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The inspiration for creating a park populated with 400 bronze statues of South Africa’s Struggle heroes was born out of a conversation TV personality Dali Tambo had with his father, Oliver, from beyond the grave.
“The idea comes from a visit to my father’s grave where I was saying to him: ‘There isn’t a statue of you in this country and I’m planning to do one, what do you think?’ and from the grave he spoke to me and said: ‘Don’t do it for me, do it for all of them. Do it for all those who struggled for our democracy and our freedom,’” Tambo told Parliament’s arts and culture portfolio committee this week.
Tambo is chief executive of the National Heritage Project Company, which, using seed funding from the Department of Arts and Culture, is in the third year of planning an “audacious project” to create a garden populated with 400 to 500 life-sized bronze statues of Struggle veterans and freedom fighters dating from the 1600s to 1994.
The list includes Olive Schreiner, Charlotte Maxeke, King Hintsa, Thomas Mapikela and King Sekhikhune of the Pedi.
The figures will stand in a winding procession called “The Long March to Freedom” on a piece of land at the Groenkloof Nature Reserve, donated by the City of Tshwane. The park will feature a visitors’ centre, formal African craft market and Africa’s biggest water park.
Tambo said they hoped to break ground next year on the project, which is expected to cost between R700 million and R800m over the next five years.
“Heritage tourism is a massively growing aspect of international tourism, with the educated middle classes seeking otherness,” he told the committee. “Heritage is the show business of history. People should come, they should learn, and then they should play,” he said of the seemingly bizarre decision to mix the commemorative statues with a water park.
Already, 48 of the statues have been completed by various South African artists. Some were on display at the ANC conference at Mangaung last year, and about half are on display in Bloemfontein.
Tambo said that in a bid to balance out the “deficit” that existed between white and black heritage experiences in the country, the procession would include some of South Africa’s greatest icons, but there is a catch – they can only be included if they’re dead.
This would therefore exclude people like Nelson Mandela and Nobel peace prize winner Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
But, Tambo said, there was space for others to be added to the park in the future. A statue of Mandela is being planned for the Union Buildings in Pretoria as well.
“I went to see Zwelakhe Sisulu before he died and asked him how he would want his parents (Walter and Albertina) portrayed, and he said he wanted them holding hands, because that’s how they were in life,” Tambo said.
He said they hoped the park would appeal to local and international visitors, young and old.
“If you compare it to the Washington Memorial in the United States, it has 24 million visitors per year and the majority of those are Americans. But look at what they do for the local economy, because they shop, they eat and they stay in hotels,” he said.
“We live in an age where there are so many distractions for young people. They grow up priding their sneakers, their iPods and their laptops. But we want to attract people with the beauty of these sculptures so young people can go and see what Lilian Ngoyi looked like.
“They can see how tall she was, they can see what she looked like as a young person. And they can see what she stood for,” Tambo said.
MPs on the arts and culture committee praised Tambo’s project for its heritage value and because it would create jobs and stimulate the economy.
Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile said the department believed “our narrative should be inclusive and its transformation will not seek to destroy any of the old heritage”.
He said a cabinet memo would be prepared in the next two weeks, after which the project would be submitted to the cabinet for approval.
“Credit must go to Dali for the vision. It is quite clear that for him this has not been about business, but that he’s doing it for the nation,” Mashatile said.