The Mafikeng Museum is housed in a stunning Victorian building (formerly the Town Hall) in the heart of town and chronicles an extraordinary period of South African history. Its gorgeous exterior has been beautifully restored in cool ice cream shades of white and pale yellow, although the hall inside is much more low key.
The museum itself clearly has been cobbled together with little or no resources, but is run by a very enthusiastic lady, and even the superannuated, somewhat dogeared display material can't dull what is a riveting tale. It contains some small exhibits on the natural history and pre-colonial culture of the region, but the lion's share of the exhibit is given over to the siege of Mafikeng. Other than the Anglo Boer War museum in Bloemfontein, the Mafikeng Museum perhaps provides the best overview of this tragic conflict and is well worth a visit if you're in the area.
Looking at it today, it is hard to imagine that this small dusty town close to the Botswana border was the point of convergence for some monumental personalities during the siege of Mafikeng, including Baden Powell (commander of the British forces and father of the Scouting movement), Sol Plaatje (founding father of the African National Congress) and Lady Sarah Wilson, generally accepted as having been the first woman war correspondent. Even the timing of the siege - which ran from October 1899 to May 1900 was notable: it spanned the turn of the century and took place in the twilight of the Victorian era when the concept of the British Empire was being challenged more insistently. Indeed, I can't help wondering why the opportunity to make a movie out of this has been overlooked ...
For more about Baden Powell, read my travel tip on the founding of the Scouting movement.
Sol Plaatje (pronounced 'Ply-kee') is a fascinating figure who was one of the founding members of the South African Native National Congress (which later became the ANC). He was the organisation's first General Secretary, but unfortunately his huge contribution to the movement has tended to be overshadowed by his higher profile predecessors such as Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo. Plaatje was an extraordinarily accomplished man who was blessed with immense literary and linguistic talents which were recognised early on by the missionaries who schooled him. Although he trained as a teacher, he served as a court translator during the siege and went on to found and edit a number of newspapers for the black population, as well as becoming an author and translating some of Shakespeare's works into Tswana (his mother tongue). His account of the siege - the Boer War Diary - was published posthumously and provides a fascinating alternative account of an event that had hitherto been reported on from an almost exclusively British perspective. For more on this extraordinary man, follow this link to the Sol Plaatjie House in Kimberley, a city which is happily rediscovering his titanic legacy.
Lady Sarah Wilson (who was Winston Churchill's cousin and married to Baden Powell's aide de camp) was appointed by the Daily Mail to report on the siege of Mafikeng after their previous correspondent was captured sneaking out of the town to send his despatch. In fact, she had been evacuated herself to escape the Boer forces as they closed in on Mafikeng, but was captured, and held hostage until her freedom was secured by exchanging her for a horse thief. Her breezy, somewhat schoolgirlish copy makes for interesting reading, as she juxtaposes gory detail on casulaties with a socialite account of the celebrations to mark Baden Powell's birthday.
The relief of the siege after 217 days was cause for great rejoicing across the British Empire, and an event considered so significant that was marked by 20,000 people taking to the streets in London to celebrate this victory. However, what is less well publicised and infinitely more tragic is the fact that Mafikeng was the location of one of the largest Boer War concentration camps in which hundreds of Afrikaaner women and children were interned under unspeakable conditions and died in droves.
The ordeal of those in the concentration camp continued for much longer than the seven month privations of the siege, and under even more deprived circumstances. In particular, despairing extracts from internees' correspondence and the pictures of skeletal children on the brink of death by malnutrition are the stuff of nightmares and even the sadly dilapidated display boards cannot detract from the stark impact of the subject matter. The British human rights campaigner Emily Hobhouse (a reforming battleaxe of note and one of my personal heroines) visited the camp and was so appalled by the conditions that she used her political connections to have the camp commander fired for negligence. The exact number of people who perished in this camp is unknown, but over 1,050 burials are recorded in the two cemeteries which served the camp (although this is likely to be an underestimate): by way of contrast, the British recorded 212 deaths during the siege, with the Boers sustaining significantly more casualties. The suffering in this - and over twenty other Boer War concentration camps - is powerfully commemorated by the Women's Monument in Bloemfontein.
Note that photography is forbidden inside the museum.
I was never a Cub or a Scout (and was never willing to accept the compromise of being a Brownie or a Girl Guide, the wimpy female equivalent), but I did my creatively challenged brother's art assignments and always wished I'd had the opportunity to be The Real Thing!
These days the male and female scouting movements have merged and I believe that the majority of recruits to the scout movement these days are female. Small Daughter is an enthusiastic Cub, Small Son is part of a pre-Cub pack known endearingly as the 1st German Meerkats, Mum finds herself of the organising committee for the Scout Pack and suddenly scouting is a major force in our lives.
Anyway, back to where it all began. I was driving through Mafikeng in search of an excuse to stop for a break, when a brown tourist sign for 'Baden Powell Hall' caught my eye. I knew that B-P was the founder of the Scouting movement, and vaguely recalled that he had some involvement with Mafikeng during the Boer War, so it seemed like as good an opportunity as any for a break, so I took a sharp right and went exploring ...
Quite by coincidence, when I arrived at the scout hall, there was a half a dozen Scouts on their bikes, eagerly waiting to leave for a camp in the bush somewhere nearby. I think that it would be fair to say that they didn't look much like the boy scouts that Baden Powell had probably envisaged - see photo - but were imbued with the spirit of adventure and optimism that B-P must have envisaged when writing 'Scouting for Boys' (which I was staggered to discover during my research was the fourth best selling book of the 20th century).
Robert (later Lord) Baden Powell seems to have been the ultimate colonial careerist and came from a good family (his godfather was Robert Stephenson of locomotive fame). Before he was promoted to the youngest Colonel in the British forces and took command of the British forces at the siege of Mafeking, he served in India, fought in the Zulu Wars in South Africa, the Second Matabele War in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the Ashanti War (in present day Ghana) as well as being posted for a time in the Mediterranean. After his time in South Africa, he returned to Britain for a period, and spent the last decade of his life in Kenya. Indeed, for someone who is often considered to be the quintessential Englishman, he seems to have spent relatively little of his active adult life there!
B-P was in charge of the British garrison in Mafeking when it was besieged by the Boers, and distinguished himself by his maintenance of discipline under extreme pressure over a gruelling duration of 217 days from October 1899 to May 1900 - for more on this epic siege, read up on the Mafikeng Museum.
Baden Powell first distinguished himself in military intelligence - whilst stationed in the Mediterranean, he apparently used to pose as a lepidopterist (butterfly collector) and disguised his drawings of strategic installations in his intricate sketches of the patterns on butterfly wings (you would probably consider this farfetched if it appeared in a movie script!). During his time in Africa, he authored several works on military reconnaisance and became more and more drawn to linkages to bushlore, tracking and model citizenship. He continued to refine this vision on his return to Britain, and ultimately coppiced his emerging vision of boy scouting onto the existing model of the Boys Brigade. Apparently at the King's encouragement, he retired from the army in 1910 in order to work full time on developing the burgeoning scouting movement.
By anyone's standards, the Scouting movement is a monumental legacy to have left behind: from B-P's initial camp of 22 boys in August 1907, it has mushroomed to an international membership of 31 million, making it the largest secular youth organisation in the world. It seems almost inconceivable that the concept of such a significant movement should have been conceived in a dusty, besieged town in the far Western Transvaal!
The lovely Theresa House was previously a convent founded by the Sisters of Mercy. This group of Catholic nuns were despatched from the mother house in Ireland to establish a mission with the mandate to run a boarding school for children of the officials of the Bechuanaland Protectorate.
The first five nuns arrived in February 1898 and construction work on the convent building and associated school was completed in June 1899, just before the start of the siege of Mafikeng. The building came through the siege remarkably unscathed, but ironically sustained major damage during a cyclone in August 1900. Facilitated by Lady Sarah Wilson (Winston Churchill's cousin and the first female war correspondent, who had been resident in Mafikeng for the duration of the siege), the Sisters were awarded a £2000 grant for repairs as from the fund set up to reconstruct Mafikeng after the siege.
The first black students were admitted to the school in 1901, and after nearly 70 years of operation, the school was closed in 1968 when the order relocated to areas of 'greater need' in Johannesburg.
We traveled with a group of about fifty people in this Megabus. It had enough room to hold all of our supplies and we did not have a single problem with the company. Our busdriver was an absolute pleasure! Although it was the longest he had ever chartered up to that point (three weeks), he asked that we request him specifically on our return trip in 2006. Not once was the bus left unattended or unsecured and he never failed to exude humility and respect for people in general. I can't speak highly enough of his services.
The items are produced by the women of the local village. They will custom make pretty much anything bead related and they are so welcome to special order items. They have been taught their skill through the community center in the village via the resources of Helping Hands. They are taught to track their own transactions, balance their own books and place orders for their needed materials. You are paying for more than a souvenir when you purchase from these women, you are validating their self worth as productive members of society.
What to buy: I LOVE the belts they make. An adult belt takes an entire eight hour day of work to complete. I just love the detail and the durability of the beadwork. I am also a huge fan of their bracelets and chokers.
What to pay: When I purchased my items, the items were really underpriced. There was plenty of room to add to the price simply as a gift if you so desire. I think I paid somewhere around twenty dollars for my belt which is similar to my daughter's rainbow one but it is blue and white. The braceletes were around five dollars each and the necklaces were probably between seven and ten.
As someone who is passionate about South Africa's tourist potential, the waste of public money on constructing - and then abandoning - this vast tourist office on the outskirts of Mafikeng made my blood boil!
This excessively ambitious tourist complex seems to have been established not only to house the tourist office, but also to host some sort of craft market and training/conference centre. I have a strong suspicion that this was one of the ill thought out initiatives associated with the 2010 World Cup, probably conceived in the halcyon days when optimistic politicians and their 'consultants' of dubious qualification eager to make a buck by fuelling unrealistic ambitions, pushed the notion that the entire 'A income' tourist world was going to decend upon our country. Ridiculous estimates of tourist numbers were bandied about, which wouldn't have made any sense even if the world hadn't descended into economic freefall after the global financial crisis, and over the top facilities like this were authorised with little research as to whether they were necessary or not. And likely nobody has - or will - be called to account for this gross wastage of public funds.
Let's be sensible. This complex is located in Mafikeng - a small, dusty town with an interesting history but little else to currently recommend it, located close to the Botswana border in an area that receives precious few tourists. It wasn't even close to any of the cities that hosted games (the nearest - Rustenburg - is over 100km away). Even South Africa's major tourist destinations - Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban - don't require tourist offices this big, so what halfwit decided that this could possibly be justified??? But let's stop here before I warm to the subject of kickbacks, nepotism and croneyism ...
To add insult to injury, this gross embarrassment is still signposted from the centre of town.
Complete worship...there is nothing more beautiful to see in the face of a child. Sunday school in America is so different than Sunday school in Mafikeng.
This photo was taken at New Life Church in Mafeking, South Africa. The church now meets in the community center because they have outgrown their old facilities. You'll find them next door to the Mmabatho soccer stadium downtown.
Within spitting distance of an upscale Mafikeng neighborhood resides a village of people whose orphans outnumber their skilled laborers. Top Village, once known for its impoverished state now boasts a community center and safe house. Having existed as something of a ghost town for years, the community was revived and its people given a hope for their future and a pride in their village when the buildings arrived. Within the walls of the community center women are taught marketable skills, orphans through the age of fifteen are served a hot meal each day, and thanksgiving rises to the Lord each Sunday during their church services.
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