IN PICS | Seven local tourist attractions firmly grounded in female power

From a sacred site to an old prison to a work of ‘outsider art’, here's a selection of meaningful places to visit this Women's Month

08 August 2021 - 00:01 By and sanet oberholzer
A sculpture in the Camel Yard at the Owl House in Nieu Bethesda, Eastern Cape.
A sculpture in the Camel Yard at the Owl House in Nieu Bethesda, Eastern Cape.
Image: 123RF/demerzel21

1. OWL HOUSE, NIEU-BETHESDA

This intriguing work of "outsider art" in the Karoo town of Nieu-Bethesda is the result of 31 years of work by its reclusive inhabitant, artist Helen Martins (1897-1976).

Following a failed marriage and the death of her frail parents, Martins withdrew into her home and set out on a mission to surround herself with concrete sculptures embellished with ground glass.

In the small garden, known as the Camel Yard, visitors can marvel at more than 300 sculptures of camels, owls, mermaids, women with bottle skirts and pilgrims with their arms held high on a journey east. 

Devastated when her eyesight began to fail, Martins committed suicide in the house in 1976 - but her legacy lives on in the museum, where you can watch a film about her life before wandering the eerie hallways.

Open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday 8am-5pm and Sunday 9am-1pm. Tickets cost R70 and can be bought on-site. See theowlhouse.co.za

2. THE NATIONAL WOMEN'S MEMORIAL, BLOEMFONTEIN

Unveiled in 1913, the National Women's Memorial in Bloemfontein pays tribute to the 27,000 Boer women and children who died in British concentration camps during the South African War between 1899 and 1902.

The National Women’s Memorial in Bloemfontein.
The National Women’s Memorial in Bloemfontein.
Image: 123RF/DPREEZG

The monument consists of a 35m-tall obelisk at the base of which is a statue. It depicts a woman standing looking into the distance, while a grieving mother sits in front of her with a dying child on her lap. The sculpture is based on a sketch by British welfare campaigner Emily Hobhouse (1860-1926), who witnessed such a scene in the Springfontein camp.

Because of her humanitarian work and the lengths to which Hobhouse went to expose the suffering of Boer women and children in the concentration camps, her ashes were interred in the monument's inner courtyard. 

See vrouemonument.co.za

3. THE LONG MARCH TO FREEDOM EXHIBITION, CAPE TOWN

Visitors to the mixed-use development of Century City can admire a procession of 100 life-size bronzes depicting the heroes of the liberation struggle.

The Miriam Makeba statue at the 'Long Walk to Freedom' exhibition in Cape Town.
The Miriam Makeba statue at the 'Long Walk to Freedom' exhibition in Cape Town.
Image: vsdfgvfg

Some of the 22 women represented include the leaders of the 1956 women's march - Albertina Sisulu, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa - as well as musical legend Miriam "Mama Africa" Makeba, journalist Ruth First, Charlotte Maxeke, the first Black South African woman to graduate with a university degree, and treason trialist Ida Fiye Mntwana.

Open 10am-6pm Monday to Saturday and 8am-4pm on Sunday. Guided tours daily from 10am to 4pm. R20 for SA citizens, R10 for pensioners and students. Kids under 10 enter for free. Tickets at the gate or via Computicket. For more info, visit nhmsa.co.za

4. THE UNION BUILDINGS, PRETORIA

Women's Day (August 9) commemorates the day in 1956 when more than 20,000 women of different races, cultures and backgrounds marched through the streets of Pretoria to the Union Buildings to hand over a petition calling for the abolishment of the pass laws limiting the movement of black people.

The Union Buildings in Pretoria.
The Union Buildings in Pretoria.
Image: 123RF//demerzel21

Among the several monuments and statues at the buildings today - including the 9m-tall Nelson Mandela statue - you will find the Women's Monument, unveiled in 2000 to commemorate the role of women in the liberation struggle.

At the top of the amphitheatre between the east and west wings, it features a grinding stone mounted on metal to symbolise women's power. The steps leading to the monument are inscribed with key phrases from the petition handed over in 1956. 

5. OLIVE SCHREINER HOUSE, CRADOCK

A writer popularly known for The Story of an African Farm, Olive Schreiner (1855-1920) was a political activist and one of the first campaigners for women's rights in a pre-democratic SA. She opposed racism in all its forms and also wrote a number of political works in which she criticised the lack of rights for black people and spoke out against British imperialism, for which she was sent to a concentration camp when the South African War broke out in 1899.

The home of Olive Schreiner, author of 'The Story of an African Farm'.
The home of Olive Schreiner, author of 'The Story of an African Farm'.
Image: Abri Liebenberg

The house in Cradock where Schreiner lived as a child was declared a national monument in 1986 and has been converted into a museum which houses an exhibition on the lives and work of Schreiner and her siblings, as well as Schreiner's personal library.

Open 8am-1pm and 2pm-3.30pm Monday to Friday. Entrance is free. Call 048-881-5251

6. THE WOMEN'S JAIL AT CONSTITUTION HILL, JOHANNESBURG

Built in 1910, the Women's Jail forms part of the larger Constitution Hill precinct, a living museum of SA's democracy.

Now a museum, the jail once housed both black and white inmates - though separately - accused of common-law and political crimes. Some noteworthy women held here include political prisoners Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Albertina Sisulu and Barbara Hogan, as well as the infamous murderer Daisy de Melker.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is one of the political prisoners who was held at the Women’s Jail, which forms part of the Constitution Hill precinct in Joburg.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is one of the political prisoners who was held at the Women’s Jail, which forms part of the Constitution Hill precinct in Joburg.
Image: Constitution Hill

Today, permanent exhibitions in the former isolation cells reveal the horrific experiences of the women held here.

Constitution Hill is open daily from 9am to 3pm. It currently only offers the hour-long "Highlights Tour" at 11am and 2pm, which alternates between the Women's Jail, Number Four Men's Jail and the Constitutional Court and the Old Fort. R100 for adults, R45 for kids aged 7-17. You can also do a self-guided tour of the entire site using the app. R90 per adult, R45 per child. Book at webticket.co.za or see constitutionhill.org.za. The on-site ticket office is currently closed.

7. BALENI SALT MAKERS, Limpopo

The Rixile Culture to Kruger Route offers a range of immersive cultural experiences to travellers in Limpopo, one of which is at Baleni, a sacred site with a hot spring on the Klein Letaba River about 20km southeast of Giyani.

Baleni Salt is a sustainable-tourism attraction, where a collective of about 30 Tsonga women harvest salt according to 2,000-year-old traditions.
Baleni Salt is a sustainable-tourism attraction, where a collective of about 30 Tsonga women harvest salt according to 2,000-year-old traditions.
Image: Love Limpopo

Baleni Salt is a sustainable-tourism attraction, where a collective of about 30 Tsonga women harvest salt according to 2,000-year-old traditions which to this day remain the cultural preserve of women.

Visitors are welcome to see a demonstration of how the women collect salt-encrusted sand from the site; leach it with water through traditional filters made of clay, sticks and leaves; and boil it to evaporation to arrive at pure crystals of Baleni Sacred Salt, renowned - even among Michelin chefs - for its flavour and healing properties.

Tours available through Love Limpopo from R750 per group of one to eight people. They can also assist with lodging from R300 pppn, self-catering. See lovelimpopo.com


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