This last week, the fabulous young South African and increasingly world-renowned artist Faith47, posted an online petition to ask the City of Cape Town to please reconsider their decision NOT to restore the well-known and loved FREE MANDELA slogan on the wall of a cemetery in the suburb of Observatory.
The slogan, that has been summarily removed, was produced long ago while Mandela was imprisoned. The people that painted it risked a lot (jail / arrest / being beaten up / similar), to make sure that every single person who saw it would know that there was strong resistance to separate development and the injustice of Mandela’s incarceration.
Those people were active citizens, despite their disenfranchisement — ie despite the fact that they were not even considered citizens. We kind of owe them I think — especially those of us who respond to current calls for democratic South Africans to take responsibility for their lives and become increasingly hands-on and involved in building a better life for all.
While it may be hard to comprehend why the City of Cape Town would treat such a powerful symbol as if it is meaningless, my own sense is that this is probably because they do not appreciate or understand exactly what they are doing / not doing here. Indeed, it appears they have advised that one of the reasons for the negative response is because the site is a heritage site. This confuses me. Why on earth is it a heritage site without the slogan? Are they perhaps confused? I know I am.
The petition is doing well so far. Many of the people who have signed it have made comments that recognise the significance of the work. Some of my favourites are
History has lessons, this wall is its classroom. (Rory Clark, Cape Town)
Préserver le slogan ‘Free Mandela’ est important et nécessaire pour la mémoire collective. (Val Agathe, France)
The freedom of Mandela, the busking, the street art, the barking dogs and the independent freedom of the Cape Town residents and all who travel through it. Amen. (Lisolomzi Pikoli, Johannesburg)
Faith47 writes beautifully about what we mean by our heritage and its preservation on the petition site — and you can read that and make your own feelings about the situation known over here: