The Burgher monument was inaugurated on 8 November 1938.
On Friday morning 1 March 1940, six months after the beginning of the Second World War, Harrismith awoke with the upsetting news that the Burgher Monument had been damaged: pieces of the kneeling burgher’s hat and rifle had been broken off. Angry people were already gathered around the Monument, more followed out of curiosity, wild threats were made and more than one fiery fist fight had to be stopped.
Although it could never be proved, persistent rumours had it that it was one of the two MacFadyen brothers who had got to the Monument with a piece of water pipe. They had been socialising in the Central Hotel on that Thursday evening before they were to depart to the front in North Africa the following morning. In die city hall, across the street from the hotel, a function was in full swing. Late that night they departed from the hotel, tipsy and upset with the Afrikaners’ apparent disapproval of the war in which they, as allies, were to place their lives at risk. Lively dance music from the city hall lured them to see what was going on. When they reached the Burgher Monument in front of the city hall, one brother froze, refusing to walk under the Boers’ granite arch. In the heat of the moment he grabbed a nearby piece of water pipe, and with his brother’s help, climbed onto the top of the arch. He aimed a massive blow at the burgher’s head, which he missed, but smashed off a piece of the wide-rimmed hat as well as the barrel of the mauser.
The leadership of the English-speaking community of Harrismith was most upset and immediately began collecting funds to repair the damage. Crankshaw Brothers, the original constructor of the Monument, repaired the barrel free of charge.
One would have thought that this would be the end of the matter. Not so! There was great disagreement about the fortune of the Monument between the followers of the two political parties of that time: The South African Party (SAP), the ruling party of General Jan Smuts, and the National Party (NP). While the SAP was quite satisfied that the Monument be repaired, the NP totally disagreed.
The neatly-repaired barrel was broken off again and hidden by members of the Ossewa Brandwag (OB), an organisation working in close co-operation with the NP. It was decided to make a political martyr of the statue: if would be left incomplete as a remembrance of injustice. The broken-off pieces of the statue were hidden, in great secrecy, in a loose sandstone brick in a wall on a farm in the district.
A new marble plaque was made with an inscription in Afrikaans, stating that the Burgher Monument had been violated on the morning of 1 March 1940 by the enemies of the Boer nation. Its inauguration was accompanied by great ceremony and political fanfare. The guest speaker was Mr. JC van Rooy, chairman of the Afrikaner Broederbond. Advocate Blackie Swart, a future state president, was also a speaker at the ceremony.
As a compromise between the two Afrikaner camps, it was decided to place the Monument in the hands of the Voortrekker Commando of Harrismith. A document was compiled, signed and the necessary stamps applied in order to make it official.
The broken-off pieces of the statue were put into safekeeping by the firm Cloete and Neveling Attorneys, where it remains to this day.
I think we have the most interesting monument in the country! By far!
Thanks to Leon Strachan and Jeannie Wasserman Cook for the information.