Enshrining Gender in Monuments to Settler Whiteness: South Africa’s Voortrekker Monument and the United States’ This Is the Place Monument
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This essay examines two monuments: the Voortrekker Monument in South Africa and the American This is the Place Monument in Utah. Similar in terms of construction and historical purpose, both employ gender as an important tool to legitimize the settler society each commemorates. Each was part of a similar project of cultural recuperation in the 1930s−1940s that chose as their object of commemoration the overland migration in covered wagons of a group of white settlers that felt oppressed by other white settlers, and therefore sought a new homeland. In a precarious cultural moment, descendants of these two white settler societies—the Dutch Voortrekkers of South Africa and Euro-American Mormons (Latter-day Saints or LDS) of Utah—undertook massive commemoration projects to memorialize their ancestors’ 1830s−1840s migrations into the interior, holding Afrikaners and Mormons up as the most worthy settler groups among each nation’s white population. This essay will argue that a close reading of these monuments reveals how each white settler group employed gendered depictions that were inflected by class and race in their claims to be the true heart of their respective settler societies, despite perceiving themselves as oppressed minorities.