Our monument, our future

At the unveiling of the National Women’s Monument in Bloemfontein on 16 December 1913, President MT Steyn, father and initiator of the Monument, conveyed the meaning and message of the Monument. He stated, among others:

  • The Women’s Monument is not erected as a sign of hate or eternal reproach, but “om de liefde te bevorderen…” (to promote love…).
  • The Women’s Monument is erected out of “reine piëteit” (pure respect) and as a public tribute to the 26,370 women and children (the known death rate in 1913) who, in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, died as “onze heldinnen en lieve kinderen… ten gevolge van de oorlog… zijn omgekomen” (our heroines and dear children… as a result of the war). (This figure was calculated at 34,051 in 2013 as more resources for research were available.)

According to President Steyn, the love symbolized in the Monument must guide the future of every section of the South African population. As both President Steyn en Emily Hobhouse were indisposed, others had to read their speeches that conveyed this universal element in the message of the Monument.

Hobhouse begged the Afrikaner to forgive the British imperialists’ atrocities of the war, “because you can afford it”. In other words, because “you” are mentally strong enough to forgive them without hatred or bitterness.

“We claim it as a WORLD-MONUMENT, of which all the World’s Women should be proud: for your dead by their brave simplicity have spoken to Universal Womanhood…”

The Women’s Monument thus reflects the suffering of thousands of women and children, whose perseverance in spirit and faith in the British concentration camps and in other places convey the universal message that women – and their children – must, as righteous people, take up their rightful place in society. The struggle of the women and children in 1900-1902 has become a triumphant martyrdom.

Our friends

According to President Steyn, Chairman of the Executive Committee at that time, the Women’s Monument was, to a large extent, erected due to the support of poor Afrikaners after the end of the war in 1902. More influential people and people from the Jewish and English communities also contributed. By 1911, the estimated cost of the Monument was approximately £10,000 or R20,000. Contributions of £1 or more were, however, the exception.

Throughout the years, the Monument has been and still is maintained by Afrikaners, Afrikaans institutions and organisations, as well as by other benefactors associated with the Monument. From the outset, the Women’s Monument has been a privatized, non-governmental venture; the National Women’s Monument Commission is responsible for its upkeep. This Commission operates in accordance with its own statute and regulations. 

At the centennial celebrations in 2013, these groups funded the restoration with an amount of nearly R533,000.

There is close cooperation between the Women’s Monument Commission and the War Museum of the Boer Republic, the latter located on the same property as the Monument itself. This Museum was established in 1931 under the initiative of the Women’s Monument Commission; it is a semi-state institution. A visit to the Monument can also include a visit to the museum, an impressive museum with modern, developed methods.