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Cape Town - A group of local artists are petitioning the City of Cape Town for permission to repaint the “FREE MANDELA” slogan which the city painted over when its graffiti by-law came into effect.
The slogan, one of the city’s longest-standing graffiti pieces done by an anonymous artist, was written on the vibracrete wall of the cemetery on Anzio Road, in Observatory.
Under the graffiti by-law, offenders can be fined up to R1 500. Since the by-law came into effect on July 9, 2010 there has been a large clean-up of the city’s walls.
Street and studio artist Faith47 – who asked to be called by her artist name – started an online petition this week on change.org, titled “Grant permission for the repainting of the ‘FREE MANDELA’ slogan in Cape Town”, which on Thursday had 250 signatures.
“The City of Cape Town is the World Design Capital 2014, yet the new by-laws that have been instituted are restricting and policing non-violent crime, like street art, skateboarding, busking, dogs barking,” said Faith47.
Faith47 told the Cape Argus that she had always taken notice of political slogans and stencils across the city.
“I would drive past it often and it would give me a sense of what this country had just come through. It was a small but significant part of the fabric of our city that gave it substance and meaning.”
Faith47 believes that the slogan was painted over at about the time of the graffiti by-law implementation. “To be clear – I am very sure the city did not paint over the slogan intentionally, it is just something that happens when you have a cleaning squad who have no instructions to save any artworks that might be of value… the problem is in the policy itself that has no deeper understanding of what it is destroying,” she said
Over the years Faith47 and other artists have considered repainting the slogan without permission but decided against it.
Her application to the city’s department of arts and culture was declined and the reason was that “the owner of the property identified is the Operational Property Management Department of the Western Provincial Government. As owners of the property they will not grant permission to proceed as the wall is protected in terms of heritage legislation”.
The Cape Argus is in possession of the letter signed by the department’s manager Zayd Minty.
“We keep a section of the Berlin wall in the city. The slogans and stencils on that wall are historically valuable. Everyone can understand that but we fail to protect our own visual heritage,” said Faith47.
She is volunteering to restore or repaint the slogan in the exact location and manner of its former self.
Although the city’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith said he was not aware that the slogan existed, he urged local artists to submit a list to the department of arts and culture with art that they consider to be of heritage value to prevent it from being destroyed.
Echoing, Faith47’s sentiments, Woodstock-based artist Bazil Baxter said the “FREE MANDELA” slogan represented a part of history that had important heritage value. He also urged the city to have an arts-based dialogue to surface creative insights.
The department had not responded at the time of going to print.