Heritage Forum

Stellenbosch now also boasts with a Nelson Mandela Square

Oct 9, 2013 | Forum, News

MadibaThe well-known Stellenbosch landscape artist Strijdom van der Merwe has just completed the town’s own Nelson Mandela Square in front of the town hall.

It was unveiled by Mr Martin Smuts, the town’s executive deputy mayor, on 2 October. Dr Ivan Meyer, provincial minister of cultural affairs and sport was the guest speaker.

The idea to honour Madiba, as he is known in popular usage, originated from Mr Smuts. Smuts is a strong advocate for public art and he explained that an image of this nature also creates an opportunity to draw people to the town centre (rather than to “push”). “I already see new faces among people who visit the town hall.” He also refers the measure in which art can play a role in facilitating cohesion.

The choice fell on Strijdom van der Merwe, partly because of other examples of public art that he has already handled in the town. His concept also met the approval of the council, according to Smuts.

Van der Merwe says that his work on the Mandela image has given him new appreciation for the town hall. He is of the opinion that the building had previously been dominated largely by the parking. “It is an exceptionally lovely building, and I had never noticed it.” Van der Merwe confides that he had spent a lot of time at the town hall during the conceptualisation and development of the project. Through this, he, for example, had become aware of the brown wooden shutters and the white of the building and had repeated the colours in his design.

The design consists of iron silhouettes of Mandela’s face applied to two sides of a wall. The eastern side (facing Plein Street) also comprises a map of the eastern part of South Africa showing the places of importance in Mandela‘s life. These include Qunu, Rivonia, Johannesburg, etc. The same applies o the western side of the wall (facing the town hall).

A quote from Nelson Mandela’s first opening of parliament speech connects the wall (to the north of the newly planted lawn) with a bench on the southern side. The words – Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another – are imbedded in the lawn in letters of granite. Only the Mandela image and the bench will be illuminated at night.

Madiba 2The choice of the area in front of the town hall rather than the Braak, for instance, was made after much serious consideration, says Smuts. Aside from the distinctive history of the Braak, a concrete monument could affect possible future development in and around the Braak. Smuts also thinks that the town hall site has greater impact for this type of image.

About whether the Braak would not have been a better choice for the site, Van der Merwe says that he would have “made any area work”. “It is not an object that simply stands there, it involves the whole area,” Van der Merwe says. The word he uses is ploemps. “I have never been an artist who creates in a studio and then: ‘Ploemps, there it is!’”

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