African History from Pretoria to Timbuktu

Traveling to Africa? Pretoria and Timbuktu are two cities in Africa that have a unique connection. Explore African culture and the history of two cities.

When we hear mention of Timbuktu it is usually in the context of being far away or lost in the middle of nowhere. It is commonly understood that Timbuktu is a remote and not easily found place. Well, Timbuktu is not in the middle of nowhere, it is in the middle of Mali in Northwest Africa. At one time Timbuktu was a center for gold and salt trade on the edge of the Sahara desert.

The University of Timbuktu was a prominent center of Islamic education containing 700,000 manuscripts dating as far back as the 12th century and Timbuktu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Marching to Pretoria

Travel about 4000 miles south to the Republic of South Africa and here we are - marching to Pretoria. As a child I remember singing the song We’re marching to Pretoria - Pretoria - Pretoria. We’re marching to Pretoria - Pre - tor - i - a - hoorah! I always wondered where Pretoria was and why were people marching there.

Pretoria was the capital of the South African Republic or the Transvaal in 1860. It is now part of the metro district of the city of Tshwane. Marching to Pretoria is a song that is said to have originated during the Boer War of 1901 when the Dutch inhabitants of South Africa fought against the British. As a civilian Winston Churchill was a prisoner of war in Pretoria. The incident that lead to his imprisonment and his subsequent escape is a significant event in his life.

So what’s the connection? The connection is the Timbuktu Manuscript Project. The deterioration of the Timbuktu manuscripts is of deep concern to the African nations and to the world. The implementation of archival processes and restoration was aided by South Africa in the training of Malian conservators working with conservators in the National Archives in Pretoria.

The cultural significance of Timbuktu to the African Renaissance is the topic of a 2005 speech made in Pretoria by then President of the Republic of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki. The cooperation between Mali and South Africa is part of the larger effort to bring a renaissance to the continent of Africa. The aspirations to restore the Timbuktu manuscripts is a portion of a larger effort to educate the world on pre-colonial Africa.


The South Africa-Mali Timbuktu Project. Utilizing Skills and Talents to Advance the African Renaissance, 2005 address by President Thabo Mbeki of the Republic of South Africa.

Ancient Manuscripts from the Desert Libraries of Timbuktu. Library of Congress online exhibition

Pretoria. (2010, March 28). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:33, April 1, 2010, from

Timbuktu. (2010, April 1). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:47, April 1, 2010, from

Mali. (2010, March 29). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:32, April 1, 2010, from

Boer Wars. (2010, March 30). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:31, April 1, 2010, from

African Renaissance. (2010, March 19). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:50, April 1, 2010, from

Timbuktu Educational Foundation

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Posted on Apr 7, 2010