We now depart from the Old Station building down Voortrekker Street. It was everything but a downhill path for the Voortrekkers’ freedom struggle. As part of the Great Trek, the Voortrekkers ventured from the Eastern Cape, which had been under British yoke, settling inland.
The name ‘Suikerbosrand’ was given to this region by these settlers. Learning from his journals, Andries Hendrik Potgieter and 10 of his men reached Suikerbosrand on 5 June 1836. After 12 shifts of travelling from Cradock in the Eastern Cape, they reached the Suikerbosrand – 800km away from where their journey started.
According to the diary of the well-known Reverend Erasmus Smit, Piet Retief received a letter on 17 November 1837 from Gerrit Maritz, who then resided in Suikerbosrand. The 12 year old Paul Kruger, was also a member of the Voortrekker party. The Dutch Reformed Church and the Reformed Church were two of the first congregations established in Heidelberg. They were also known as the Suikerbosrand Congregations and were situated close to Voortrekker Street.
The bridge across the Blesbok Spruit dates from 1897 when NZASM linked the old station to the town. Voortrekker Street was first known as Market Street and the street in front of the station, Station Street. The centenary marked the official name change of Market Street to Voortrekker Street. It also marked the country-wide Symbolic Ox WagonTrek. The centenary ended on 16 December 1938 with the laying of the corner stones at the sites of the Voortrekker Museum in Pretoria and the Battle of Blood River.
The grave of the Voortrekker, Pieter Daniel Jacobs, can be found in the Kloof Cemetery. This grave contains the epitaph to vouch for the fact that he was a veteran in the Battle of Blood River. He died on 19 June 1859 on the farm Nooitgedacht. His tombstone was then erected by the National Monuments Council. He was a commandant, equal to the rank of colonel, and third in rank at the Battle of Blood River which was the Voortrekkers’ biggest triumph.
The Viljoens from Heidelberg were also closely knit to the Voortrekker leaders, Piet Retief and Andries Pretorius. The great-grandfather of Ouboet Viljoen was a member of the Retief Trek and later married Piet Retief’s youngest daughter. One of his sons, Piet Retief Viljoen married the daughter of H P N Pretorius, the youngest brother of Andries Pretorius. They resided in the house on the corner of Pretorius and Louw Streets.
On 6 March 1902, Piet Viljoen had to observe the decapitation of his son,
H P N Viljoen, by a bomb during the Anglo Boer War. During the visit of the British Royalty to South Africa in 1947, Ouboet Viljoen had a conversation with Queen Elizabeth, at the Springs Station, holding his ox tripe hat in his hand.
In 1880, on the Day of Covenant at Paardekraal, an older Paul Kruger was tasked to declare Heidelberg as the capital of the then ZAR on 16 December 1880, which is a well-known date throughout the Voortrekker history.
A resistance and liberation movement without the calling of the Voortrekkers in Heidelberg would be unthinkable. Their spirit of freedom is expressed in the last lines of A G Visser’s poem on “Oom Paul Kruger”:
“Die vryheidsgees sterf nimmer
In die Afrikaner – ras –
Hy rys weer soos die feniks
Verheerlik uit sy as!”
We look up and see the rising hills of the Suikerbosrand standing proudly atop the view of Voortrekker Street.