Howick, South Africa
Client: uMngeni Municipality, Department of Co-operative Government and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), the Apartheid Museum and the KwaZulu Natal Heritage Council (AMAFA)
Artist: Marco Cianfanelli
Architects: Jeremy Rose & Gilbert Balinda, Mashabane Rose Architects
On August 15, 1962, an otherwise ordinary piece of road, approximately three kilometers outside Howick, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, suddenly took on profound consequence. Armed apartheid police flagged down a car in which Nelson Mandela was pretending to be the chauffeur. Having succeeded in evading capture by apartheid operatives for 17 months, Mandela had just paid a clandestine visit to ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli’s Groutville home to report back on his African odyssey, and to request support in calling for an armed struggle. It was in this dramatic way, at this unassuming spot, that Nelson Mandela was finally captured, and proceeded to disappear from public view for the following 27 years.
Designed and built to mark the 50-year anniversary of what began Nelson Mandela’s ‘long walk to freedom’ – and the piece of land that, quite randomly, irrevocably altered the history of South Africa – a quietly powerful sculpture, stands in this silently potent space. Made possible by the Department of Co-operative Government and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) the uMngeni Municipality, the Apartheid Museum and the KwaZulu Natal Heritage Council (AMAFA) in association with the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, this historic memorial site was inaugurated completed and unveiled in 2012.
The sculpture, by artist Marco Cianfanelli, significantly comprises 50 steel column constructions – each between 6.5 and 9.5 metres tall – set into the Midlands landscape. The approach to the site, designed by architect Jeremy Rose of Mashabane Rose Associates, leads one down a path towards the sculpture where, at a distance of 35 meters, a portrait of Nelson Mandela, looking west, comes into focus, the 50 linear vertical units lining up to create the illusion of a flat image.
Cianfanelli’s perceptive rendering of this meditative image of the international icon – a portrait achieved from interpreting composites of several portraits of Mandela sourced off the Internet, and a film grab – is appropriately monumental, yet fittingly transient and delicate.
From its main focal point, the sculpture reads as a familiar photographic image, structurally suggestive of his incarceration, while from a side view, the design and arrangement of the columns create a sense or moment of fracture and release.
Regarding this deliberate structural paradox, Cianfanelli added:
This represents the momentum gained in the struggle through the symbolic of Mandela’s capture. The 50 columns represent the 50 years since his capture, but they also suggest the idea of many making the whole; of solidarity. It points to an irony as the political act of Mandela’s incarceration cemented his status as an icon of struggle, which helped ferment the groundswell of resistance, solidarity and uprising, bringing about political change and democracy.
The sculpture, which eloquently both impacts and becomes part of the surrounding landscape, visually shifts throughout the day, with the sculpture itself being affected by the changing light and atmosphere behind and around it.
Cianfanelli included an additional 5 smaller columns to create an axis from the main sculpture to the monument site across the road.
Key behind the development and realisation of this memorial site, the Director of the Apartheid Museum, Christopher Till, remarks that this project holds as
an example of how the installation of art into a site of history and heritage can be a catalytic and powerful force.
The uMngeni municipality, with the assistance of COGTA’s ‘government through corridor development fund’, further acquired the property adjacent to the capture site and commissioned a plan for the establishment of a museum, multipurpose theatre and amphitheatre, tourism and supporting educational and cultural facilities to be situated on this site, which will create job opportunities for the local community.
This iconic image will become synonymous with the event marking the site of his capture and will no doubt become a major tourist attraction at this significant heritage site.
All images © and courtesy of Marco Cianfanelli