Why Monuments?

Monuments and memorials are vivid manifestations of a people’s heritage. They are a form of capturing history for generations to come. They instantly inform observers about where we have been, and what we achieved historically, culturally and politically. The need for monuments appears to be innate in human nature. This is evident from the many various markers that humans create. At the simplest level the crosses and markers planted on our roads when people die demonstrate the primordial necessity to memorialise and monumentalise their emotions; so too the monuments and peace parks that were built spontaneously during the anti-apartheid struggles.
Monuments are powerful catalysts for the promotion and attainment of nation building. Research has revealed that the USA, whose capital Washington DC has more monuments per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world, is one of the countries that has effectively used its monuments programme to galvanise its diverse citizens despite socio-political differences.
In fact, colonizing nations have known for hundreds of years that the creation of monuments dedicated to their heroes and heroines was central to the fostering and maintenance of cohesion among themselves, as well as a means of imposing awe among the colonised populations – thus helping them to have a firm grip on the minds and hearts of the natives. In South Africa the Voortrekker Monument, with its naked demonstration of Boer Triumphalism, exemplifies this trend. The Monument was used effectively by the Apartheid regime as an educational and ideological tool to instil a sense of power in the hearts and minds of Afrikaners. Throughout the capital Pretoria, there are several monuments reifying Apartheid heroes. Similarly in all other major cities, even in small sleepy villages throughout the country, monuments of some kind have been erected to mark the historical trajectories of the colonists.
Speaking in the late 1940s ANCYL founder Anton Muziwakhe Lembede one of South Africa’s most intellectual and charismatic leaders, noted the prevalence of monuments by and for colonials together with a marked absence of monuments dedicated to our own native heroes. Sixty years later very little has changed with the exception of Freedom Park and a scattering of statues of Mandela, yet ironically our country is littered with historical sites clamouring for monuments to honour, celebrate and validate the myriad heroes of our struggles.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a world first, distinguished us from many other nations emerging from conflict and oppression. The long list of traumatic testimonies from communities around the country illustrates the numerous sites where heroes of our struggle need to be remembered. In fact erecting monuments, over and above honouring individuals and communities, would be another way of ensuring the work of the TRC is sustained and carried to its logical end.
Globalisation has created the conditions for cultural tourism. South Africa has already begun to use cultural tourism as a central component of its tourism marketing strategy, for example in Vilakazi Street in Soweto and the Eastern Cape Liberation route. Monuments play a crucial and critical role in attracting national and international visitors and monuments commemorating the anti apartheid struggle and its leaders would enrich our country’s programme of cultural tourism.

Madiba and the Rainbow Children

Shaka kaSenzangakhona

Steve Banto Biko

Monuments of Hope and Healing

Provocation for Reconciliation

Sculptor Pitika Ntuli begins new Inclusive Statues


Where were you when Marikana died

Last night as thunderstorms gathered in UnderbergShaking the tiny village to its roots

When lights flickered and died

I set out to write a poem

As dreams turned into nightmares

Tender fingers caressing soft bodies turning into vampires’ claws

I perched myself on the mountain of poesy

Assembled the generals of poetry

Pablo Neruda invited me to:

“Come and see the blood in the streets!’

William Butler Yeats came out lamenting:

“Things fall apart the centre cannot hold

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the earth!”

Don Mattera cautioned:

“ The poet must die if their lies are to survive!’

Bicca Maseko enjoined us with:

“Generally speaking, the best of the generals is the general uprising!”

Martin Carter re-assured me:

“We do not sleep to dream, but dream to change the world!”

I assemble more and more poets

To help me write

An assassin’s poem an unleashed guerrilla

Harassing attacking feinting retreats advancing

Now moving in circles

Now shooting straight

Now and then throwing in moments of laughter

Leaving no static lines

A now floating

Now diving

Now and then rustling leaves

Rippling water

Cascading boulders down to the village of tyrants

I want to write a trickster poem

An Eshu, Chakijana, an Anansi the Spider playing tricks on power

Switching the shower as IL Duce washes

Disrupting the rape of justice

Squirting teargas as operatives try to wipe out tapes

Confusing fingers as they rig votes

Mooing whilst cattle vote

Silverton Three Monument

“Since to everyman upon this earth, death cometh soon or late. How can a man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods?”

In 1980 the Silverton Three return from their country of exile to South Africa on an armed mission to blow up a petrol depot. On the day of the mission their Unit commander is captured; en route to the mission they realise they are being trailed and seek cover in the nearest public building, a branch of the Volkas bank, where they take twenty-five people hostage. The Bank is soon under siege by the police. Research, including interviews and statements from some of the actors in the drama, reveals the inner human conflicts and discipline of trained freedom fighters and tells a story of courage, self-sacrifice, discipline, and the power of the human spirit yearning to be free.

A reminder. Four years previously the three ‘terrorists’ witnessed hundreds of fellow young school children, with only dustbin lids between them and live bullets, mown down by police. They lost relatives, neighbours, and friends. In the years immediately following the Soweto uprisings, the struggle for liberation was setback as hundreds of young men and women were forced into exile in neighbouring countries. The three young men known as the Silverton Three, now trained and armed, are at the vanguard of the resurgence of the armed struggle.

The siege is the culmination of a journey in the lives of the protagonists in this heroic and tragic drama of the struggle for the liberation of South Africa. Like the South African polity, the siege is a series of contradictions: a meeting point of the armed and the unarmed; the free and those who sought freedom; the affluent and the wretched of the earth; the caring and the brutal; the privileged and the underprivileged; the decadent and the upholders of Christian values; those who think they are going to be killed and those who know they are going to die.

By definition, Apartheid refers to ‘Setting Apart’ and hating. In South Africa it was white power versus resistance from a majority black population, though in reality it was more complex than that. Here are three trained and armed guerrillas in one room with twenty-five hostages, mostly white, who initially think they are being held captive by black criminals robbing the bank. Very quickly they discover their mistake; it is no robbery, but a desperate cry for freedom, freedom for Madiba, for political prisoners, for the black oppressed and ultimately for the whole country. During the siege one of the three tells the hostages that all they had wanted to do was to go to university but were unable to do so because they could not afford the fees.

The police arrive. Demands are made. Negotiations begin, apparently in bad faith. Police snipers open fire. How do the ‘terrorists’ respond? Concerned for the safety of their hostages, they order them to lie down in an effort to protect them from flying bullets strafing the bank, bullets flying from the guns of the upholders of justice. Those who obey are saved and those who are either unable or unwilling to do so are killed and maimed. Two of the cadre are shot and killed. Is it not a testament to his humanity, his vision, his restraint and his discipline that the remaining cadre does not turn his gun on the hostages, choosing instead to ward off the police, when he knew and in fact had told the hostages that he was going to die?

The Monument captures the significance of the siege in reigniting the hope of the oppressed. It captures the conflicting feelings, thoughts and prayers of those involved in the event as well as the poignancy of the moment, the vulnerability and the strength of courage of the three.

The Monument traces the liberatory struggle from colonial through anti-apartheid to the present moment of reconciliation and reconstruction. The head is adorned with a war feather ala Shaka, Maqoma, Sekhukhuni and other traditional leaders who resisted colonial incursions into our sacred land. The dustbin lid speaks to the cultural struggles generally referred to as the Soweto Uprising and the AK 47 takes us to the armed struggle. At the apex of the monument there is a dove of peace to symbolize reconciliation!

Material for the Monument has been chosen with utmost attention to form and symbolism. For example the head is the gearbox of an army truck with cogs in it to symbolise the working of the brain, significantly the brain of a military struggle. The angle of the head invokes the determination of those who gave their lives for the liberation of the country, inspiring onlookers of the Monument. The three faces of the head as well as acknowledging the three freedom fighters, capture three moods – calm determination; confrontation; and surprise. Parts that constitute the torso and limbs include material from an earthmover, symbolizing the struggle for land and the imperative for its eventual redistribution. Elements of an electric pole reference lighting and enlightenment, underlining the extent to which the three were sufficiently enlightened to be able to exercise restraint at the moment of their death. The centrality of space in this moment is characterised by a womb-like opening in the centre of the Monument, symbolic of the birth of a new, caring society.

Indigenous African philosophies are infused into the Monument through the engraving of Adrinka and Dogon symbols in strategic places, for example Dauntlessness, Bravery and Fearlessness, and Humility are among the selected symbols.

The Monument stands between 4.5 and 5 metres in height and weighs between 2.5 and 3 tons.

An Anthem for the Workers