The City of Pretoria, which is the Administrative Capital of South Africa, will be richer with another addition to its beautiful landscape later this year - The Freedom Park (FP).
What is the Freedom Park? This is the question posed by your scribe to Mr. Fana Jiyane, CEO of the project in his office within the precincts of the FP.
“Let me begin by quoting our former President Nelson Mandela when he made this statement: ‘The day should not be far off, when we shall have a people’s shrine, a Freedom Park, where we shall honour with all the dignity they deserve, those who endured pain so that we should experience the joy of freedom.’
“The first democratically elected president was addressing a rally to honour South African Freedom Day at Umtata in the Eastern Cape on 27 April 1999. President Mandela was reacting to a need identified by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for symbolic reparation of past conflicts in the history of South Africa. The Freedom Park Trust was established in 2001 to develop this heritage project. Later this year, in September to be exact, the words of the former president will become a reality when the FP officially opens its portals to the whole country and world.”
The CEO continued: “One of the crucial and innovative aspects of the Freedom Park is its integration of history, culture and spirituality. We envisage this project to be a leading national and international icon of humanity and freedom. We also see this as a mission to provide a pioneering and empowering heritage destination that challenges visitors to reflect on our past, improve our present and build on our future as a united nation.”
The FP Park is a mammoth operation. It covers an area of 52-hectare on Salvokop (one of the many hills surrounding the city) and has the following major elements in its fold.
This is derived from Zulu and Xhosa. It is a sacred place – the spiritual resting place for those who played a part in the freedom and liberation struggle of South Africa. It is inclusive of all faiths and religions and invites South Africans to celebrate their shared spirituality and heritage.
It is a word from the siSwati language. It signifies not only a place of remembrance of those who passed on but also a place of invoking their assistance. Translated it reads: “In order to celebrate and commemorate, we have to remember. In order to remember, we have to reflect and contemplate. In order to reflect and contemplate, we need peace and tranquillity.”
S’khumbuto is there to fill this role. It is the main memorial and stands as a testimony to eight conflicts that have shaped South Africa. These are the pre-colonial wars, slavery, genocide, wars of resistance, the South African War, First World War, Second World War and the struggle for freedom. It has various elements, each one with its own symbolism and meaning.
Wall of Names
This is an awe-inspiring structure (679m in length), inscribed with the names of those who played a significant part during the eight conflicts within South Africa’s history. It can accommodate 150,000 names.
This is embraced by the Wall of Names, the reeds and the Gallery of Leaders with a seating capacity of 2,000 and will serve as a multi-purpose venue for major national events or celebrations.
This is a serene environment conducive to the outpouring of emotion. Visitors are invited to conduct a ceremony or light a candle in remembrance of the victims who fell in the struggle for freedom.
The Eternal Flame calls on visitors to remember the unknown and unsung heroes and heroines who lost their lives without their names being recorded in history.
Gallery of Leaders
This is an indoor space reserved to showcase those leaders whose contributions stand out in human memory and history – nationally, continentally, and internationally.
With almost 200 reeds, the tallest measuring 32 metres in height, this spectacular sight ensures visibility of Freedom Park from all around the capital city. The reeds signify the rebirth of the South African nation as well as a nation embracing the future.
This African olive tree was planted by former President Thabo Mbeki in June 2002. The olive tree is traditionally considered as a tree representing peace.
Moshate comes from seSotho. It is a high-level hospitality suite which will be used for presidential and diplomatic functions. It will also act as a VIP retreat for negotiations, discussions and the signing of agreements and accords.
Uitspanplek is an Afrikaans word. This is an area where families and visitors can relax. The concept is taken from the Great Trek era where the Voortrekkers would interrupt their journey to rest and replenish as they moved into the interior of the land.
Tiva which is still in construction at the time of writing, is a large body of water that will be clearly seen on the slope of the hill. It symbolises peace, tranquillity and serenity. Water plays a vital role in cleansing and healing.
Hapo (And the Pan African Archives)
Hapo is derived from the Khoi whose proverb is that: “A Dream is not a dream until it is shared by the entire community.”
Hapo forms the last phase of Freedom Park and tells a story dating back 3.6 million years focussing especially on southern Africa, but also touching on the rest of the continent.
Within Hapo, the history of the region is brought to life as visitors are transported beyond a mere taking in of facts but are encouraged to live and experience the bygone ages and phased out over seven epochs which are:
1 – Earth: Through an African story of creation, this epoch explores the beginning of things and stories about how the universe came to be.
2 – Ancestors: This epoch explores the concept of ancestors from both a physical and spiritual perspective.
3 – Peopling: This epoch seeks to address the notion of pre-conquest societies in Africa as historical, that as societies, they experienced historical change.
4 – Resistance & Colonisation: This tells the story of the major historical forces that gave birth to modern South Africa – a country born out of centuries of subjugation, exploitation and conflict.
5 – Industrialisation & Urbanisation: This epoch deals with large scale exploitation of minerals during the period of colonisation and its impact on the indigenous industries and settlement patterns.
6 – Nationalism and Struggle: Here the focus is on the contesting forces of white state formation and the struggle for a democratic society as a backdrop to the birth of the new South Africa.
7 – Nation Building and Continent Building: The visitor will engage with the story of the reclamation of the myriad of different freedoms that is ensconced with the Constitution of South Africa.
The creation of the Freedom Park is a valuable contribution towards overcoming the many centuries of foreign and racist rule, and for the establishment of a democratic order for all its people. It is no secret that South Africa is a diverse society which was marked by a strict racial and cultural divide.
Strange as it may seem, the Wende in Germany and the demise of apartheid in South Africa are almost twins. It was precisely in the very early 1990s, when members of the Foreign Press Association here in Germany where asked to pen their views on the development in the “united” Germany by a local Berlin daily. Me too.
I remember taking up the cudgels against the demolition of the Palace of the Republic in East Berlin’s Marx Engels Square. I stated at that time that although most of us South Africans who engaged in the liberation struggle, looked upon the Voortrekker Monument as a symbol of oppression, it would be wrong to demolish it. This monument was inaugurated in 1952 in Pretoria to mark the 300th anniversary of the arrival of the Boers in South Africa.
Therefore, I feel very elated, that South Africa has declared the Voortrekker Monument a National Heritage site. It is another valuable step in the right direction.
One cannot run away from history. It is what you make of your past and this is where the Germans were wrong after the Wende when they went about destroying almost everything created by the German Democratic Republic. The woeful destruction of the Palace of the Republic with which so many Germans identified themselves has not gone down well in the hearts of a vast majority of East Germans. The wall may be down but those in the minds of the people have not evaporated.
Mr. Fana Jiyane is very optimistic that the Freedom Park will play a vital role in bringing the people of South Africa together and will become a must in the itinerary of visitors from South Africa and abroad.
By Eric Singh
All pictures by Karin Singh