there at the beginning, right? Have you seen the rock paintings that I found on the www?


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Story - thanks for the visit and the comment. Cry the Beloved Country is a wonderful novel with a really tragic story.

I'm not sure which rock paintings you found but I am familiar with many rock painting sites in South Africa as they are a particular interest of mine. We had rock paintings not far from our house in Blythswood which I often visited.

Love and peace

Tony


ralwus 6 years ago

I always enjoy your little history lessons Tony. I remember the movie Zulu, I really enjoyed it. BTW thanks for you sentiments my friend. Charlie Peace and love now.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Charlie - thanks for the visit and the kind words. Hope you are keeping well, my friend.

Love and peace

Tony


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 6 years ago from London, UK

Interesting Hub with a lot of History. I didn't know that Fifa World Cup would be hosted there. I really hope everything goes to plan.

Best Wishes.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Thanks for the visit and the comment, Lady E! Bloemfontein is one of the host cities in South Africa. The kick off is exactly a month away today, so we're all getting into a state of excitement here!

Love and peace

Tony


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

Awesome! I love stuff like this!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Holle - thanks so much for the visit and the very kind words. I really appreciate them.

Love and peace

Tony


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

WOW!! Absolutely masses of information in here. Thank you Tony for some insight into a fascinating country.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Hi there Dim! Thanks for dropping by and commenting. It is always a pleasure to share this stuff with you.

Love and peace

Tony


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Beautiful city and really enjoyed the history lesson. Portland, Oregon is also called the City of Roses. Perhaps there are others as well? Great collection of photos in this hub...old lithographs or etchings...and your photography as well. Nice!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Thanks, Peggy, for dropping by and commenting. Your kind words area appreciated. Didn't know that about Portland. Maybe I will do a bit of research on the "City of Roses" nickname.

Love and peace

Tony


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Tony,

In Lufkin, Texas there is a Rose Festival each year where people compete and it draws many tourists. But as to the nickname..."City of Roses"...it would be interesting to find out if there are more. Houston has a terrific rose garden in Hermann Park. It would seem that many people love roses! My grandfather always had them and babied them in every garden that he had. My avatar is the center of a climbing rose we have in our backyard! :-)


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa Author

Lovely avatar indeed!

I will write something up about the "City of Roses" moniker if I find something interesting.

Thanks for coming back!

Love and peace

Tony


Money Glitch profile image

Money Glitch 6 years ago from Texas

Wow, thanks so much Tony for sharing a part of this country's history. The rose and the reflecting pool are beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

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