In the Cradle of Humankind, a short drive from the city of Joburg, the Long March to Freedom exhibition greets you unexpectedly as you approach Maropeng’s Visitor Centre.
Freedom fighters from the early 1700s all the way up to that pivotal moment in South Africa’s history, Freedom Day of 1994, are standing - or rather walking - in procession and symbolically fighting for the liberation of South Africa in a forward direction towards the dawn of our country’s democracy.
SEE: Quick Guide to the Long Walk to Freedom - A day in Joburg
The Long March to Freedom exhibition - 100 figures that will grow into a procession of more than 400 bronze statues over time - is known as the world’s largest representational collection of bronzes and the idea came when television personality Dali Tambo, visited the grave of his late father, anti-apartheid politician Oliver Tambo, and told him, “There isn’t a statue of you in this country and I’m planning to do one.”
From the grave his father spoke to him and said, “Don’t do it for me, do it for all of them.”
And so he did.
The statues, who once called Pretoria home, were moved to Maropeng in the beginning of 2019 and on Valentine’s Day the newest bronze figure, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, was unveiled by Dali Tambo.
In Tambo’s address he honoured his parents – Oliver and Adelaide Tambo – and spoke of their relationship, a story of love and revolution and said, “They would pray and sing African hymns together at night for two hours. Their faith anchored their marriage; they were married to the movement and to each other, they were faithful to the movement and each other.”
(Photo: Anje Rautenbach)
He continued and honoured the women who stood side by side their husbands at the time of the struggle, “We don't give the women in the struggle enough recognition; what would Walter be without Albertina, what would Joe Slovo be without Ruth, what would Nelson be without Winnie?"
Tambo closed with the importance of heritage tourism and the harmonious relationship between history, art and national heritage. He said, “Visitors will come and say we’ve seen Table Mountain, we’ve visited Kruger but we still don’t know you as people and they were right. We need monuments and attractions for people to see where we came from, our journey, our democracy… this exhibition will become a must-visit on domestic and international tourists’ to-do lists.”
When you stand face to face with the likes of Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo, Helen Joseph, Annie Silinga, Ida Fiye Mntwana, King Moshoeshoe I and many more, Tambo’s words ring loudly in your ear, “We want these freedom fighters to be remembered as real people, not just faces in history books. Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them. Let’s keep them alive by remembering them.”PICS: You can now see Joe Slovo in hologram-form at the revamped Old Fort at Constitution Hill
And that’s exactly what the Long March to Freedom did, and is still continuing to do. It gives life to those who fought heart and soul and often with their own lives for the freedom of South Africa. Every statue has a unique presence and representation of each individual with details meticulously sculpted and engraved into South Africa’s past, present and future.
The collection starts out with the leader of the Goringhaikonas – also known as Herry die Strandloper - Autshumato (1625 – 1663), who was the first political prisoner sent to Robben Island for defying a European power, and Nommä (Doman) Goringhaiqua, the leader of the first Khoikhoi Dutch War before it moves its way through rebel chiefs and revered kings to the more well-known activists.WATCH: A pilgrimage of memory to Robben Island
When you stand still in front of these remarkable leaders - drain out the voices and tap into atmosphere of the origin of mankind - and begin to study their life-like faces, their life-size bodies and their life-giving characteristics a very tangible part of South Africa’s history unfolds in front of you as you make your way to the front and stand with leaders like the Sisulus, the Mandelas and the Tambos.
(Photo: Anje Rautenbach)
These statues can be viewed at Maropeng, Cradle of Humankind and can be combined with a visit to the Maropeng Visitor Centre which gives a glimpse into where we all came from and where we are going with exhibitions on humanity, sustainability and the Almost Human: The Homo naledi exhibition.
In the words of Michael Worsnip, Managing Director of Maropeng, “Cradle of Humankind doesn’t belong to Gauteng, it doesn’t belong to South Africa, it doesn’t belong to the continent, Cradle of Humankind belongs to the world.”SEE: Interactive Joburg map explores the City of Gold’s best landmarks in style
What you need to know:
Ticket prices are R120 for adults (R65 for kids under 18) and there is also a combination ticket of R190 for adults (R125 for kids under 18) that will give you access to the Sterkfontein Caves, a world-famous site for their fossil finds.
Both visitor centres are open from 09:00 to 17:00 (last tour departing at 16:00) and there are two restaurants at the Maropeng Visitor Centre as well as gift shops.
To further your experience in humanity’s place of origin you can stay over at the Maropeng Boutique Hotel looking out onto the Magaliesburg mountains, and do the short 500 meter walk to the Maropeng Visitor Centre’s and Long Marc to Freedom exhibition.
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