The struggle for independence and freedom from the British annexation and Apartheid are witnessed by the Town Hall, situated in the old town square. Commandant Christiaan de Wet, the leader of our local Roodekop Commando, and later well-known commanding officer during the British annexation resided in Heidelberg at that time.
In 1880 at Paardekraal, Reverend van Warmelo from the Klipkerk was elected as the people’s preacher. The “Driemanskap” was elected to the “Volksraad.” Heidelberg was elected capital of the ZAR (Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek) with Paul Kruger as the vice-president and Genl. Piet Joubert, the commander-in-chief. MW Pretorius, a previous president, was the chairman of the People’s Committee.
Half a century later an obelisk (GPS co-ordinates: S26 29.973 E28⁰ 21.398) was erected in front of the Heidelberg Town Hall. The obelisk has 3 bronze statues of the “Driemanskap”, designed by the sculptor Hennie Potgieter. It was unveiled by the Minister of Defence, FC Erasmus in 1954. On16 December 1980, South Africa’s Prime Minister, PW Botha, unveiled a memorial stone as confirmation of Heidelberg’s status as the capital, a century earlier.
After a series of protest gatherings, Heidelberg has declared the capital on 16 December 1880. Victory is gained on 27 February 1881 at the Battle of Amajuba. The wounded English commander, Sir Pomery Colley, was supported by Petrus Killian from Heidelberg during his last hours. Our local hero of Amajuba, Petrus Killian, a messenger on horseback, rode 20 hours to report to the “Driemanskap” on the victory at Amajuba. The “Driemanskap” was aided by three members of the Executive Council during peace negotiations. One of them was Jacob Maré, father of Sarie Marais, to whom a well-known folk love song was attributed.
This hero from Amajuba would also later fight in the Second Boer War. After one battle he was left for dead, mutilated. He fought for his life for three months with only one arm and resumed fighting to the bitter end.
The globe in the middle of the fish pond in front of the Town Hall is a living memory of the prisoners-of-war taken away. It was manufactured by Italian prisoners-of-war during the Second World War and it was then given to Heidelberg.
The Town Hall with its beautiful sandstone was built in 1939. It was designed by Gerhard Moerdijk. The symbolic buffalo heads in the front are similar to the granite buffalo head at the Voortrekker Monument, also designed by the same architect. The buffalo is regarded as the most dangerous and defensive creature in the animal kingdom. Shaka Zulu successfully made use of the buffalo strategy in his wars. These buffalo heads symbolically defend Heidelberg against the onslaught from outside. The buffalo (Syncerus caffer), is one of the Big Five of South Africa. The “Groot Krokodil” (a nickname given to PW Botha) visited Heidelberg in 1980 in the midst of the struggle.
Like in 1880, Heidelberg became a pivotal constituency in Government again in 1958 – 1966. Dr. HF Verwoerd became premier as a member of the Heidelberg constituency. He was also known as the father of apartheid. He would lead South Africa to Republic in 1961.
During this time Nelson Mandela, father of the nation, also emerged. During the Rivonia trial he was sentenced to life long imprisonment. After serving 27 years of his sentence on Robben Island, he was set free. Mandela was elected as the first democratic president of South Africa. The circle was now completed when he visited Heidelberg and received honorary citizenship in the Town Hall on 29 November 1996. This was received from our first female mayor, Buzi Modisakeng and has been an ANC stronghold since.
The motto of Heidelberg is Spero Meliora. It means to strive for the better. The history of Heidelberg succeeded in this endeavor. It was the unconquered capital of its time and went full circle during the struggle. Our Town Hall reminds us of the struggle and history of South Africa like no other town would be able to.