The Great Trek had a number of leaders that will always be remembered in the Afrikaner history of South Africa. In 1836 Dutch-speaking settlers started moving northeast into the interior of what is today known as South Africa away from the Cape Colony. They were traveling in wagon trains made up of ox wagons and horses seeking to live beyond the Cape’s British colonial administration. One of those leaders was a man named Andries Pretorius from the Graaff-Reinet district.
General Andries Wilhelmus Jacobus Pretorius (1798-1853) played a major role in a number of notable events during the Great Trek. He led the forces that defeated the Zulu’s under Dingaan, at the Battle of Blood River in 1838 and also took the lead in concluding the Sand River Convention which recognized the independence of the Transvaal Boer Republic as recognised by the British in 1852.
Pretorius died at his home in Magaliesberg in July 1853. In 1855, a new district and a new town were formed out of the Potchefstroom and Rustenburg districts by his son, Marthinus Wessel Pretorius who was the first president of the Transvaal Republic. It was named Pretoria in honour of the late commandant-general.
About 2,5 km north of Graaf-Reinet along the N9 towards Nieu-Bethesda and Middelburg visitors to the Karoo Heartland will find the Andries Pretorius Monument. The granite monument is the work of sculptor Coert Steyberg and was unveiled in 1943. It was originally placed at a layby next to the N9, but increased vandalism and security risks for visitors prompted the Heritage Foundation to move the memorial to a new site in 2012. It now stands outside the eastern entrance to the Camdeboo National Park with the dam and mountains as backdrop.
The inscription on the monument says “Eenmaal sal daar wel ‘n wiel oor ons wereld rol wat vir u en vir my onkeerbaar is” (“One day a wheel will indeed roll across our world and neither you nor I will be able to stop it”) which were the words used by Pretorius to Sir Harry Smith during their discussions in 1848. Above the inscription is a wagon wheel with the likeness of Andries Pretorius looking north, the direction of the Great Trek.