Plan for 60m Mandela face on Table Mountain

Cape Town - If today were April 1 instead of August 1, a proposal for a 60m-high monument to Nelson Mandela plastered on to the sheer cliffs of Table Mountain like a giant green carbuncle might be explicable and good for a laugh.

But that idea is being punted, apparently seriously, by a Dutch design firm on behalf of an obscure Rotterdam-based organisation, “Mandela on the bike foundation”.

A 3D impression of the monument of Mandela on Table Mountain. Credit: WHIM architecture

Concept designs for the 12-storey sculpture that includes a restaurant, conference centre and exhibition area – all in the shape of Mandela’s face a-la-Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse memorial in the US – were posted on a dedicated website last month, timed to coincide with Madiba’s birthday.

The proposed monument honouring Madiba “will teach next generations about the man who gave his life for justice and show his heritage”, according to the design firm, WHIM Architecture.

The project team says the size of the building “suits the visibility and accessibility on the mountain overlooking Cape Town and its coastline”, although the sheer cliffs shown in most of their drawings do not appear to belong to Table Mountain.

The designs were also posted on a Facebook site, and on Monday the project team reported that they’d received “a few comments/questions about our proposal” that they wanted to respond to.

“We are thinking of a monument, that is highly visible within the city and shows the beauty of the existing city and its landscape… Of course we see the beauty of Table Mountain, and we respect this. Table Mountain should maintain its natural beauty. The sketch design is a first visualisation on how we think we can create something monumental for Nelson Mandela but also for Cape Town.

“The further development of the project should be done in close collaboration with the (local) government, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the inhabitants of Cape Town.”

Asked to comment, Table Mountain National Park manager Paddy Gordon said “I nearly fell off my chair” when seeing the images.

“As custodians of this international iconic site, we could not even begin to consider this proposal. In terms of the mountain’s legal status as a national park and World Natural Heritage Site, let alone its Natural Wonder of the World award, a development of such huge proportions would never be allowed.

“Though we agree that the nation owes a huge debt to Madiba and that we need to honour his contribution for generations to come, we hope to support a very different approach to achieve this. Besides, I’m convinced that Madiba himself would not wish for his beloved Table Mountain to be maimed in this way.”

Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille replied diplomatically via her spokesman Solly Malatsi: “The city will weigh the merits of the proposal once we’ve seen it.”

There were mixed reactions on Facebook, with

Judith Egberink commenting “nice!!” while Amanda van Zyl McCarthy wrote: “Table Mountain is NOT Mt Rushmore! not even think of messing up our mountain!” and Philip Zietsman said: “What a k*k idea! Shudder.”

Architect and design consultant Pierre Jordaan was short and sweet with his ironic response: “Nice ... go f&*%k up your own mountain.”