Kruger and the Belgian brews

2012-11-02 11:50

To get into Tshwane, travellers heading north on the Ben Schoeman Highway get caught in a flowing river of charging and roaring vehicles, bakkies and even buses that stream through Thaba Tshwane’s tarmac-lined valleys until the city’s first spectacle appears.

To the left, as one approaches the Eeufees off-ramp, stands the brutal lump of marble and bricks that is the Voortrekker Monument, crouched atop Proclamation Hill.

It is flanked to the right on the adjacent peak by Freedom Park, with an asphalt stream running between them.

I avoided that off-ramp last week and followed the smoggy stream past the prison yard with the large jacaranda trees lining the road.

With the mid-afternoon sun approaching the western horizon, I made the first stop at Paul Kruger’s old house.

Standing at Number 60 on the western edge of Church Street, it’s best approached with a right turn from Potgieter Street, now renamed Kgosi Mampuru Street.

The house has been a national monument and museum since 1936 apparently. This is where the late Boere leader and President of the Zuid Afrikaanche Republik lived with his wife during the last 16 years of the 19th century.

The museum is made up of the original house, two display halls and Oom Paul’s State Railway Coach.

Let’s call the locomotive a Voortrekker leader’s ex-post facto answer to Jacob Zuma’s presidential jet, the Boeing 737 Inkwazi.

The tourist pamphlets say that Kruger last used it as he went into exile and crossed the border into Mozambique at Komatipoort.

He went into Maputo, then Lourenço Marques, to catch a boat ride to Europe, where he died.

Kruger had left his ailing wife to remain in the house in May 1900 as the British troops were advancing during the Anglo-Boer War, which broke out in 1899.

Her name was Gezina. The little suburb to the north of the city near the zoo is named after this woman who apparently gave him 16 children.

It takes me just under an hour to study the artefacts on display.

The main house is decorated with clothes, furniture and utensils used by the Krugers at the time of their residence here.

The two halls are littered with memorabilia.

Posters, newspaper clippings and pictures that document both Kruger’s time in exile and other milestones that didn’t fit the curatorial theme of the main house.

The visit is punctuated by international tourists.

Occasionally noticing the absence of the security personnel, I take liberties in charging their nerves by lightly humming Zuma’s rallying chant, “Awuleth’ Umshini Wam” just to see how they’d respond.

Without fail I get that anxious greeting and a smile that is followed by a quick exit.

Outside the white-walled house, a wooden gate gives a domestic feel.

It’s flanked by two marble lions that recline leisurely.

They look much more relaxed than their cousins on Lions’ Bridge near the Union Buildings.

Afrikaaner legend has it that Kruger killed his first lion at 14, hence the abounding iconography that links him to the wild cat.

It’s a story that couldn’t compete with a prospect of a cold Belgian beer served at Cafe Riche on Church Square.

It’s reputably the oldest cafe in the city, established in 1905.

Sitting with friends over a rich brew, which manages to balance body and bite into a refreshing taste, the regular boy banter is replaced by a giddy spirit of youths rediscovering a city they thought they knew.

The air is marked by a yeasty odour of spilled beer burnt by the now setting sun and the metallic smell of the revved engines of passing cars.

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