Tswane – Crown Jewel of Gauteng

The Jacaranda City boasts many, many wonderful attractions… including the only city in the world with a Big 5 game reserve within the city limits.

 

If you are planning a visit to the City of Tshwane in northern Gauteng province, popularly called the Jacaranda City and incorporating among others Pretoria, Cullinan, Hammanskraal, Shoshanguve, and Centurion, consider the following.

You will be entering a unique and stately, old but modern city that has within its city limits historical battlefields and military forts, many heritage sites, art galleries and museums, theatres, dams and rivers, a number of bird sanctuaries and nature reserves, a meteorite crater, the  seat of government, three universities, a large number of resorts, monuments galore, a massive military headquarters complex, numerous parks and public swimming pools, some of the country’s finest hotels and restaurants, night clubs, foreign embassies, the home of Blue Bulls rugby, modern shopping malls, zoological gardens and the country’s oldest zoo.

 And, wait for it, Tshwane claims to be the only city in the world with its own Big 5 game reserve right in the city, as well as the biggest hole resulting from diamond digging, four times bigger than the famous Kimberley Hole, it is claimed.

All of this within the city limits and within a radius of about 30 to 60km from historical Church Square in the city centre!

 

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Paul Kruger statue on historic Church Square

Perhaps now you will pause a moment and re-plan your trip the next time you have to pop over from Johannesburg or some other nearby location for business, a visit to a friend or family, to pop in at some government office, or even that boring Sunday drive, to truly discover this fabulous city. Or, if travelling from farther away en route to, say the Kruger National Park, consider adding on a few days for an exhilarating stopover in Tshwane.

Dig just a little deeper, and you will discover a treasure trove of wonderful experiences just waiting for you.

Tshwane is the second largest of South Africa’s eight metropolitan municipalities by land area at 6,298Km2, but has the third lowest population density at 520 people per square kilometre. It has a total population of 3.3-million people. The city occupies almost all of the northern half of the province of Gauteng, which it shares with two other metros, Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg.

 

History

 

The first inhabitants of the area were the Southern Ndebele who settled here in a river valley around 1600, followed by refugees led by Mzilikazi during the Difaqane, also known as the Mfecane, a period of widespread warfare and chaos among indigenous ethnic communities, many of whom were displaced, absorbed into other tribes or, some, even wiped out. The latter were forced to flee the area again when Zulu raiders arrived in 1832.

 

The first white settler, or Boer, believed to have settled here was J.G.S. Bronkhorst who settled in the Fountains Valley in 1840. More Boer families soon started settling around Elandspoort. Pretoria was officially founded by Boer commandant-general Marthinus Wessel Pretorius, who had bought a large piece of land here for the purpose, and named it after his father, the Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius.

 

It became the capital of the Zuid-Afrikaanse Republiek (South African Republic, also known as Transvaal) in May 1860. In 1910 Pretoria became the administrative capital of the Union of South Africa, with Cape Town being the legislative capital and Bloemfontein the judicial capital. The Union Buildings were constructed on a hill overlooking the city for the purpose, and are still the administrative seat of government today, where the Presidency is also located.

 

From September onwards each year, the city transforms itself into a spectacular display of purple Jacaranda flowers that form a carpet over it. In 1888 a resident and avid gardener, one J.D. Cilliers, imported Jacaranda trees from Rio de Janeiro to plant in his garden. These trees flourished and quickly multiplied, and today about 50,000 Jacarandas line the city’s streets, giving rise to its popular name of the Jacaranda City.

 

Jacaranda City

Jacaranda City

 

Each year thousands of visitors come to the city, one of the older South African cities with a rich heritage and wonderful cultural diversity. Yet many who live just on its doorstep are not even aware of all it has to offer.

 

Heritage

 

The heritage centre is Church Square with its imposing Boer era statue of President Paul Kruger, surrounded by Boer warriors. All around the square are magnificent examples of the city’s original architecture, including the old Raadsaal (former Transvaal parliament), Old Reserve Bank Building, and the Palace of Justice.

 

Magnificent Palace of Justice, Church Square

Magnificent Palace of Justice, Church Square

 

A short distance to the south is Freedom Park, a 52-hectare site where a memorial has been built for those who lost their lives in the struggle for freedom. It is a centre for culture, history, indigenous knowledge, heritage and spirituality.  With Pretoria lying in a valley surrounded by hills, Freedom Park was naturally built on a hill overlooking the city.

 

Freedom Park, Tshwane

Freedom Park, Tshwane

 

Northeast of Church Square, in the suburb of Arcadia, the Union Buildings occupy another hill, in front of which stands an imposing 9m-tall statue of Nelson Mandela who was sworn in here as South Africa’s first post-1994 president. And southwest of Church Square, the massive Voortrekker Monument sits astride its own hill. This monument commemorates the pioneer (Voortrekker) history of Southern Africa and most of the history of the Afrikaner, and is one of the most visited heritage sites in Gauteng. The monument was inaugurated in 1949.

 

9m tall Nelson Mandela looking over the city

 

Military history & museums

 

Next-doors to it, on its own hill too, lies the sprawling major South African military complex of Thaba Tshwane, established around 1905 as Roberts Heights by the British imperial army, and later renamed Voortrekkerhoogte, before again being renamed after 1994 to its current name. Located here are, among others, the SA Army College, SA Air Force College, the Air Force Memorial, and 1 Military Hospital. On nearby Bays Hill in Swartkop, overlooking Air Force Base Swartkop, the first air force base of the SA Air Force, is the Air Force Memorial.

 

Air Force Museum

Air Force Museum

 

Driving down the hill into the city you will pass the majestic old buildings of what was once the barracks of the Transvaal State Artillery, built in 1896 in the neo-Renaissance style with red brick and yellow sandstone. It was later used by the British occupying forces as their headquarters during the Anglo-Boer War, then used as the Union Defence Headquarters and still later as the SA Defence Headquarters. Keep on driving north and you will pass the Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre, one of the largest prisons in the country previously known as Pretoria Central Prison. When South Africa still had the death penalty, its gallows were housed here. Mampuru II, after whom the prison is named, was hanged here in 1883 after he killed rival leader Sekhukhune.

 

Fort Schanskop

Fort Schanskop

Staying in the hills, you can visit four military forts built on surrounding hills by the Boer republic’s government to protect the city, just before the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War. Three of these – Fort Schanskop, Fort Wonderboompoort and Fort Klapperkop – were designed and built by the German engineering company Krupp. The fourth, Fort Daspoortrand, was built by a French company. Of these Klapperkop and Schanskop are the most impressive, having been meticulously restored, with Klapperkop housing a military museum with life-like exhibitions and relics from the Anglo-Boer War.

 

On another hill south of the city, is the huge, impressive building of the University of South Africa, with a view to the city’s oldest higher education institution, the University of Pretoria. The city is also home to the Tshwane University of Technology. Numerous research centres are found across the city, making it South Africa’s research capital.

Famous Melrose House

Famous Melrose House

 

Museums are plentiful, depicting every facet of South Africa’s history, from natural to military, and everything in-between. Museums include the National Museum of Cultural History; Freedom Park; SA Air Force Museum; Geoscience Museum; Kruger Museum; National Film, Video and Sound Archive; Pioneer Museum; SA Air Force Memorial; Sammy Marks Museum; Science and Technology Museum; Pretoria Art Museum; Melrose House Museum; Smuts House Museum; National Museum of Natural History; Voortrekker Monument and Museum; Correctional Services Museum; and the Willem Prinsloo Agricultural Museum.

 

Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural History

 

Natural attractions

 

Just north of the city centre lies the Dinokeng Big 5 Game Reserve, prompting the city’s claim that it is the only city in the world that has a Big 5 game reserve within the city. Here, living in close proximity to human city dwellers, you will find elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo roaming freely within the reserve.

 

And a few street blocks north of Church Square are the National Zoological Gardens with its zoo, the oldest and largest zoo in South Africa. The 85-hectare zoo houses 3,117 specimens of 209 mammal species, 1,358 specimens of 202 bird species, 3,871 specimens of 190 fish species, 388 specimens of 4 invertebrate species, 309 specimens of 93 reptile species, and 44 specimens of 7 amphibian species.

 

South Africa’s oldest, largest zoo

South Africa’s oldest, largest zoo

 

For nature lovers these there is much more than just these two attractions, such as: Luton Valley Bird Sanctuary; Moreleta Kloof Nature Area; Pierre van Ryneveld Nature Area; Struben Dam Bird Sanctuary; Austin Roberts Memorial Bird Sanctuary; Bishop Bird Nature Area; Boardwalk Bird Sanctuary; Wonderboom Nature Reserve; Bronkhorstspruit Nature Reserve; Chamberlain Bird Sanctuary; Kwaggaspruit Nature Area; Colbyn Nature Area; Klapperkop Nature Reserve; Faerie Glen Nature Reserve; Groenkloof Nature Reserve; and Rietvlei Nature Reserve.

 

Big 5 game reserve in the city

Big 5 game reserve in the city

 

Northwest of the city centre lies the only ecotourism destination of its kind in South Africa: the Tswaing Meteorite Crater (a Northern Flagship project), that explores the past, protects the present, and serves the future. It is the site where some 220,000 years ago a fiery meteorite the size of half a football field slammed into the earth’s crust. The impact formed a crater, 1.4Km in diameter and 200m deep. This crater, formerly known as the Pretoria Saltpan (or Zoutpan), is one of the best-preserved terrestrial meteorite impact craters anywhere in the world.

 

Many recreational attractions

 

Other great attractions offered by the city include an antique route with 12 antique shops that house furniture, crafts and art within a radius of about 5km. Some twenty minutes’ drive from the city centre is the quaint little diamond mining town of Cullinan where a big hole four times the size of the Kimberley ‘Big Hole’ was dug. Also discovered here, was the largest diamond ever found in the world, the Cullinan Diamond, which now forms part of the British crown jewels.

 

With numerous recreational resorts and areas, and some two dozen public swimming pools spread across the city, a leisurely family picnic is another option when visiting the city.

 

Modern shopping malls

Modern shopping malls

 

Other well-known attractions around the city include Burgers Park, the oldest park; Church Street Cemetery Heroes Acre, established in 1867; the City Hall; Diamond Hill battlefield where a major battle was fought between 14,000 English troops and 4,000 Boer fighters on 11 and 12 June 1900; Fort West Village, a 389ha property with more than 250 historic buildings;  Jan Cilliers Park, an indigenous park with water features and beautiful views of the city; Magnolia Dell, a park known for its arts and crafts market; Mariammen Temple, the oldest Hindu Temple in Pretoria;  the National Botanical Gardens; the SA Mint; Loftus Versfeld Stadium, home of Blue Bulls rugby;  the South African Reserve Bank; the South African State Theatre; and Irene Concentration Camp Cemetery.

In addition there are numerous large and modern shopping malls spread around the city, as well as many fine hotels, restaurants, cinema complexes, clubs and pubs. The City of Tshwane truly is a city that caters for every taste or experience. Don’t miss it next time you are in or headed towards Gauteng.