Fun things to do in Pretoria

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Most Viewed Things to Do in Pretoria

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    The bitter irony of enemies united for eternity

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Dec 19, 2011

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    The Church Street cemetery in Pretoria qualifies as an 'off the beaten track' tourist destination, as it isn't on the well worn tourist circuit of Afrikaaner historical locations that takes in the Voortrekker Monument, the Union Buildings, Church Square, Paul Kruger House and maybe Jan Smuts House. However, it is only a hop, skip and a jump from the CBD, and is well worth a visit if you have an hour to spare (as I did between business meetings), or have a particular interest in some of its notable/notorious residents.

    The cemetery is a schizophrenic place in that it is home to Heroes' Acre - the resting place of the great Boer patriot Paul Kruger and political titans of the Grand Apartheid era, such as HF Verwoerd and JG Strydom - and also a British military cemetery from the Anglo Boer war. Thus, it is ironic that bitter enemies who fought to the death over conflicting ideologies are destined to be united in the same space for eternity.

    For more about Heroes' Acre and its (in)famous residents, see my tip below. Similarly, the Australian war criminal 'Breaker' Morant warrants his own dedicated tip, and Paul Kruger is such a towering force that he gets his own travelogue!

    So, having dealt with the 'celebrities', back to the 'rank and file' residents in the British military cemetery. I confess that I find military cemeteries particularly poignant places. The nature of war is that people tend to get killed in their prime, and perusing the ranks of British graves - reminiscent of soldiers on parade, in death as they were in life - the average age of casualties would only have been early 20s. The sort of men who were probably fiances, husbands and fathers, and who died far from home, leaving their loved ones to fend for themselves, and without even a place to mourn their dead.

    I visited the cemetery in late winter, when the cemetery was at its driest and dustiest and looking particularly forlorn. However, I did notice that in addition to the usual funeral evergreen trees, the cemetery contains a number of massive jacarandas, and they must be spectacular sight in late September/October when they are in full bloom. The monuments in the cemetery are photogenic at any time, but I would imagine that framed by the spectacle of jacarandas in full bloom - maybe with fallen mauve blossom strewn over the graves and and ideally, the inky grey/blues of a brewing Highveld thunderstorm in the background, it would be a photographer's delight! (in fact I think I've sold myself on the concept!)

    The cemetery is located just west of the CBD on the extension of Church Street. The main entrance is located on the southbound section of DF Malan Drive (not Church Street), so to enter, you'll have to run the gauntlet of Pretoria's rigid one way system. Drive past the cemetery (on your right if you're heading west) and turn right at the first opportunity (which will actually be the second road intersection) into the northbound section of DF Malan Drive. Then turn right into Proes Street and right again as soon as the one way system will allow you into the southbound section of DF Malan Drive (thus effectively travelling along three sides of a city block). The entrance is on the left hand side, and you can drive into the cemetery. (This sounds more confusing than it is in reality!)

    Paul Kruger British Boer war grave Grave of an Boer War commando

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    Pretoria Central prison - place of the hangman

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Dec 15, 2011

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    If you're driving north from Johannesburg to Pretoria on the N1 highway, just as you enter the city (and the highway narrows to a conventional road), you'll see the looming hulk of Pretoria Central prison on your left hand side. These days, the signage indicates that it is operated by the 'Department of Correctional Services', but in the bad old days of apartheid, the facility was renowned not so much for the 'correction' as for the 'disposal' of its high security inmates. Quite simply, Pretoria Central prison was feared because this was where the majority of South Africa's executions were performed in the years prior to the abolition of the death penalty.

    One of the first acts undertaken by President F.W. de Klerk in 1990 at the start of the political transition to democracy was to declare a moratorium on the death penalty, and capital punishment was finally abolished on 7 June 1995. However, before that time, the execution rate per capita in South Africa was one of the highest in the world, and 1,123 people were hanged at Pretoria Central alone between 1980 and 1989. In a macabre display of efficiency, the gallows was constructed so that seven people could be - and often were - hanged at once. This sort of warped productivity simply served to further dehumanise the fate of people who were judged to be too great a threat to society to remain part of it.

    Most people executed at Pretoria Central were convicted of murder and other 'common' crimes rather than political crimes: the chamber of nooses at the Apartheid Museum features 121 nooses, one for each person executed for treason, although undoubtedly many other political activists were executed for politically motivated murders and other violent crimes.

    Sixteen years after the formal abolition of capital punishment, the debate about whether to reintroduce the death penalty still rages on. Put simplistically, the argument for its reintroduction is based on the fact that South Africa is a very violent society with little respect for life, and that a violent crime deserves violent retribution. This point of view is bolstered by the fact that the alternative - 'life imprisonment' - seldom exceeds fifteen years due to prison overcrowding, and life in prison is seen to be an 'easy option'.

    It may be surprisingly to outsiders that the dividing lines between the pro- and anti- death penalty camps are not drawn on racial grounds, but rather between political liberals and conservatives. Realistically, capital punishment is very unlikely to be reintroduced since it is specifically prohibited by the Constitution, although numerous polls suggest that if a referendum were to be held on the matter, the pro capital punishment lobby would win out by a significant majority.

    Update (October 2011): This morning's Sunday paper interestingly quotes the Minister of Correctional Services as stating that the execution block (including the gallows and the 'pot' - the cells where the condemned were held for the last seven days of their loves) will be converted into a museum and will be opened to the families of the 4,003 prisoners who were executed here between 1921 and 1989. Whether it will be open to the general public has not yet been confirmed, so watch this space for more details ...

    Further update (15 December 2011): The 'Gallows Memorial' at Pretoria Central will be officially opened yesterday. No details have yet been released concerning opening hours and entrance fees - I'll keep you posted as these become available. In the meantime, read the chilling article from this morning's newspaper (and another personal account on the same web page) to get an insight into this grim reminder of our past.

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    See the work of a famous Ndebele artist

    by Moirads Written Dec 9, 2011

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    Ndebele women are known for the distinctive bright patterns they paint on the outside walls of their homes. Esther Mahlangu is the most famous of the Ndebele artists, and one of the ost famous South African artists generally.

    Mahlangu was born in 1935 near Middleburg and she lives in Weltevrede in Mpumalanga, the province where she was born. S Apparently her work is very much on display there and people visit from all over to see it.

    Mahlangu was taught how to paint by her grandmother and mother, but she came into her own, showing exceptional talent for this traditional painting, at the cloistering which is a tribal rite which pubertal girls undergo. Her work evolved and the simple traditional designs became more complex and she then transposed her new patterns onto canvas and other material, breaking new ground, popularising her work, and introducing people to her work. She is known for being innovative while being faithful to the traditional art of her traditional way of life.

    She has won a great many awards for her work locally and internationally. The first female artist ever to do so, she joined ranks with Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and David Hockney when she painted a vehicle for the Art Car Collection. She has exhibited extensively locally and internationally.

    Esther Mahlangu was invited to decorate the top level of the parking at the State Theatre in Pretoria and it is these photographs which accompany this. In one you can see the tip of the mirror on the driver's side (right in South Africa) where I took the photograph while I was leaving the parking garage one evening. In another you can see the parking bay demarcations. Now there are not many places where even the parking garages are beautified by fine works of art. :-)

    Esther Mahlangu art panels
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    Pay your respects to the infamous Breaker Morant

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Aug 26, 2011

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    Most people would struggle to name a convicted Australian war criminal, but if they could, chances are that it would be the controversial Breaker Morant!

    Perhaps best known because of the excellent 1980 Aussie movie of the same name (starring the strong jawed Edward Woodward in the title role) Henry 'Breaker' Morant was an Australian soldier who fought in the Anglo Boer war and was executed alongside his colleague Peter Handcock for allegedly shooting Boer prisoners in their custody. His reputation for bravery and defiance has been enhanced by his last words, where he reputedly yelled, "Shoot straight, you bastards!" at the firing squad.

    Morant and Handcock were executed in 1902, just before the end of the war, and are buried in a single grave in Pretoria's Church Street cemetery, literally a stone's throw from Paul Kruger, whose Boer forces they fought against. The grave is apparently quite a place of pilgrimage for the few Aussies who visit Pretoria: Aussies love an underdog - especially one who stood his ground against colonial authority - and Breaker Morant occupies the same 'antihero' niche as Ned Kelly.

    The way that their case was handled certainly illustrated the divide between the British establishment and the 'colonial' troops under their command, which is beautifully portrayed in a movie that is still stunning more than 30 years after it was made. At the time, the British commander, General Kitchener, was trying to negotiate an end to the war, and it is widely considered that Morant and Handcock were used as scapegoats to demonstrate that he was willing to deal with his own troops harshly.

    There is quite an active campaign to obtain pardons for Morant and Handcock, based on the fact that their court martial was not conducted in line with due process: follow the link below if you'd like to know more about this.

    Edward Woodward as Breaker Morant Morant and Handcock's grave

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    Cathedral of the Sacred Heart: Pretoria's oldest

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Jun 3, 2011

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    In a country where the Catholic faith is not well represented, it is interesting to note that Pretoria's oldest cathedral is the Catholic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. Even more intriguingly, the man responsible for bringing Catholicism to Pretoria was not an Irishman (as most Catholic missionaries to Southern African tended to be), but Bishop Jolivet of the Missionary Order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Frenchman from Brittany.

    In the late 1870s, Bishop Jolivet capitalised on the annexure of Pretoria by the British to break the previous Calvinist stranglehold on the town and successfully petitioned for permission to establish a Catholic church and mission. The first Catholic mass to be celebrated in Pretoria was on the feast of the Sacred Heart, to whom the chuch was subsequently dedicated.

    The first two churches constructed in 1877 and 1887 respectively soon became too small for the congregation, and the nave of the third (and current) structure was completed in 1933 (but only completed in 1964 due to budgetary constraints). According to the cathedral website, "The first sod for the foundation of the Church was turned at a special ceremony on the 21st August, 1932. A representative of each family of nine children was invited to be present at this ceremony. There were 24 such families!" No wonder the first two churches were so quickly outgrown!

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    Aloe-mad at Pretoria National Botanical Gardens!

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Apr 12, 2011

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    The National Botanical Gardens in Pretoria were established in 1946 and cover an area of 76ha in the eastern suburbs of the city. The gardens also house the South African National Biodiversity Institute.

    The site is located on a rocky ridge, which divides the garden in two sections, providing a cooler south-facing section and a warmer north-facing section. Virtually all of the garden comprises indigenous species, and 50% of South Africa's tree species are represented (quite a feat!).

    A paved nature trail gives access to the fascinating natural vegetation on the ridge, which boasts a diversity of indigenous fauna and flora. It is a safe and tranquil place, and ideal for parking off under a tree with a book, a picnic or a loved one (or preferably all three!) for an hour or two to recharge your batteries and re-establish your personal equilibrium!

    The gardens are lovely at any time of year, but my favourite time is in the winter, when the aloes are in full bloom. Anyone who has read my travel pages will probably have already worked out that I am aloe-crazy, and watching the sunbirds (the local, slightly larger equivalent of a hummingbird) flit manically between the vivid red, orange and yellow aloe blooms is a very special experience!

    There is an on-site restaurant and there are occasionally open air concerts in the Gardens - see the website for details.

    8.5 months pregnant with aloes! Euphorbia Succulent Aloe

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    Natural Cultural History Museum

    by PierreZA Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    This museum is still in development. One of the outstanding exhibitions, would be the art gallery. It has works of various South African arstists, including paintings and sculptures. Some works of Pierneef is on display.
    Another part focusses on Marabastad, a part of Pretoria City, and the impact apartheid had.
    A craft section displays 12 different crafts by women of South Afica over a time period.
    It is a small museum and will take only 1 - 2 hours to visit.
    It has a good museum shop with quality items on sale. It also has a restaurant.

    Entrance to the museum - Ndebele Art
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    National Zoological Gardens

    by PierreZA Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Pretoria has a fantastic zoo. Although I prefer to go to one of our many game reserves, the zoo offers a different experience.
    You can book night-visits, which is a very nice experience, as you get to see many nocturnal animals, which is not active during the day.
    There is a craft market in the street, outside the entrance to the zoo.
    The zoo has a very good website, which gives a lot of up to date information.
    Night visits should be booked in advance (see details below)

    Zoo entrance
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    IMAX

    by PierreZA Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    The IMAX theatre is in the Menlyn Shopping Mall.
    It has several shows every day.
    Being in the Menlyn Park Mall, there are plenty of other entertainment and plenty restaurants to choose from.
    The monie scedule can be found at the website in this tip.

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    More places of interest in Pretoria and area

    by nora_south_africa Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    AFRICAN WINDOW
    BURGERS PARK
    CHURCH STREET CEMETERY HEROES ACRE
    DIAMOND HILL BATTLE FIELD
    FORT WEST
    JAN CILLIERS PARK
    MARIAMMEN TEMPLE
    NATIONAL BOTANICAL GARDENS
    NATIONAL FILM VIDEO AND SOUND ARCHIVES
    SAFF MEMORIAL
    SA MINT
    SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY MUSEUM
    SECURICOR LOFTUS
    SOUTH AFRICAN RESERVE BANK
    SPRINGBOK PARK
    STATE THEATRE
    THE IRENE CONCENTRATION CAMP CEMETRY
    VENNING PARK

    I will include a link with more info.

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    Paraglide over the dam

    by snipsa Updated Apr 4, 2011

    Less than half an hours ride from the North of Pretoria is a great tourist town called Hartbeespoort.

    With a great fleamarket, dam for the fish crazies out there and of course paragliding there's always something to do.

    This tip I'll focus on the paragliding.
    Imagine paragliding from the Magalies down with a look over the dam gliding down fearing that you're gonna crash into one of the 'koppies' but knowing deep down that you're perfectly safe.

    Try it, you'll love it! That is of course if you're an adrenaline junkie!

    The dam
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    KOPANA LODGE

    by Braveheart.southafrr Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    HERE THEY HAVE SERVICED UNITS AND SELF CATERING ACCOMADATION AVAILBLE THE WILD LIFE IS GOOD , THEY HAVE A GOOD VARITY OF ANIMALS AND A WATERING HOLE JUST IN FRONT OF THE CAMP THEN YOU CAN BASICALLY SEE THE ANIMALS FROM THE CAMP. THERE IS WHITE RHINO , GIRAFFE , GEMSBOK, LIONS , LOEPARDS TO NAME BUT A FEW .................

    KOPANA LODGE
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    Bonsai - minature Trees - Club

    by kenHuocj Written Nov 16, 2010

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    Pretoria has a thriving Bonsai Club where trees from the Bushveld of Northern and Western Provinces are nurtured for years.
    Charles Cernonio and others have trees worth a look. Charles has been invited to many World conventions to talk about his styles

    Go to the Website of the Bonsai Kai - Lots of Info and try to time your visit to coincide with one of their meetings

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    The State Theatre

    by Moirads Updated Apr 25, 2010

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    The State Theatre in Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, is a grand building, designed and built in the 1970s, and it has a wonderful lush, rich feel to it. Situated in the centre of Pretoria it has beautiful open terraced balconies which give a view over the inner city. Some of South Africa's most beautiful art works can be seen on its walls, including the brightly decorated basement parking area which is painted in Ndebele style.

    Home to six theatres, the largest of which is the Opera Theatre, there is also a Drama Theatre (the second largest), the Momentum, the Intimate (the smallest of the theatres which does both caberet and traditional seating), the Rendevous (a caberet style venue) and the Arena. The Momentum and the Arena are extensively used for smaller, indigenous drama works and one can get a good idea of what is happening at grassroots level by attending one of these productions. The productions are usually very reasonably priced at about R50 during the week. Jazz, choral music and dance are also often found on the boards at the State Theatre.

    The Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra play some of their season performances at the State Theatre on a Friday night, a welcome treat for Pretoria based music lovers.

    There is a Capellos restaurant in the building, but it attracts a local drinking clientele as well as the theatre crowd and it is not always terribly user friendly. There are bars on every level as well as coffee, although these are often not staffed except at the main level.

    I have always regarded a visit to the State Theatre as an occasion, made so partly because it involves a forty five minute drive from Johannesburg (off peak traffic times) to get to it. In the apartheid era and shortly thereafter it was home to the Performing Arts Council (PACT) and operas and ballets were regularly performed here, but funding cuts have seen the demise of these things and one now gets the cheap indigenous stuff mentioned above rather than opera and ballet.

    The State Theatre is home to the Capital Festival in September and to the Black Tie Ensemble (an opera group). Opera Africa usually also stage a season there each year, with La Boheme being the 2010 offering - it was fabulous!

    In recent years it has also served as the home of the premier Gauteng Theatre Awards, the Naledis (Naledi means "Star"). These are highly prestigious awards and tickets for the public are extremely limited and much in demand. This event usually takes place in February or March each year for the previous year.

    The garage entrance to the Drama The State Theatre has an extensive art collection
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    Fort Schanskop

    by mvtouring Written Aug 24, 2009

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    This fort was built at a cost of GBP 47,500. It was handed over to the government on 6 April 1897. It was supplied with a paraffin engine powered generator for electricity, electrical lighting and a search light. A telephone and telegraphic links were also installed. Water was supplied from a pump station in the Fountains Valley which was shared with the nearby Fort Klapperkop.

    The garrison was initially armed with one officer and 30 men and was armed with 37 mm Maxim-Nordenfeldt cannon, Martini-Henry hand-cranked Maxim machine guns and a 155 mm Creusot gun (also known colloquially as a "Long Tom"). By October 1899, only 17 men were still stationed at the fort.

    Both the garrison and the armaments were gradually reduced during the course of the Second Anglo-Boer war until there was only one man and no guns left over on 5 June 1900, the day on which British forces occupied Pretoria.

    The surrounding area currently includes a refurbished statue of Danie Theron which was originally erected at the Danie Theron Combat School in Kimberley. The statue was moved to its current location at Fort Schanskop and unveiled on 6 March 2002.

    Also included on the premises is a scale model replica of the Trek Monument that was inaugurated on 16 December 1954 in Tanzania (Formerly known as Tanganyika).

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