The average visitor to Grahamstown wouldn’t know of its existence, unless they had been taken there by a local resident. To tell visitors that the Bible Monument is just off Strowan Road wouldn’t be of much use either: for even if told to turn right at the T-Junction that comes off the N2, visitors could be forgiven for not seeing anything and being horrified to find themselves instead at the litter strewn approach to the municipal dump!
Yet, the Bible Monument isn’t small; merely that it is beautiful in its simplicity so that it blends easily into its semi-rural surroundings. The surrounding veld grass grows tall in season; the aloes bloom in season; birds perch on the sturdy walls; and doubtless little animals scurry around it in the dark and when no-one is about.
Few people visit it – not regularly anyway – so there is not even a dedicated road or well-trodden path leading to it: it is simply there. Yet, it is no ordinary monument; rather it is one that represents an extraordinary event. During April 1837, a group of trekkers under the leadership of Jacobus Uys encamped on the outskirts of Grahamstown, on their way to the interior. It was here that they were met by a party of British settlers from the town, who presented them with a Dutch Bible. This is why the monument has been built to represent an open Bible. It faces the direction towards which the trekkers departed, and marks the place where this exchange took place.
This exchange was, above all, about friendship. It was a gesture of friendship between two groups of people who were often in conflict in those turbulent times of our history.
Friendship, such an all-embracing word suggesting a relationship of mutual respect and affection between people. Perhaps it is because of its fairly remote location, or because the monument is so seldom visited, but fifty-five years after the erection of the monument, the brass plaques were stolen – probably to sell as scrap metal! The wall remained empty and faceless, rendering them meaningless to any casual observer.
Fortunately, replicas of these plaques were erected in April this year. They have been made from black granite sourced in Zimbabwe and etched using laser technology. Arranging this, and paying for it, was no simple task and required the goodwill of many individuals and organisations within the community of Grahamstown.
The actual Bible handed over all those years ago is now on display at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria.