Unveiling of the Monument
Emily Hobhouse was one of the distinguished guests who had been invited to officiate at the unveiling of the monument. Although she was seriously ill and her doctor had advised her against undertaking the journey to South Africa, she started on the lengthy voyage in October 1912 and arrived in Cape Town in reasonably good health. Travelling to Bloemfontein by train, she could not stand the summer heat through the Karoo and had to turn back at Beaufort West. However, she sent her speech, fully written out, to Pres. Steyn and it was then decided that Mrs R I Steyn would perform the unveiling on 13 December 1913 while Charlie Fichardt would read her speech:
Speech of Miss Hobhouse at the Unveiling of the Monument
"My Friends, - This day, this "Vrouwen-Dag" is Good. Like the Sabbath in the week, it breaks into the hurrying years, and in the pause, the past can calmly be recalled, its inspiration breathed afresh, its lessons conned once more. Let us take this moment to consider where we now stand and what these lessons are. You are gathered here from all parts to consecrate this spot to women and children who were stripped of all - I say it advisedly - of all. Husband and sons, houses and lands, flocks and herds, household goods and even clothing. Denuded, it was good to watch how yet they "possessed their souls". "It is tragic", says a writer, "how few people ever possess their souls before they die. That these did I know, because I saw. I bridge in mind the years, the thirteen years, and move once more amid the tents that whitened the hillside. Torn from familiar simple life, plunged into sickness and destitution, surrounded by strangers, were those poor souls, - stripped bare. The sight was one to call forth pity, yet pity did not predominate. Quite other feelings swallowed that. Even throughout the deepest misery the greater pity was needed elsewhere... So, as we turn our minds back thirteen years to dwell on the stormy past, pity enters in, but whom is it that we pity? Surely, had you watched the inward and spiritual graces that shone forth from that outward and visible squalor you yourselves might have felt that it was not the captives in those foul camps that were most in need of pity. The rich and highly-placed, the financiers who wanted war, the incompetent statesmen who were their tools, the men who sat in the seats of the mighty, the blundering politicians of that dark story - all the miserable authorities incapable of dealing with the terrible conditions they themselves had brought about - these needed and still need our deeper pity. That vast tragedy as it rolled through your land upon its bloody way, came at length face to face with the great array of the women and children - the weak and the young. Wholly innocent of the war, yet called upon to bear its brunt, nobly they rose to meet the trial that awaited them. Sympathy indeed they craved and did receive, but they towered above our pity.
And so to-day. What gave the impetus to this movement? What stirred you to gather pence for this monument? What brought you here from far and wide? It was not pity, it was Honour. For this monument is a symbol. Far away in Rome I have been privileged to watch its creation. I noted its conception in the sculptor's thought, I saw its first issue in the common day; moulded by his hand, it passing into the pure white plaster; at length, chastened to his mind and meet for the supreme ordeal it was cast into the pit of burning metal whence issued the perfected work. Even so did Destiny, the mighty Sculptor, - like clay in his hands - take those simple women and children from their quiet homes, mould and chasten them through the successive stages of their suffering, till at length, purified and perfected to the master-mind by the fierce fire of their trial, they passed from human sight to live forever a sacred memory in your land.
After working uninterruptedly for almost two years, Van Wouw dispatched his sculptures to Bloemfontein. Amidst great public interest the sandstone blocks from Kroonstad were lowered in place and the heavy bronze tip was carefully lowered to fit exactly into its grooves at the top of the obelisk. Thus the construction was completed and the group of sculptures and the figures in bas-relief could be placed in their correct position and covered with white canvas.