The deeper meaning behind these Mandela monuments

2018-07-18 06:30
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Have you ever stopped to realise that many, if not most, of the Nelson Mandela statues in the country, have the raised, clenched fist salute? Many people will know what this pose means.

So, it would follow, logically, that if one pose were to be memorialised and imbued with meaning then surely others too would also carry symbolic meaning.

With the centenary of the birth of beloved liberation figure, statesman and former president Nelson Mandela being marked and celebrated; memorials, lectures and statues are being put up all across the country.

There could not be a more opportune time to relook and examine some of the many monuments, statues and installations dedicated to the life, struggle and memory of Tata Madiba and the symbolism behind them.

DOWNLOAD: Madiba's Journey App Here

In fact the City of Cape Town is set to unveil a bronze statue as a new tribute to SA's global icon on 24 July. 

The statue will be positioned on the balcony where Nelson Mandela stood when he gave his first address as a free man on 11 February 1990. The sculpture has been created by artists Xhanti Mpakama and Barry Jackson. 

When Nelson Mandela was awarded the Freedom of the City of Cape Town in 1997, he said that ‘Cape Town’s greatness lies not only in its contribution to our economy but in its involvement in our country’s history.’  

To celebrate his life, his contribution to the country and his centenary, the Western Cape Government says it will be a "fitting tribute to a man to whom we owe a great debt for the sacrifices he made in the journey to attaining our hard-fought freedom and democracy". The statue will serve as a constant reminder of that historical day and the many years of sacrifice that led to that moment when he was freed and later addressed thousands of citizens from the City Hall balcony.

Mpakama is a young artist who was born near to where Nelson Mandela grew up in the Eastern Cape, while Jackson is an experienced bronze sculptor who has crafted artworks of several historical figures for the National Heritage Project. Both artists worked on the Mandela bust which takes pride of place in front of the National Assembly at the South African Parliament.

Koketso Growth, run by Dali Tambo, was awarded the tender for the project.

This sculpture forms part of an initiative by the Western Cape Government and the City of Cape Town to share former President Mandela’s story with the world. As part of Project Khulisa, the economic development strategy for the region, a Madiba legacy route was envisaged.

The route will allow visitors to follow in Nelson Mandela’s footsteps and visit key sites in the province such as Robben Island where he was imprisoned for most of his sentence, to Drakenstein prison and eventually to Parliament, where he was sworn in as our country’s first democratically-elected President in 1994. 

READ MORE: WATCH: Teaching 100 kids the value of history in the spirit of Mandela 

The focus for the current year has been on developing the City Hall site and the linkage with Madiba House at Drakenstein Prison. This is where Mandela spent the last 14 months of his prison sentence, and where negotiations between the apartheid government and the liberation movement took place. It is also from here that the former president took his first steps as a free man. 

The City of Cape Town will also unveil an exhibition focusing on Madiba’s life and times in Cape Town, the people and organisations involved in the liberation struggle in Cape Town and the events leading up to Mr Mandela’s release and his iconic address from the balcony of the City Hall on 11 February 1990.  

Cape Town City Hall Statue Unveiling event details:

Date: Tuesday 24 July, 2018
Time: 14:00
Venue: City Hall, Cape Town

Union buildings Mandela Statue- Tshwane, Gauteng

The seat of executive power in the country, home to the offices of the presidency, the Union Buildings in Tshwane are some of the most impressive and recognisable heritage landmarks in South Africa.

Originally built in 1910 to mark the formation of the Union of South Africa, the buildings and architecture are literal, physical manifestations of the desire by various groups throughout the course of South African history to forge unity and conciliation.

This twin-winged building with its twin-domed towers are linked by a central curved courtyard. The symbolism behind the building was at one stage seen as the coming together of the Afrikaans and English linguistic and cultural communities.

In the years since the buildings are perhaps most famous as the location of the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the first democratically-elected president in South Africa. In 2013, at the end of the 10-day mourning period of the death of the elderly statesman, the tallest figurative bronze sculpture of Tata Madiba was placed in front of the buildings.   

The symbolism that pervades much of the Union Buildings is also evident in the pose of the statue of the late former president. Instead of the more common raised fist salute, the statue shows Nelson Mandela smiling with his arms outstretched and hands open.

This pose is meant to embrace the symbolism of unity and reconciliation. In the statue Madiba is embracing the entire nation, looking onto the people before him and blessing them.  

The Nelson Mandela Capture Site monument - Howick, KwaZulu-Natal

On a nondescript piece of road along the R103, roughly 5 kilometres outside of Howick in 1962, the history of South Africa was forever altered.

It was here that Nelson Mandela, pretending to be a chauffeur was arrested by armed apartheid police after having successfully evaded capture for 17 months. Upon his return from a cloak-and-dagger visit with the then ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli in Groutville, Mandela was captured at this otherwise ordinary location on 5 August 1962.

The Nelson Mandela Capture site is now renowned for the sculpture that marks its location. Consisting of 50 steel columns varying in length from 6 to 9.5 metres high along a 30-metre length. If you were to see this assortment of steel poles in anywhere but the intended viewing space you'd likely miss the sculpture altogether. This underlines the simultaneous randomness and importance of the location.

To see the Mandela image, visitors need to head into the Mandela Capture site and approach the laser-cut steel columns from 30 metres. The 50 linear vertical steel columns line up and create the illusion of a flat two-dimensional image.

This magical creation of Madiba’s portrait is meant to metaphorically announce his return to this site where 50 years prior (at the time of the Capture Site’s launch) he disappeared from the view of the world. The powerful sculpture was introduced into the silent space of the Midlands landscape of KwaZulu-Natal on a piece of road that forever altered the course of South African history.

One of the artists, Marco Cianfanell, commenting on the piece stated that this represents the momentum gained in the struggle through the symbolic of Mandela’s capture. The 50 columns represent the 50 years since his capture, but they also suggest the idea of many making the whole; of solidarity. It points to an irony as the political act of Mandela’s incarceration cemented his status as an icon of struggle, which helped ferment the groundswell of resistance, solidarity and uprising, bringing about political change and democracy”. 

Mandela House Museum - Vilakazi Street, Soweto

The Mandela House Museum in Vilakazi Street in Soweto is a seemingly straightforward museum experience that most visitors would not expect to have any deeper meaning beyond the obvious but this is not the case with the Mandela House Museum.

The museum provides an effective and meaningful experience to visitor affording them an insight into the domestic life, or lack thereof, of the Mandela family. Informing visitors of former President Mandela’s story, both in the context of his home and in the context of his existence more generally, the museum promotes human rights, democracy, mutual respect, tolerance and reconciliation among South African people.  

Moving here in 1946, this house was the domestic space wherein Mandela was able to occasionally  find rejuvenation from the rigours of the struggle for self-determination and human rights.

Built to identical standards and shapes like the hundreds of other small plots, the house was no different from any of the neighbours or residents of Soweto. With a standard tin roof, narrow kitchen and bucket toilet at the back and a bedroom so small that a double bed nearly took up almost the entire floor space - the Mandela family did not enjoy the virtual royal existence they do today.   

As quoted in his autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela said “It was the opposite of grand, but it was my first true home of my own and I was mightily proud. A man is not a man until he has a house of his own.”

The house and museum is a real testament to the humble beginnings and grassroots engagement that characterised much of the former president’s early years in the struggle against oppression.  

 (Photo: iStock)

WATCH: Teaching 100 kids the value of history in the spirit of Mandela