Sunday, 28 September 2008

BOOKWORM'S CHOICE: GREAT LIVES, PIVOTAL MOMENTS


As the country exhales after two exceptionally tense and historic weeks, it is perhaps a good time to look back on some of the lives and events that shaped our earlier history.
Great Lives, Pivotal Moments by Lauren Segal and Paul Holden is the perfect way in which to do this, as it documents the bold and visionary Sunday Times Heritage Project. In order to celebrate its centenary in 2006, the newspaper commissioned a trail of street memorials across the country, commemorating the great and the good who shaped our country's past.
The memorials were intended to show how news becomes history, and set about taking a fresh and imaginative view of the past; shared and separate, painful and proud.
The new book documents these memorials and the stories behind them - from Olive Schreiner’s fight for women’s rights to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s leadership of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Each intimate portrait reveals the impact that segregation and apartheid had on people’s daily lives, and demonstrates the hardship so many suffered. But, as importantly, they also demonstrate the individual and collective spirit of courage and resistance that characterised much of the struggle for democracy. And the narratives are enriched by previously unseen archival treasures and images gathered by the project team from the South African History Archive.
These are some of the stories the memorials commemorate:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu / The Truth and Reconciliation Commission:
In the East London City Hall, on 16 April 1996, Archbishop Desmond Tutu dropped his head in his hands and wept. It was Day Two of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings; former Robben Islander Singqokwana Ernest Malgas was describing his torture by security police.
The TRC would hear from 21 000 people across South Africa, and Tutu, its chairman, would say of the process: "We have looked the beast in the eye. Our past will no longer keep us hostage. We who are the rainbow people of God will hold hands and say, 'Never again! Nooit weer! Ngeke futhi! Ga reno tlola!' ".
This memorial to Tutu and the Commission he lead now stands outside the East London City Hall, where that historic moment took place. Artist Anton Momberg made the sculpture slightly smaller than life size, favouring intimacy over monumentality.
Ingrid Jonker (19 September 1933 — 19 July 1965):
In 1963 Ingrid Jonker’s poem, The child who was shot dead by soldiers at Nyanga, was published. A brief two years later, at the age of 31, her on-going battle with depression and anxiety lead her to take her own life.
Jonker spent much of her childhood in Gordon's Bay, where this monument now stands, and it was where she was happiest. Almost 30 years after her death, President Nelson Mandela reminded the country of this poet’s insight and prescience when he read The Child during his inaugural address to South Africa’s first democratic Parliament, on 24 May 1994: "… the child grown to a man treks through all Africa, the child grown into a giant journeys through the whole world, Without a pass."
This poignant memorial by Tyrone Appollis, depicting a tricycle, is a reminder of where we have come from - and a place we must be vigilant never to return to.
The Purple Shall Govern:
On 2 September 1989 anti-apartheid protesters marching on Parliament were stopped by police near the spot in central Cape Town on which this memorial now stands. They mounted an impromptu sit-in and police retaliated with tear gas, batons and a new weapon: a water cannon laced with purple dye to stain demonstrators and make them easier to identify and detain.
As protesters scattered, one climbed onto the armoured vehicle with the cannon and turned the purple jet on police. Purple dye stained most of the surrounding buildings, including the National Party headquarters and the white-washed walls of the historic Old Townhouse.
The next day graffiti all over the city proclaimed "The Purple Shall Govern". This was one of the last protest marches outlawed by the apartheid government. Eleven days later, 30 000 people marched through the city without police intervention.
As one half of the partnership that produced Bitterkomix, aficionados will instantly recognise Conrad Botes’s hand in the memorial commemorating the "Purple March".

Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi (2 October 1869 — 30 January 1948)
On 16 August 1908, 3 000 Muslims, Hindus and Christians led by Mohandas Gandhi, a Hindu, gathered outside the Hamidia Mosque and burned their passes, documents all people classified as "non-white" by the government were forced to carry or face imprisonment. The huge bonfire, lit in a cauldron, marked the first burning of passes in South Africa and the beginning of Gandhi’s satyagraha, or passive resistance, campaign.
This memorial honouring that event features a potjie, like the cauldron in which Gandhi’s supporters burned their passes. When the wheel beneath the cauldron is spun, a zoetrope cuts into its metal sides and enables viewers to see an image of a pass actually burning.
For more about the Sunday Times Heritage Project, click through to http://heritage.thetimes.co.za/.

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