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Oranje Meisieskool girls on horseback during the school's 106th birthday. Photo: Surita Lewis

Oranje Meisieskool girls on horseback during the school’s 106th birthday. Photo: Surita Lewis

Marisa Fockema

Seven girls on horseback head in the direction of the National Women’s Memorial in Bloemfontein – like the horsemen amongst the 20 000 other citizens who gathered here on 16 December 1913 to witness the unveiling of the memorial.

Minutes later, the rest of the Oranje Meisieskool student body of about 1300 pupils get ready, dressed in school uniform and Voortrekker dresses and caps. They set off in song, Die Verjaarsdaglied: “Oranjeskool wat ons bemin, ‘n jaar het weer verbygegaan…”

This is how the school kicked off their 106th birthday celebrations yesterday.

Oranje’s birthday coincided with the start of the centenary celebrations of the National Women’s Memorial.

A century ago, the girls of Oranje dressed in white as part of the inauguration of the monument.

Staff, old Oranje-pupils and other guests of honour watched the girls of Oranje pay tribute to their predecessors yesterday.

Amongst other things, a wreath-laying was done at the graves of the school’s founder, pres. M.T. Steyn, and his wife, Tibbie. It was president Steyn’s idea to erect the monument at that time. Ever since his death on 28 November 1916, Oranje Meisieskool celebrates their birthday here yearly.

Yesterday, Prof. Piet Strauss, chairperson of the Women’s Memorial commission, told the crowd that this monument holds important significance to South Africa, as well as the rest of the world.

The monument speaks of women. It speaks of reconciliation and the power of women in society. The woman as a heroine.

C&N Meisieskool Oranje dressed in white during their 106th birthday celebrations. Photo: Surita Lewis

C&N Meisieskool Oranje dressed in white during their 106th birthday celebrations. Photo: Surita Lewis

He said that it is a privilege to be part of Oranje’s birthday celebrations.

When I heard the clamor of girl’s voices, I knew there is life here. It’s great!

Isabella Steyn, old Oranje pupil and the great-granddaughter of former Pres. Steyn, paid tribute to her great-grandfather with a speech. She was accompanied by her sister, Wilhelmina, and two brothers, Colin and Marthinus Theuns.

The celebrations of the Women’s Memorial will last the entire year. The 100-year festival will take place in October and a memorial service with actress Wilna Snyman, amongst others, will take place on 16 December. Wilna Snyman acted in the play ‘Dear Mrs. Steyn’ that is based on the letters Emily Hobhouse wrote to Tibbie Steyn.

View a gallery of photos from the event here.