Pretoria - Scores of visitors flocked to Church Square on Saturday to witness the launch of its rejuvenation project initiated by the City of Tshwane and City Property.
As one of South Africa’s prominent attractions, the site in Pretoria has a range of historical buildings, but its most prominent feature is the statue of former South African republic president, Paul Kruger.
According to history books, the city’s founder, Marthinus Pretorius, determined that the square be used as a marketplace and churchyard, and it was subsequently named for the church buildings that stood at the centre of the square from 1856 to 1905.
The visitors had an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela, visit Paul Kruger’s office in the Ou Raadsaal, and experience a rooftop view of Church Square.
The historical site had been left abandoned and had become a refuge for drug peddlers and other criminals.
The rejuvenation aims to make Church Square a tourist destination and public space, and to make the area cleaner and more accessible.
An international visitor, Kenneth Lun, 77, from Hong Kong, said he thought the square had become a waste because the government could use it to its advantage as a major tourist attraction.
“Church Square is the start of Pretoria, as far as I know. It has historical buildings and nice architecture, but it seems the government abandoned it … and that would be a big waste to not only white people history but I think it’s a waste for the whole SA history.
“No matter what happened in the past, it’s still the past and now we need the country to go forward. I believe many people, such as business people, can contribute and try to restore this place to its former glory, and can attract many people from overseas because it’s SA’s history, and nobody can write off that history,” Lun said.
Carol Martin, 77, born and bred in the capital, said she was happy that the people in the city were trying to restore the square.
“I think this is a place where people can come to because this was the centre of our lives when I was young. It’s a place where tourists can come to because tourists are interested in what is going on in our country, and are interested in wild life, our history. This was the historical centre of our city,” she said.
Another visitor, Lehlohonolo Moago, said it was emotional to be at a place that was called the palace of justice.
“The last time I was here was 1976, as a young man, and being around here today is historical because floods and floods of memories go through my head.
“This is where I first saw Steve Bantu Biko. During the trial of Seth Cooper. The State vs Seth Cooper and eight others ... Biko came to give evidence here.
“So I have mixed feelings. I feel pain and pleasure.The pain is that most of the things we sacrificed for have not been achieved, and today when I look at particularly what is going on in the City of Tshwane, it breaks my heart,” he said.
City Property spokesperson Lize Nel said of the square: “Its uniqueness as a centre point in the heart of Tshwane can’t be underestimated, and the history surrounding it is part and parcel of the tapestry of our Rainbow Nation today.
“That’s why we believe that this heartbeat of the city needs to thrive again. It needs to live and be vibrant. It needs to be a place where all who call Tshwane home can feel proud of, where our businesses can flourish, and where everyone who enters Church Square can feel they are in one of the most iconic parts of the city.”