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Pretoria, South Africa (1855- )

"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Pretoria, home to the Union Buildings where the office of the President is located, is one of three capital cities in South Africa.  The others are Cape Town and Bloemfontein. The city was first called Pretoriusdorp after Voortrekker (Afrikaans for “pioneer”) leader Andries Pretorius, though it was later changed to its current form. Its nickname is “Jacaranda City” thanks to the multitude of the purple-flowering trees of the same name within its borders.  The city’s population in 2011 was over 2.9 million people, 42% of whom are black African, 1.9% Indian/Asian, 2.5% mixed, 52.5% white, and 1.2% from other heritages.

Pretoria lies in the Gauteng province on the eastern side of the country and serves as the executive branch and de facto national capital. It is home to the numerous embassies, second only to Washington, D.C. It’s also considered the center of the South African National Defence Force with many branches of the S.A. military within its city boundaries. Church Street is the largest street in Pretoria, as well as its main thoroughfare. It also has the distinction of being one of the longest straight streets in the world.

Home to many important South African cultural, political, and educational institutions including the South African State Theatre, The Oliver Tambo Building (headquarters to The Department of International Relations), and the University of Pretoria and University of South Africa.  It is also home to the country’s largest research and development institution, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.  Additionally Pretoria is a hub for industry and commercial interests. Its main industries are iron and steel works, copper casting, and the manufacture of automobiles, railway carriages, and heavy machinery.

Pretoria has been a Boer stronghold for over 160 years though it was originally populated by the Sotho and Ndebele peoples. The Matabele people arrived around 1820 and the three groups struggled among themselves to control the region.  In 1837 Voortrekkers (Boers) arrived and defeated the indigenous tribes at Mosega.  By 1855 all tribal people had left the area and Pretoria was officially founded as a Dutch Colony.

The area around Pretoria was the site much of the fighting of the First Boer War, 1880-1881 ending with the Pretoria Treaty.  It was also the center of fighting in the Second Boer War against the British Army (1899-1902).  During that war Winston Churchill was captured in Pretoria and remained a POW until he escaped to Mozambique. On May 31, 1902 the Boers surrendered to the British Army and Great Britain for the first time controlled all of South Africa. Twenty-nine years later in 1931, Pretoria was given status as an official city by the British colonial government.  In 1961 Pretoria became the capital of South Africa when that country became an independent republic.   

Home to the largest population of white Africans on the continent, Afrikaans is Pretoria’s main language. However, now various groups have begun to make Pretoria their home again, including the Pedi, Sotho, Tswana, Tsonga, and Zulu. English is also widely spoken.  Pretoria is now home to many churches, mosques, synagogues, and a Hindu temple. 

Sources:
Peter E. Raper, Dictionary of Southern African Place Names (Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball, 2004); Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, "Pretoria, South Africa, Encyclopedia of Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); http://www.pretoria.co.za/interesting/things-you-didnt-know.html; http://www.south-africa.me.uk/pretoria.htm; http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20100523104119724; http://www.csir.co.za/profile_of_csir.html.

Contributor(s):
Offenbacher, Elisheva
Independent Historian

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