Searching for Tshwane

2010-09-10 13:50

It is not a smooth expedition trying to trace down the footsteps of Chief Tshwane, after whom the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality is named. And if you’re particularly interested in unearthing physical evidence of the chief’s rein in what is now South Africa’s capital city, you’re guaranteed one thing: futility.

Little is recorded of the man, and even the city’s tourism authorities refer to him only in passing. The City of Tshwane’s tourism office say in leaflets handed out to tourists that Chief Tshwane was the son of Chief Mushi, who moved from Zululand and settled in the area before the arrival in the 1830s of the Voortrekkers.

Little else is said of the chief, whose name has now been eternalised in history, given to the capital city of the biggest economy on African soil – a capital city that carries immense political and historic weight not only in Africa, but the world, housing the second-largest number of foreign diplomatic missions after Washington, DC.

So my three-day mission to find physical evidence of Chief Tshwane eventually went off course, leading me to two important figures in the history of South Africa: President Paul Kruger and Prime Minister Jan Smuts. The houses of these two important South African statesmen still stand in their original form and have been turned into museums.

Kruger’s house

My first stop is at Paul Kruger House along Church Street, half a kilometre or so west of Church Square in Pretoria. From the outside, without the posters and the distinctly white paint, the house could be any other building. But wait until you explore the house inside, you’d be fascinated – or, in my case, even get frightened.

President Kruger’s belief in Afrikaner nationalism and his determination for self-governance made him deeply suspicious of “outsiders” – particularly the English – and/or any other “outside” influence. He is even said to have suspected that the woman depicted at the roof of the Old Raadsaal building (the seat of government during his time, situated at Church Square) was Queen Victoria of England.

It was only after assurances that the figure depicted the Greek goddess Athena and after she was named “Die Beeld Van Vryheid” (The Statue of Freedom) that President Kruger and fellow Afrikaner diehards accepted the statue’s presence at the roof of the seat of their government. If it were indeed Queen Victoria in the depiction, President Kruger’s reaction would have been predictable: “Bring her down,” he would have bawled in Afrikaans.

Throughout his tenure as President, Kruger established strong relations with many countries across the world. During the Anglo-Boer War, messages of support, often accompanied by an assortment of tokens of honour, poured in from governments, organizations and individuals from all over the world, including Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, the United States, Australia, France and other countries.

The Russians sent a token of sympathy (a one-and-half metre tall depiction of a mountain with soldiers on horsebacks) to President Kruger in the year 1900, just in time before Lord Roberts of England and his forces, under the command of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, advanced on the ZAR’s capital.

The story of President Kruger’s overthrow is recited grudgingly by Afrikaner historians, and when I asked one old woman at Prime Minister Jan Smuts’ house if this occasion signified a coup, the answer was a straight no. “Coup is not the word,” she said. “It wasn’t a coup. The government was intact even in President Kruger’s absence.” And, to a certain degree, the Boers, never the type to admit defeat, were still indeed in charge.

When British forces hoisted the Union Jack at the Old Raadsaal on 05 June 1900 to officially mark the overthrow of President Kruger’s rule (and, with it, the end of Afrikaner political dominance and purity), the old man was on his way out of the country through Mozambique in a luxurious railway carriage designed specifically for him by the French.

Before crossing the border at Komatipoort into Mozambique on 11 September 1900 to board a ship destined for Marsailles in France, President Kruger is said to have shed tears in front of his most trusted aides, in particular General Louis Botha. This must have been a deeply emotional moment for the Boer hero, compounded by the fact that he left home an ailing wife, Gezina Suzanna du Plessis, with whom he had 16 children.

Fascinated and impressed

As I leave the museum with mixed feelings (sad that the story of the man is not being told to a wider audience, but sadder that my own people, Chief Tshwane amongst them, were not only defeated but totally obliterated as well, and sadder still that no one seems to care), I glance at the visitors’ book to see what others who came before me had to say about the museum and the man it is dedicated to.

The overwhelming response from visitors, from far and near, is that they were fascinated and very impressed. They write of their experience of the museum: “Very interesting,” “mooi,” “pragtig”, “uitstekend”. But not everybody leaves congratulatory notes. “Ek hoor spoke (I hear ghosts)”, says one.

The Kruger ghost tale is also briefly narrated in journalist GH Wilson’s memoir, available at the house of Jan Smuts – now also a museum, situated at the suburb of Irene in Pretoria. When he visited The Big House in Middelburg, which belonged to British officers, Wilson claims to have woken up one morning to see “a benign old gentleman, rather like President Kruger in appearance.” When he stretched his hand to touch him, Wilson says the man disappeared.

Walking through the farm where General Smuts’ house remains, you’d be forgiven for overlooking it. I first walked past the house before seeking directions from a woman standing at its door. “This is the house; welcome,” she said, pointing to the big tin house under the shades of plantation trees.

From the outside, the house looks like a temporary structure, let alone an historic home of what should be one of South Africa’s most illustrious families.

Having served as South Africa’s Prime Minister twice (1919 – 1924 and 1939 – 1948), General Jan Smuts remains, to this day, a vital historical figure in the life of South Africa and in global politics.

Smuts, a Cambridge scholar, was appointed Attorney-General by President Kruger at the age of 28. He became a founder member of the League of Nations, which later developed into the United Nations. The wooden table from which he single-handedly drafted the constitution of the Union of South Africa remains at his house.

Apart from being an accomplished scholar, Smuts was also a brave military leader whose role in President Kruger’s government directly precipitated the Anglo-Boer War. The war broke out in 1899 after the British failed to respond satisfactorily to an ultimatum, written by Smuts as the Attorney-General of the ZAR, demanding the withdrawal of British troops from the Cape and Natal colonies.

The ultimatum proposed “friendly arbitration” to the dispute over territories, but Her Majesty’s government ignored it, and so the war ensued. General Smuts’ military regalia is still available at the house, including pictures of him greeting Boer troops in the Vry Staad (the Free State).

So highly regarded within military ranks was General Smith’s family that his wife, Mrs. JC Smuts (fondly referred to by Afrikaners as the “Ouma of Our People”) got a song dedicated to her by the soldiers. The military used the song in their recruitment drive, and one line out of its lyrics declares: “Now’s the time to right the wrongs (meaning British occupation and colonialism).”

As I left General Smuts’ house, now thoroughly enticed by Afrikaner history, somehow I didn’t regret abandoning my search for Chief Tshwane.

Madibeng Kgwete

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

  • @brendonshields - 2010-09-10 15:00

    You make a very interesting and valid point: there were territorial wars and power abuses in southern africa, even long before the whites got here. Just look at the plight of the Khoi people.
    anyway, very good article :-) & It's actually very disappointing that the new city of Tshwane might bear a name that doesn't mean much....a real pity!!! If they wanted to honour a past figure, I'm sure they could have chosen a more popular person.

  • Basil - 2010-09-10 15:03

    Best article I've read in ages - interesting facts and twists of history with an underlying depth or two of deliberately unasked questions. Please compose more.

  • Sambok - 2010-09-10 15:09

    I heard that the FF+ now approves of the name 'Tshwane" given to Pretoria. Apparently there is new evidence of a Boer General Tswanepoel fighting bravely at Majuba :)
    Have a great weekend everyone.

  • tjk - 2010-09-10 15:10

    As you have now picked up a bit more respect for old Paul Kruger, so one of my heroes is Shaka Zulu. I am a proud afrikaner, but each culture has its heroes, and one cannot help but repect them for their contributions for their people and the role they played in the development of the country we now call South Africa. Have a nice weekend!

  • Tsotsi - 2010-09-10 15:12

    King Tshwane is just a thumbsuck name on a tourism leaflet and that is it!

  • Pikanien - 2010-09-10 15:13

    What a wonderfully welcome (and long overdue) breath of fresh air. Thoroughly enjoyed reading that!
    To all the cynics - go have yourselves a lovely weekend and CHILL OUT.

  • malcomx@Author - 2010-09-10 15:13

    Parlo Jordan once said that as africans we need to free our mentality from slavey. What i just read her is pure nonsense by a white extremist pretending to be an african. If you cannot find chief Tshwane's foot prints, has anyone ever find Jesus foot prints? and i bet you bllody idiot you call yourself a christian who believe in the existence of God and that of jesus. What you need to do is try to find the foot prints of your great great grandfather and tell me if you were no lead to a farm where a dutch house of one Mnr Btha is still standing and eveidence of him having once lived there. settlers came to africa erased every history of africans having archived anything and a moron,brain the size of a wall nut comes to this forum and rubishes the history of one the icons of the fight against coloniasm. you are very stupid.

  • Juan - 2010-09-10 15:13

    How old is the oldest document written in an african language? Were africans able to write before westerners set foot here?

  • @news24 - 2010-09-10 15:18

    Every so often I try to give relevant, unbiased and verifiable comments but for some reason these are not published. However, you seem to IMMEDIATELY post the insensitive, disgusting and offensive drivel which you receive from "Cynical". Is this because he is actually a troll, in your employ? You obviously have no idea how much damage he is causing to the brand, and how many potential daily visitors/users he is chasing away. Wake up and smell the coffee, dammit!

  • Paul - 2010-09-10 15:18

    @ Kakabooi et all.. the original name was Pretoria Philadelphia (Pretoria of brotherly love)

  • Al - 2010-09-10 15:19

    The reference to the Louwrens article is L.J. Louwrens, The origin and meaning of the place name Tshwane, South African Journal of Cultural History 20(1), 2006, pp. 112-113.

  • Al - 2010-09-10 15:26

    Based on research and knowledge of the African languages, the idea that Tshwane carries the message that "We are the same" has been refuted. It actually never existed. The metro council's sticking with it reveals a level of dishonesty. I agree with the message that we are the same but not that Tshwane carries that meaning. We cannot and must never contemplate to attempt to alter history.

  • Ai - 2010-09-10 15:30

    Excellent article Madibeng!
    MalcolmX:Read the article again, slowly, slowly.

  • Thuli - 2010-09-10 15:31

    Then Pretoria should be, City of Hintsa or City of Shaka, or anyone we can tell a story about, not just a historyless individual.

  • ir8m8 - 2010-09-10 15:41

    i would easily read something like this on a weekly basis, and not just white historical leaders, all colours, from the response i am sure you can give yourslef a pat on the back...
    @Cynical (Lefty!?!) and Juan, as usual you have framed something so welldone into nothing with your totally inappropriate responses...Assholes!

  • @malcolmx - 2010-09-10 15:43

    Please educate us with some facts. What exactly, where, when, did the "icon of liberation" Chief Tswane do these great struggle of yours. Please provide some reference material so we can learn from your fount of knowledge.

  • Musa Aphane - 2010-09-10 15:50

    History IS ALWAY written by the victors, is n't? In this case all that was left of Chief Tshwane was eradicated by the victorious boers. however, there was always oral history which our grandparents excelled in. Why is it that all these years, they us to refer to the racists capital as Tshwane? Your research should have taken yopu to the elders who know this place not Paul's place.

  • Francois@author&everyone - 2010-09-10 15:59

    Hey everyone, if you're at all interested in the Boer War era of our history, read Commando by Deneys Reitz. Not at all a dreary historical account, it's a gripping personal account of his own experiences, written immediately after the war.

  • Nick - 2010-09-10 16:04

    Madibeng, thank you for taking the time to learn and share your knowledge with us!

    I find it incredible that you have shown an interest in Afrikaner history. It is still part of the history of our great country regardless of what happened during the apartheid years.

    Thank you!

  • Hugh Robinson - 2010-09-10 16:07

    One thing is for sure if the man existed the Afrikaaner with his Calvinist penchant for record keeping would have said so. If Tshwane was around he must have given up his land pretty easy.

    The Afrikaaner would have recorded each and every deal made because that was that was they were in those days. To intimate otherwise is to perpetuate the myth of Tshwane the man.

    The fact that their is less than circumstantial evidence than he or his tribe existed is food for thought. Much like my claim to Robinson deep mines total BS.

  • Francois@author&everyone - 2010-09-10 16:13

    Oh, and also read "I Write What I Like", a collection of Steve Biko's writings. It is a crying shame that he was a towering persona, an intellect, a visionary, a philosopher and an inspiring leader, and isn't universally known and loved for that. The poignantly tragic end to his life for which he IS known, pales into significance compared to what he advocated and lived for. Worse than that even, once you study his entirely achievable ideals for South Africa, and compare those to the founding values of the liberation struggle, and then to where we are today, you start crying, all over again...

    Happy weekend.

  • Careful - 2010-09-10 16:13

    Bantu Steve Biko said "so much has been said for us, about us and seldom by us" Yes Chief Tswane history might not be Libraries or documented reason for this is because white people wouldn't want to appear as losers, if you recall the statue of King Shaka in the new airport in KZN was recalled because the person who was tasked with creating it did a blunder and he happens to be white. so much of our history is misdirected so to make us appear as animals. eveyday as a black man one is reminded that he is lesser of a human being by white counterparts, violent crime decreased by 8% and the majority of white people feel that this is not enough and everything we do as blacks is criminal... none the less you have a right to think whatever but we have and had many great african leaders. home work for some of you go research about Thomas Sankara ,Tupac Shakur, Bantu Biko any many more

  • Mike - 2010-09-10 16:23

    Now I know how Paul Kruger was able to buy a house on lake LE Mann, better know as Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The gold that some people still look for in the old Transvaal. its gone to Switzerland long time ago.

  • @Musa - 2010-09-10 16:27

    Not always.. sometimes "victors" keep history alive, and document it. Interesting that even the current Pretoria municipality have been unable to find enough proof to back up their demand to change the name to Tswane. Now if anyone could do it, surely it is them? Some vague reference in folklore to Chief Tswane just does not cut it, however much they wish to steamroller it through, which they probably will. I would have expected to see every tourism kiosk and official building to have plenty documentation to proof to any Tom, Dick and Harry that the Chief lived here, there was his kraal, etc etc etc.

  • Paul@Carefull.. - 2010-09-10 16:34

    Interesting statement : "because white people wouldn't want to appear as losers" Losers to what or who in the context of this discussion? Someone previously alleged that the Boere destroyed him, which is why there is no reference. Contradicts what you say, don't you think. Anyway, as someone else also said. the Boere were pretty good at record keeping of their trials and tribulations and I would have expected a lot more reference to Chief Tswane. We are digressing.. I am very impressed with what the author has written, and would encourage him to write more. There is a collection in the UP library, called the Rosa Swanepoel collection, which he might find interesting, seeing as she has spent many years researching Pretoria's past and history.

  • ng - 2010-09-10 16:35

    Damn, all this time I thought Tshwane was named after the Tshwanepoel family!

  • @MalcomX - 2010-09-10 16:48

    You are so full of hate that you have become blind. The history of Jesus was writen down and is reflected in scrolls dating way back. Even the death of Jesus including the place was recorded and still exist. You realy put to shame your forefathers and race. No one removed your history but you yoursleves. Stop blaming and start searching instead of just blindly believing a story you are told about Tshwane. You must remember that Shakas history was recorded by the very same people you deny. He was portraid as an intelligent warrier and leader who was respected for his ability, strategy and kingmanship. Your people did not record this but the Settlers did. Dingaan was also recorded by the Afrikaaner but yet you still say we removed your history when in actual fact we protected it in our culture. Why else would you find places like Gugulethu "our pride" Amanzimtoti "sweet water" Langa "Chief Langalibale" or the SUN as he was refered to. If we were the ones removing your history Shaka, Dingaan and Langalibale would have been a myth just like Tshwane. I understand your anger but we can not just create and teach our kids mythical facts as history would even futher be destorted from the truth. Your history was not kept alive by your own and to invent things will just create a platic world based on dreams instead of reality

  • Stewing@Careful - 2010-09-10 16:52

    Tupac Shakur? Really? I fear you are somewhat short of good exposure.

  • McAhol@ careful & co - 2010-09-10 16:55

    You know there's a fairly nice article about history and low and behold here come a few okes with racist drival claiming this and that , its like a annoying little dog barking next door .There simply is no debate with you , its like debating with my cd player , it just keeps saying the same thing for everything .The great irony with 'people'(i'd say functionally retarded) like you is that YOU ARE WHO YOU HATE .(you will not understand this , you do not have the faculty)

    PS: Tupac Shakur is NOT an african leader .

  • Blogger G - 2010-09-10 17:18

    Well written article. The Afrikaner history was always documented that is why we know more about what went on in those days. I just wish that the Zulus, Xhosa and other African did the African tribes did the same. The reason that there is not much about the rest of the African tribes is because they did not keep record as they couldn't write (please correct me if i am wrong). The reason we know about King Shaka was because the Boers kept record of him and several others. King Shaka is my favorite Black Hero. What he did was amazing. The people who made things worse in South African history are the English. The Boers, Zulu's Xhosa's and other African tribes were fighting against the British innovation. Dont forget who brought in the passbook and other racial laws into SA. it wasn't the Boers but the English. And For all the people who say that their history was destroyed by the White Afrikaner must really wake up.

  • Baas'Boerseun - 2010-09-10 17:50

    Nicely written and without any judgement. This is the type of writing and truth we need. Forget about those who try to make you feel bad, they are to ignorant to understand anyway. As for Tswane, there is simply no proof that this man ever existed as a king. Even elders getreally confused and stories change over time.

  • Mario - 2010-09-10 19:24

    "shakes the writer's hand" Thanks for that - I'm glad to see that not everyone wants to forget the past and paste over their own version. I don't think you should abandon the search for information about Chief Tswane - where are the university students - that's a great project to unearth facts about him. Surely there's a grad student out there that can do some research?

  • Potties - 2010-09-10 20:06

    What a nice article Madibeng.It is also sad that it was so one sided, not the way you said it but that there was so little information for you to find about another cultures.

    What ever the reason for history books not be updated, one has to distance your self from a finger pointing excercise that is going on and raise the issue how one can catch-up updating the history books.

    The voortrekkers might had the means to record their doings and the other cultures not but ways has to be find to record history and place it equally of something that happen.

    There after as we already know will it be open for interpretation as somebody already said about Christ history. You are allow to question it.

  • google it - 2010-09-10 20:19

    Hi all. This is all I could find.

  • Bradley - 2010-09-11 07:38

    Heya Madibeng,

    An article of note! Most of us would never, ever had even tried to research thit. I do believe in change. Undoubtedly!

    But how wonderful it is that that an ordinary citizen (I think), has taken the time to research, and educate us.

    Most enlightening.

    Thank you and well done on a job so informative!

    Brad Froud

  • Faahim@Juan/Cynical - 2010-09-11 09:49

    Well now i'm convinced you two are Nazi's, shame. Now about Tshwane, let me get this right. Are you telling us that the city of Pretoria was name changed by myth and not fact?

  • The Berny - 2010-09-11 10:55

    Very good article. Amazingly i did not know that history. I love reading up on history. But i have always been more intrested on the history of zulus when they first met the boer. thats an intresting read. Its amazing to see how well the Boers & Zulus co existed in those days. It will be hard to find details on Chief Tswane. But i would love to know what you unearth. Maybe ill go see what i can scratch out.

  • Relax - 2010-09-11 14:59

    Thank you - If we start taking notice of everybody’s culture and heritage this place will be a better place.

  • Phillip Smith - 2010-09-11 18:23

    A well reseached and enlightening article. If only all South Africans had your balanced outlook we would truly be a nation. Keep up the good work. Their is no place for negative people in a successful nation. No successful nation with negative people.

  • Mastadon - 2010-09-12 05:49

    Like I could care any less

  • Joe @ Tommy - 2010-09-12 11:18

    Repetion? Did you just graduate from the US Republican School of Language? You know, the same one George Bush and Sarah Palin attended.

  • Carl Muller - 2010-09-12 11:45

    Paul Kruger and his parliament was as corrupt as later governments. He even change the law once to try and win a court case. Go and look at the history books.
    His friends were the one's who had the right to import and sell dynamite to the mines. They sold with a price 50 % above what it would cost to make it making millions. That was one of the reasons the "uitlanders" and specifically the mining people were upset.
    In the end he fled with all his Kruger rands overseas to live and die in luxury overseas.
    My one grandfather took him to the border and there he said Kruger said to him "come with me, I will look after you". he stayed and fought to the end.

  • Blixum - 2010-09-12 19:02

    Funny! Tshwane was named after Swannie Swanepoel. The legendary liberation fighter for Paul Kruger at the time. It is also not true that everybody living in Pretoria are tshwenes. (baboon in tswana)

  • @Malcolmx - 2010-09-13 03:01

    Seeing that you mention 'christian', I do sincerely hope that you do not think of yourself as a Christian. You don't have a clue about tolerance, forgiveness or the second commandment to love your (sometimes white) neighbour as you love yourself. These are some of the characteristics a Christian should seriously strive for, but you do exactly the opposite. The author is someone whose brain and heart are much bigger than yours, that's for sure.

  • Doorboot - 2010-09-13 08:52

    Good read, thnx. Ironic that Pretoria is now Tswane but Durban is not eThekwini... If ever a name had merit to change it is Durban. I remember my dad in the 80's refering to eThekwini and he was a Cop!

  • @Faahim - 2010-09-13 12:03

    If Juan and Cynical are nazis (which they may be for all I know or care) then pray tell, what is your assessment of Malcomx?? You don't find his comments offensive?

  • Faahim@Anon - 2010-09-13 14:31

    MalcomX sounds like a BEE baby, Don't want to waste my time on pure ignorance.

  • Cynful@Madibeng - 2010-09-13 14:49

    Wow....thought no one was actually interested in SA history! The last couple of years we have had a warped history lesson and that about the ANC.
    What a refreshing read! What about Dingaan Dick King and Rachael de Beer?? Anyone remember learning about them in school???
    @Juan, Cynical & MalcomX - F*ck off! Go stir sh1t somewhere else!

  • Simplesimon - 2010-09-13 15:37

    Pretoria is named after Andries Pretorius by the founder of the city his son Marthinus Pretorius in 1855. Andries Pretorius was voortrekker leader who was involved in the battle of Blood River where the Boers avenged the murders of their kin. Now the bigger picture to note is that even after the British had won the war and Paul Kruger fled, there were no name changes. Bloemfontein, Pretoria, Pietersburg, Nelspruit, Rustenburg and all the streets etc retained their boer name and history. Maybe the people should take note of that liitle fact. As for Tshwane, nobody names anything after a person who has no history. Has made no significant contribution to anything.
    As regards history, I stand corrected but am certain that there are numerous books, records etc kept by the English as well as the Afrikaners and they would mosy certainly have mentioned any well respected or well known chief in the area if he was settled there. I am certain that it is more likely a term used to describe a tswana tribe who may have taken their name from a lesser chief as they passed through moving towards the current locations of Botswana and NorthWest province. The derivation of the name Tswana is unknown, but they are a people who drifted down from the Kenya region in the 14th century and were often splitting into smaller tribes as they had much infighting over leadership. Just a thought

  • Boeggem - 2010-09-13 21:03

    Thanx for a great article, at least someone else appreciates our history. malcomx. Don't you have to be somewhere else, like a toilet or something. On your way back there please take Cynical with you. You guys better hurry up 'cause the baas wants to flush.