Centurion Historical Sites and Museums


South African Air Force Memorial
The Air Force Memorial on Bays Hill overlooks the Swartkop Air Force Base, where the South African
Air Force first began during 1922. The museum was established in October 1973. The monument,
symbolizing flight, was erected in memory of the approximately 3,000 members of the Air Force who
died over the years during the various wars as well as peaceful operations. The Memorial building has
the shape of a triangular star and consists of three wings, one of which is a chapel for family services.
The wings enfold a central memorial hall, which contains a cenotaph on a scarlet star, a list of the
deceased and illuminated documents.
The monument is as high as a six-storey building and was erected on a raised platform pedestal with
fountains underneath the point of each wing. A garden of remembrance and an amphitheater with a
seating capacity of 5,000 people form a part of the surrounding grounds. The cast-iron entrance gates
were previously used at the old South African Air Force memorial in Waterkloof. The memorial was
opened on 1963. The entrance to the museum if off the Old Johannesburg Road in Valhalla. The
contact number is 012 351 2290 and the website address is www.saafmuseum.org.za . The museum is
open from Mondays to Saturdays from 10.00 to 15.00.

Irene Camp Cemetery
The battle of Pretoria in June 1900 started with a skirmish near Irene, upon which Lord Roberts
decided to outmaneuver the defending Boers south of Pretoria by following the course of the Hennops
River to approach Pretoria from the west. After this a fort was built on Irene’s highest koppie, now
known at Cornwall Hill, by the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. The guerrilla tactics of the Boers
frustrated the British to the extent that they decided to destroy the farms and homes of the Boers in an
effort to end the war. This was part of the British ‘Scorched earth “policy. This left many families
destitute and forced the British to take care of them. Concentration camps were established, one of
which was a tent camp near Irene on the farm Doornkloof, north of the Hennops River where the first
refugees arrived during June 1901. The refugees were housed in extremely poor conditions.
Conditions in the camp deteriorated rapidly and by the end of 1901, 800 people had already died. The
camp was later extended to the other side of the river – the second camp was known as Nylstroom.
During 1902 the two camps housed an average of 4,500 men, women and children. At its peak the
camp housed over 5,500 inhabitants. Although peace was declared on 31 May 1902, the camps were
only officially closed during 1903.
More than 2,000 people were allegedly buried at the camp, although the cemetery’s name list only
mentions 1 249 names. A name plate with a number of 2 156 was found later, but only 800 graves
(heaps of soil indicating a grave) could be found. For this reason all 1 249 names have been inscribed
on the 80 memorial tablets. A total of 576 of the original slate tombstones that were carved by hand are
preserved in the Cemetery. Access to the graveyard is via Village View Estate in Albert Street, Irene.
The Memorial is situated in Bruce Road, Irene.
Porcinarium
The Animal Improvement Institute of the Agriculture Research Council (ARC) is situated just outside
Irene and houses among others the world’s only (as far as is known) pig museum or porcinarium. The
museum’s displays were arranged with the help of the Transvaal Museum and offer an interesting

review of the origin and development of pig species in South Africa. The museum was opened in
August 1996 to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of the National Pig Performance Testing Scheme.
Since its opening the porcinarium has received many visitors, especially from abroad. The museum is
open during the week (office hours) and for weekend visits arrangements can be made at
Tel: 012 672 9235 or 012 672 9083. Entrance is from the Main Road (M18), Irene.
Rooihuiskraal Historical Site
The battle of Rooihuiskraal (Red House Kraal), which took place neat the Rooihuiskraal Historical site
in 1881, is viewed as one of the most crucial battles of the First Anglo Boer War. In spite of this only
one British soldier was killed and 15 wounded. One of the wounded was Lieutenant Colonel Gildea, or
that “Damned Colonel” or “Blasted Colonel” as he was called by the Boers.
By the end of 1880 the Transvaal Boer Forces, has surrounded important towns, which had been
occupied by the British, in order to prevent the soldiers in these towns joining General George
Pomeroy Colley’s troops in Natal. The British Garrison in Pretoria were also surrounded in Pretoria
and their efforts to escape were checked twice before they decided on a large exodus through
Rooihuiskraal.
The Boers under the leadership of DJ Erasmus Jr, got wind of this and took up positions behind the
stone wall of the farms massive kraal. When the British arrived in large numbers the Boers started to
shoot, causing great consternation. Colonel Gildea who was the commanding officer of the Pretoria
garrison stood upright in his stirrups to motivate his men and was hit in the buttocks. The Boer’s
victory at Rooihuiskraal had a demoralizing effect on the British. They could not join the Natal troops
of General George Pomeroy Colley in Natal and after these troops were conquered at Amajuba, the
Transvaal regained its independence.
The old stone kraal (animal stockade) at Rooihuiskraal serves as a reminder of the historical victory
and was declared a national monument. A recent addition to the site is the Centurion Battle Tank which
was among others used by the British in Korea in 1944. It was later acquired by South Africa in the
50’s, upgraded several times and was eventually renamed the Olifants tank which saw service in the
South African Border war from 1966 to 1989. Today it is now old enough to serve as a museum piece.
The Historical site is accessible via the Rooihuiskraal Road in Rooihuiskraal North. Contact details are
012 6614284.
SA Mint and Coin World
The history of the SA Mint dates back to 1892 when Paul Kruger, president of the then South African
Republic, ordered a minting press from Germany. This press (nicknamed Oom Paul), which moved
with the mint from Church Square to Visagie street, is still in working order and can be seen at the
museum of the SA Mint in Gateway Centurion. This is one of the oldest working presses in the world
and was manufactured in 1891. Two were ordered for the Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek (ZAR) from
Ludw.Loew and Co. The Mint’s very modern factory was opened in October 1992 and is still regarded
as one of the modern mints in the world. The Mint became a private company in 1988 and produces not
only South African coins, but also coins for other countries such as New Zealand, Argentina and
Switzerland. A museum, known as Coin World, was opened to the public during 1996 and offers an
overview of the history of the Mint as well as many a display of South African coins etc. It also houses
a jewelry shop and is open from 13h00 to 16h30 on Mondays, 09h00 to 16h30 on Tuesdays to Fridays
and 09h00 to 13h00 over weekends. Guided tours are also available, which last approximately two
hours and cost R20 per person. A Café Burgundy’s restaurant is also on the premises. More

information may be obtained at Tel 012 667 2777. The website address is www.samint.co.za . The Mint
is accessible from the Old Johannesburg Road (R101), just after it crosses over Brakfontein Road.

Smuts House
Smuts House was the dwelling of General Jan Christiaan Smuts (Oubaas), twice the prime minister of
South Africa, soldier, International Statesman, archaeologist, historian, lawyer, military leader, farmer,
philosopher, botanist and grass expert and known internationally, among others for the creation of the
term “holism”. He was the only person to have signed the peace treaties of both the first and second
world wars. He established the League of Nations and was instrumental in setting up the United
Nations. Smuts wrote the preamble to the United Nations charter and was also the only person to have
signed the charters of both the League of Nations and the United Nations. Jan Smuts was a General in
the Second Anglo Boer War and became the second Prime Minister of South Africa from 1919 to 1924
and as well as the fourth Prime minister again from 1939 to 1948. Previously an Officers mess for
British officers in Middelburg, Smuts bought the house for 300 pounds in 1908 and had it transported
to Irene, where it was re-erected on the farm Doornkloof at an additional cost of 1,000 pounds. The
wood and iron “Big House” features the unique Smuts Library and furnishings, which indicate the
modest lifestyle of General and Mrs Smuts. In 1908 Smuts had purchased a third of the original
Doornkloof farm. (The original farm was established by a Voortrekker, Daniel Elardus Erasmus which
he named Doornkloof. Alois Hugo Nellmapius, a Hungarian later purchased two thirds of the farm in
1889 and named it “Irene” after his daughter. Nellmapius died in July 1893. Johannes Albertus
“Bertie” van der Bijl bought the farm in 1896 on an auction which was now named Irene Estate. Part of
the original Doornkloof farm was later bought by Jan Smuts in 1908).
The officers mess structure was initially meant as a temporary home until a new house could be built
on the koppie behind the house. The Smuts family however grew so attached to the house that they
stayed there until the death of General Smuts on 11 September 1950, aged 80. Smuts was born on the
24 May 1870, on the family farm Bovenplaats near Malmesbury.
Today it is a museum to commemorate the life of Smuts. The museum and surrounding grounds are
open to the public seven days a week, and a tea garden is situated on the property. The house has
eleven bedrooms all fully furnished and also contains a lot of memorabilia. On every second Saturday
of each month a very popular craft market is held on the grounds of the Museum. On weekdays the
museum can be visited from 9h30 to 16h30 and from 09h00 to 17h00 on weekends. Guided tours can
be arranged by appointment. A walking trail of 2.5km starts from behind the house and leads to a
koppie (Smuts Koppie) where a monument was erected to commemorate certain members of the Smuts
family and where his ashes and his wife’s are scattered. Guided bird and botanic walks are arranged on
a regular basis. Information may be obtained at Tel: 012 667 1176. More information can be found on
the website www.smutshouse.co.za . The Property is located on 23 rd Street, which is accessed via
Nellmapius Road in Irene.