An unusual twist to commemoration. One of the World’s Only Monuments to a Criminal Arrest and a Remarkable Visual Illusion
Entrance road to the site
A group of school kids visit the small Apartheid Museum on site
Nelson Mandela, the revered South African statesman and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, died recently in December 2013 at age 95. Many aspects of the life of this beloved figure are well-known, via the world media, through his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom” and, more recently, the movie “Mandela” based on his life.
However, he was not always revered, at least not by the white Apartheid Government, who regarded him as an activist, a terrorist, a saboteur. In August 1962 he was returning from guerilla training in North Africa, having been on the run from the SA Security Police for 17 months. He was on his way from Durban to Johannesburg and was arrested on 5th August, 1962, at a point on the main R103 road near Lions River and a few kilometers from the town of Howick in Kwa-Zulu-Natal Province. Those were his last minutes as a free man and the first day of his 27 years imprisonment, most of them spent on Robben Island, 9km from the mainland near Cape Town.
In South Africa, and in other parts of the world, are many statues of Mandela—such as the huge new statue erected in the gardens of the Uni Gebou (Government Buildings) in Pretoria after his death, and one in Washington DC. His name also graces many streets, and schools, and in Johannesburg the locals are proud of the Nelson Mandela Bridge in Newtown.
Many people, however, do not know about another Mandela monument in South Africa. This is one of the world’s only monuments to a criminal arrest—a monument to the arrest of Nelson Mandela.
Original plaque, erected in 1996
The original monument, in 2005
At the spot where Mandela was arrested, the Howick Town Council in 1996 erected a small, unassuming monument to honor that place and event. We knew about it, luckily, and visited in 2005. The Monument wasn’t too far from the village, along a side road. The Monument, although not grand or imposing, stimulated a lively discussion among the people in our van. They thought it was significant to have a monument to the capture of a person, and especially because that person was Nelson Mandela, who proved to be a wonderful person and who changed the face of South African (and the world’s) politics. So, in retrospect, his capture was an event to be marked, after his subsequent release and rise to fame and power.
At the old monument today
Powerful New Capture Monument
On August 6, 2012, for the 50th anniversary of Mandela’s arrest, a new, much more impressive Monument was unveiled, and is now designated as the National Capture Monument. This new sculpture was made possible by funds and donations from many different departments and organizations in South Africa. It has evolved from a small insignificant sight, to a major political pilgrimage for many. This seems fitting, as in those intervening 50 years much happened, to Mandela himself, to his image and legacy, and to the country.
We were able to visit this new monument in March this year, on a cool drizzly day.
The new monument across the road from the old—it’s not what it seems
The new monument is just across the road from the original smaller one, which is still there, but the approach is further up the side road where you find parking, a shop, a theater, and a museum to Apartheid, with special reference to Mandela. After parking, you walk down a long paved path (like a Long Walk to Freedom), designed by architect Jeremy Rose, and ahead and below you see rolling green hills and a cluster of black steel poles. You might wonder what all the fuss is about but carry on walking and at a designated spot you’ll suddenly see the face of Mandela emerge from the poles.
Rod stands between the poles, showing their size, but not the inherent portrait
This impressive sculpture by artist Marco Cianfanelli consists of 50 black steel poles between 8-10 meters (26-32 feet) tall. They are arranged in a special pattern that gives the viewer a flat image of the face of Nelson Mandela facing West, when approached from the foot path leading down towards it, at a marked point exactly 35 meters (113 feet) away. From that position the laser-cut steel poles line up to create the illusion of a perfectly flat image. The 50 steel columns represent the 50 years since his capture. They also portray the idea of many making a whole and of solidarity.
It’s incredible because, as you walk along the footpath, the seemingly random bunch of steel poles starts to change until you see a face emerge. See series of photos below to see the face emerge.
The site’s not difficult to find: While en route either to the Southern Drakensberg Mountains or between Durban and Johannesburg, you can detour off the N3, taking the Howick off-ramp in either direction. You can visit Howick to look at the famous Howick Falls, one of South Africa’s highest falls, and also to see the Mandela Monument. Both are free.
The falls, although narrow, have a deep, rocky gorge, and from the viewing platform you can watch intrepid rock climbers, and musicians will probably serenade you. If you have time, it’s also fun to drive along all, or part of, the Midlands Meander, a drive through pretty countryside with rolling green hills past many craft and artisanal food shops—all very tempting.
Walking down the long path—see the cluster of black poles on the far right
An extraordinary effect as we get closer
Mandela’s portrait begins to emerge
The poles line up
An amazing visual feat!