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Nelson Mandela celebrates a new year with Cape Town’s minstrels. Nelson Mandela celebrates a new year with Cape Town’s minstrels. Rodger Bosch

New ways to explore the past

May 04, 2017

A planned Mandela tribute is one more stop on a route that will bring centuries of history and heritage to life.

With plans to memorialise President Nelson Mandela at the City Hall, Cape Town is starting to develop a historical trail that encompasses the earliest settlements and the slave era, through the destructive impact of the Apartheid period to the coming of democracy.

The emerging route runs through the historic heart of the city, from the Crypt under St George’s Cathedral, which records the protests and mass peace marches of the 1980s, to the Slave Lodge and Church Square, to the City Hall and across the Grand Parade to the Castle, taking in the District Six Museum in Buitenkant Street.

The lure of “all things Mandela” is a natural part of what attracts visitors to Cape Town and contributes to the thriving tourist economy. Robben Island, where the former African National Congress leader spent decades behind bars, ranks with San Francisco’s Alcatraz and the slavery transit point at Goree Island in Senegal as must-see destinations for travellers.

But, when the weather makes the boat trip across Table Bay impossible, those wanting to take a walk of freedom themselves will find little trace of Mandela or the transition to democracy as they visit places of historical significance in the city centre.

The Grand Parade itself holds significant value not just for being a colonial marching drill ground, but also because on 11 February 1990, some 50 000 people gathered on the Grand Parade to catch the first glimpses of Nelson Mandela on his release from prison and to hear him speak to the nation and the world. This was a landmark event in the struggle for democracy, and an unforgettable day for those who were there.

Now the City of Cape Town, with the support of the Western Cape Government, is planning to mark this event by commissioning a statue of Mandela to place on the balcony, along with a permanent multimedia exhibition in the City Hall itself.

The project is part of the National Liberation Heritage Route, an initiative of the National Heritage Council and the National Department of Tourism, and the public has an opportunity to comment until 21 May 2017.

Have your say on plan to honour Mandela.

The proposed memorialisation of Nelson Mandela’s historical address from the City Hall to the thousands in attendance on the Grand Parade is a joint effort between the City of Cape Town, which will fund the exhibition, and the Western Cape Government, which will fund the statue. The total cost will be in the region of R4.8 million.

Councillor Brett Herron, who chairs the City’s Naming and Nomination Committee, says the multimedia display is aimed at “commemorating Madiba’s legacy and to honour the organisations and people who were involved in the liberation struggle, the events leading up to Mandela’s release, and the transition to democracy”.

Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities, Alan Winde has called on Capetonians to share their views during the next few weeks.

“President Mandela remains one of the world’s most beloved icons. His journey after his release from the then Victor Verster Prison to the City Hall where he made his address is of important historical significance. Through leveraging this unique heritage, we can build an attraction which will draw visitors to our region and spread Madiba’s message of tolerance. It is important that residents of the province have a say in how we honour Madiba,” he says.

If it goes ahead, it is expected to be a major tourism drawcard. Already scores of visitors take part in guided walking tours around the centre of Cape Town, and the museums and places of interest receive numerous school groups.

Another important addition to the emerging historical precinct would have been the proposed Cape Town Museum, which was announced with some fanfare in September 2015 by the provincial government and Standard Bank. The “new-generation heritage museum” was set to be housed in the bank’s landmark 1880s building on the corner of Darling and Adderley streets. The aim was to house exhibits that would chart the development of Cape Town and the diversity of its people.

However, this project has quietly collapsed, after the provincial government’s Department of Public Works and the bank failed to reach a contractual agreement on the use of the building.

This was confirmed by the head of communication for the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Tania Colyn.

“We are currently looking at creating an online presence for the museum, which would be an interactive platform where members of the public could tell their stories. There are also plans for a travelling exhibition that would be placed in some of the existing museums in the city, as well as indoor public spaces,” she said.

The department hopes to complete the first phase in the next few months.

Watch Nelson Mandela’s speech from the City Hall balcony on You Tube at the following link http://bit.ly/1AblHlC

Share your views

Comments, input and recommendations on the proposed Mandela statue and exhibition at the City Hall can be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., submitted online via the City’s website, www.capetown.gov.za/haveyoursay, or posted to the Manager: Public Participation Unit, PO Box 298, Cape Town 8000. The deadline for comment is 17 May 2017.

Last modified on Thursday, 04 May 2017 10:44
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CityLife is the newspaper for people who live, work and play in the Cape Town central city area – and our many visitors. It’s a blend of news and information about people and places in one of the most exciting cities in the world.

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