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The War Museum of the Boer Republics in Bloemfontein is a tragic reminder of the full-scale war between Englishman and Afrikaner - a conflict whose shots still echo down to the present.
Exhibits in the C F Beyers Hall tell the tragic story of the concentration camps, which achieved notoriety for their high loss of life, especially among women and children. By the end of the war some 26000 Afrikaners had perished in these camps.
Outside, against its background of sky and hill, the Women's Memorial doesn't dominate until you're close to it. You look up into the face of the mother holding her dead child, and the face of the woman whose gaze goes above you and beyond, perhaps into the distant future. Whatever the sculptor intended, you may interpret his work as you will. See the figures as they are, or create, if you like, your own allegory of the land and its people, and war. There are phases of war - all war - represented in the bronze groups that make up the Burgher Memorial. 'Farewell' shows a burgher riding off to war, strong and strongly mounted on a fiery horse, leaving behind wife and child. Among some trees is another group, called 'The Exile'. Two desolate figures stand by a ship's rail, one a man too old to fight and the other a young boy. Both are defenceless and despairing, contemplating the ordeal of exile and the end of life as they have known it.
Written Feb 25, 2003
One of Bloemfontein's treasures is the 70 ha botanical garden on its northwestem fringe. Some 5 ha of the garden have been developed to display and preserve as much of the Free State flora as will grow there - with particular emphasis on species such as Crinum, klipdagga and witgousblom. The naturally wooded dolerite koppies beyond the cultivated garden contain cabbage trees (Cussonia paniculata), white stinkwood (Celtis africana), false olive (Buddleja saligna) and wild olive ( Olea europaea subsp. africana).
The winding paved path is ideal for the elderly and the physically disabled, while the more agile can climb the koppies (a one-and-a-half-hour trip) to take in the scenery.
The Botanical Society of South Africa arranges periodic talks and moonlight walks, and sunset concerts are held during summer.
The garden is at its best in spring, when most of its flowers are in vivid bloom, but there is something of interest at all times of the year - even in midwinter, when the Aloe grandidentata brightens the koppies with splashes of warm red, and the wild pomegranate (Lligozum obovatum) produces its yellow trumpets.
The garden has a well-stocked nursery where surplus indigenous trees, shrubs, bulbs and succulents are sold, and there is also a herbarium where 5000 species are kept - a reference source much used by students.
Written Feb 25, 2003