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Pretoria

Union Building – Governmental Nucleus of South Africa

Herbert Baker was commissioned in 1910 to design the Union Building in Pretoria. This was to become the administrative center for the Government of the Union of South Africa, and in November 1910 the corner brick was laid. The Union of South Africa only changed its name to the Republic of South Africa in 1961 upon gaining independence from Britain.

Bakers vision was to resemble Acropolis City in Greece in the
English
monumental style of light sandstone, and chose a site which had a
sprawling
view of Salvo Kop, also known as Meintjies Kop, in Pretoria. The excavation sites of this
area,
which was a disused quarry, became the foundations of the amphitheatre,
complete with sculptures, fountains and ornamental pools. The backdrop
of
the amphitheatre forms the semicircular colonnade that joins together
the
identical office blocks on either side. There are three inner
courtyards
built into each office block, which stands three stories above ground
with a
basement below. The curved building behind the colonnade houses the
conference room, library and committee rooms, while the kitchen,
lounges and
dining rooms are located in the basement. The interior was decorated
with
white plaster walls, heavy doors, teak fanlights, dark ceiling beams
and
wood furniture. The courtyards were furnished with granite and the
wood
paneling from Rhodesian Teak and Stinkwood. The 275 meter long
Union Building in Pretoria was completed in 1913.

In 1956, a group of women 20,000 strong, marched to the doors of the
Union Building, chanting “Wathint’ Abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo!”
which
means “strike the women, strike the rock”. When Wilma Cruise and
Marcus Holmes were approached to design a memorial to commemorate the Women’s
March, they made use of the “imbokodo”. The imbokodo is a grinding
stone
used by the women to grind maize. Cruise and Holmes, rested the
imbokodo,
representing nurturing and sustenance, on bronze plates, representing the
earth and fire. There are two sets of stairs leading to the memorial,
and on each step, raised in bronzed letters are the words from ‘The Demand
of
the Women of South Africa for the Withdrawal of Passes for Women and
Repeal
of the Pass Laws.’ On approaching the imbokodo, you will trigger
infrared beams, which activates history’s “whispered voices”, echoed in all eleven official languages, the rally cry, repeated softly.

Over the years, the history connected to this building has grown, and this is where, Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as
President of
South Africa in 1994. And today, the Union Building is the residence of the
current
presidency, President Jacob Zuma and his government.