Pretoria - Departed icons of the struggle against apartheid have risen from the ashes and found a new home at the Groenkloof Nature Reserve.
The copper statues of the heroes and heroines – 55 in total – now stand tall and proud next to each other at the new National Heritage Monument, opened by Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa on Tuesday. Struggle veterans from different cultural backgrounds and all walks of life feature.
One of the four statues on the forefront is that of former president Nelson Mandela, with a closed-fisted hand punching in the air.
On the far right is Albertina and Walter Sisulu, holding hands. In the middle is Oliver Tambo, the longest serving president of the ANC.
Black Consciousness Movement leader Steve Biko has been placed behind Mandela. Biko is portrayed with a book in the left hand and a closed-fisted hand in the air.
There are also symbols of Zulu chiefs Bambatha kaMancinza and Dingane ka Senzangakhona, as well as Batswana chief Kgosi Kgamanyane Pilane.
The first missionary among the Xhosa people, Dr Johannes van der Kemp, is also there. So is Bishop John Colenso, the first Anglican bishop of Natal.
The second president of the ANC Women’s League, Ida Mntwana, wearing a doek, is at the centre.
There are also those of president of the British Anti-apartheid Movement Trevor Huddleston and Alexandra Simons, trade unionist and member of Federation of South Africa Women.
Dali Tambo, the brain behind the project, said the monument was a celebration of the nation’s history.
It was about encompassing the amazing calibre of leaders, who in their times were the titans of their generations, he said.
The initiative was started in 2010 and not yet complete. It would accommodate about 500 statues when fully completed. The ideal is to make the monument a centre to attract tourists, according to Tambo.
The monument captured “the relay race with the heroes passing the freedom baton from one leader to the other”, Tambo said.
The sculptures were created by local artists who researched the lives of the different heroes and brought them to life.
Asked about the cost of the initiative, Tambo said: “You can’t put a price on a nation’s heritage when that nation has suffered for more than 350 years.
“Like the Washington Memorial, one can’t see culture and heritage only in terms of cost, but we must also see it in terms of benefits,” said Tambo.
The opening was, however, without the Khoisan struggle icon Damon, whose statue was stolen three weeks ago.
National Heritage Project Company’s Sarah Haines said the floodlights were not working on the night it was stolen.
Damon’s statue weighed 150kg, and its feet were broken by thieves. The theft took place despite the 24-hour security at Groenkloof.
According to Haines, police collected a track mark of a vehicle suspected to have been used by the criminals.
She said that Damon statue had a street value of R5 000.
“We have offered to pay a reward of R5 000 to anyone who could come forward with the information that would lead to the item being recovered,” she added.
According to Mthethwa, the monument would serve as a permanent reminder about the sacrifices made by the martyrs who died for freedom. It was also a reminder of the bond that existed between African nations, he said.
The minister said artists had rewritten the story of this country through the sculptures, saying the monument was a crucial step to the revitalisation of South Africa’s heritage landscape.
He thanked the National Lottery Foundation, which funded the project, together with the Department of Arts and Culture.
The monument was a place for self-reflection and a sacred place where individuals would be able to connect with their inner-self, he said.
Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa said the monument was about illustrating generations of activists in the history of the Struggle for liberation.
It was about the celebration of a superior value system embodied in the lives and exemplary conduct of the heroes and heroines of the liberation Struggle.
“By unveiling the statues, we are merely pledging our single-mindedness and undivided loyalty to the injunctions of our Constitution,” he said.