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Background

National Women's Memorial

National Women’s Memorial, Bloemfontein. Photo: Lisa Smets

Location

The National Women’s Memorial is situated in Monument Avenue in the southern neighbourhood Faunasig, Bloemfontein. The monument is on the same grounds as the Anglo-Boer War Museum. The big open spaces of untamed grassland that surround the terrain of the National Women’s Memorial represents the untamed Free State fields and landscape from the time of the Anglo-Boer War.

The Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902)

One of the most significant events in the history of South Africa was the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 – 1902. Although the protagonists were Britain and the the two Boer Republics, the population of South Africa as a whole became embroiled in the war either directly or indirectly.

President Steyn’s call

President Marthinus Theunis Steyn envisioned the monument to be established in memory of all the women and children that died in the concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer War.

First Working Committee, with Pres. Steyn as Chairman

First working committee, with Pres. Steyn as chairman. Photo: Courtesy of Corlietha Swart

The 1907 conference

In February, 1907, the first conference to establish such a monument was held in Bloemfontein. It was decided that R20,000 should be raised to erect a monument.

Funding

The impoverished Afrikaner nation reacted with enthusiasm in spite of the scarce financial resources at their disposal. The full amount required was raised over 4 years with small contributions from across the country.

Unveiling of the monument

On 16 December 1913 the Women’s Memorial, in the presence of more than 20 000 people, was unveiled by Mrs. Steyn, wife of former President M.T. Steyn. Emily Hobhouse travelled from England especially for the event, despite resistance in Britain. Unfortunately, she could not travel further than Beaufort West as a result of her poor health at the time. Her address was read by Charles Fichardt, an esteemed businessman from Bloemfontein and member of the first National Women’s Memorial commission.

Unveiling of the National Women's Memorial

Unveiling the National Women’s Memorial in front of 20,000 spectators. Photo: Courtesy of Johan van Zyl

President M.T. Steyn was also suffering from poor health during the unveiling of the Women’s Memorial. He attended the ceremony, however his address was read by Mr. Rocco de Villiers, secretary of the Orange Free State. His introduction lead:

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“Dit

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Pres. M.T Steyn further earnestly reminded the attendees that there is no gain in building a monument for the dead, while the living are allowed to live in poverty and sink into misery and also that the monument does not stand there to awaken hatred but to promote love. He envisioned a day when every South African, from whatever origin, can call the monument their heritage. He closed by saying:

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”Laten

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> The National Women’s Memorial