Mandela Capture Site what a symbolic capture!

Tinashe Muchuri

Harare – Our primary school social science education in the eighties had a regular question that was a thorn among learners.

The first was that of naming the President of South Africa, many would say Nelson Mandela measuring with the publicity about ‘Free Mandela’ mantra in Zimbabwe, Africa and the world at Large. Choosing any other name was synonymous with selling out our brothers and sisters in South Africa’s revolution.

The memory of this nagging sense of betrayal was recently invoked by a presentation at the International Conference of African Cultures (ICAC) 2017 in Harare at National Gallery of Zimbabwe by Christopher Till, a former Director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and now the Director of Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg as well as the Director of the Gold of Africa Museum in Cape Town.

Giving his insights on what is happening in South Africa, Till presented on Apartheid Museum, Javett Art Centre at University of Pretoria and on Nelson Mandela Capture Site Gallery.

The site is constructed at the historic place that Mandela was arrested and later being sentenced to life in prison. The gallery is not run by the government but by private institutions. The site has Nelson Mandela’s portrait looking west behind bars.

Mandela is the first black independent South Africa president. The site is erected at a place on which Mandela was arrested on 5 August 1962 along the R103, roughly three kilometres outside Howick in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. Sculpture of Mandela’s portrait behind bars speak more than words in this writing.

Speaking at the close of International Conference of African Cultures in Harare, Mhoze Chikowore said: “Rhodes and friends came to Africa with a hundred year mission plan, what is the future of Africa? What is the future? Where is the future? Who is the future? When is the future? How do we get to the future?”

It is important to establish who Mandela is to Africa and to the world. After his arrest Mandela became an ideology, a revolution, a symbol of black emancipation, humanity and identity icon, repossession of Africanism and stands for independence and freedom of the oppressed.

And to the world, Mandela remains what they call a democracy icon who was not corrupted by power after leaving office at the completion of one term allowing his former oppressors’ peaceful interaction with the former oppressed.

Is the Mandela at the Capture Site still a man of the people? Does the site symbolise the people’s struggles against political and economic suppression? Does it stand for Africanism, Ubuntu, and human values? Why did the curator decided to put Nelson Mandela’s portrait in captivity? What does this symbolise?

There is a Shona proverb that says, the fool who asks questions is a knowledgeable person (benzi bvunza rakanaka). These questions are for Africa to answer.

We may as well define what capture mean. World Book Dictionary defines capture as “to make prisoner of; take by force, skill, or trickery; seize.” Was the capture site a place where Nelson Mandela’s loyalty to the political and economic freedom of the people forcibly and skillfully seized through trickery? Is the erector of the site inviting Africa and the world to go and view where the struggle for total freedom as engraved in the famous 1955 ANC ‘The Freedom Charter’?

Surprisingly, in other Africa nations statues were pulled down but in South Africa, Mandela’s statues are being erected. The late Zimbabwean musician Simon Chimbetu has a song that when loosely translated reads like; “Hendrik you failed the nation, You died before revealing the truth to your kith and kin, that you have stolen the land, this land belongs to blacks, if they want it back, let it go.”

One would ask whether this is captors’ way of telling their progeny that never release Mandela from captivity in order to continue impoverishing black South Africans living in mukhukhus. Come and see what we did to your history.

Indeed, it is ‘No Easy Walk to Freedom’. This could be the reason why this book was penned. Twenty-seven years in prison is almost a generation. The marriage to Graca Machael was it out of true love or a marriage of convenience? And the coronation of Graca Machel as elders of African continent politics, is it just a coincidence? Was Mandela a willing horse that the apartheid government found easy to ride on?

The fact that the private gallery decided to place Mandela’s portrait behind bars means the continued incarceration of the independence icon.

Whoever created the idea of Nelson Mandela Capture Site had two ambiguous sharp edged messages to the world. The site is telling us, blame not the apartheid rule, your revolutionary leader surrendered his will on the day he was captured on this site and never redeemed it. See, he is still in captivity to this day. The continued suffering that sometimes ignites xenophobic attacks maybe a result of this continued incarceration of the people’s revolutionary ideology.

Though art is like beauty the latter is in the eyes of the beholder and the former is in the eyes of a critic there are certain glaring clues that remain universal. Mandela’s portrait behind bars reveals to us that though we saw him walking free on the streets among ordinary people appearing like them in his floral shirt seemingly symbolizing the rainbow nation of South Africa greeting them with a smile he was not to be free but still languishing in prison following what the wardens instructed him to do like a caged lion.

The former oppressors have a long history of capturing revolutionary leaders’ heads displaying them in Europe museums. Namibia’s Herero revolutionaries’ heads returned a while ago from Germany. Zimbabwe’s First Chimurenga luminaries’ decapitated heads remain in European cities as trophies of triumph. It is a European art. Only that this time, they decided to build a gallery on home soil. We are reminded that Mandela has been given to Africa that it can be civilised by forgiving its colonisers and forgeting the tribulation of its people.

September 2017
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