In South Africa, the history of the struggle for emancipation is written in hundreds of statues

Audio 02:27

Dorothy Nyembe (1932-1998), former president of the African National Congress (ANC) Women's League, Long March to Freedom, Cape Town, South Africa, Friday June 18.

© RFI / Romain Chanson

By: Romain Chanson Follow

6 mins

In South Africa, a site is dedicated to statues.

Not 1, 10 but 100 and maybe one day 400. It is the monument, " 

Long March To Freedom

 ", installed in the city of Cape Town.

Bronze statues, realistic and in motion.

They are positioned in chronological order to tell the recent history of South Africa, from the first great European colonization until the election of Nelson Mandela.

A monument that honors the forgotten figures of the struggle for emancipation. 


The visitor begins his journey in the 17th century. We are shoulder to shoulder with Autshumato. His story is told by Sarah Haines, director of the monument: “ 

Autshumato was the first political prisoner on Robben Island. He was an interpreter for the Dutch settlers and he had a close relationship between them and the Khoï people to which he belonged.


The visit ends at the end of apartheid in 1994, alongside another illustrious prisoner of Robben Island: Nelson Mandela. He is represented tall, his fist raised to the sky. But like the other statues on the site, it overlooks us but does not crush us, explains Sarah Haines. “ 

We took them off their plinth and put them on the ground. We say: these are ordinary people, they are not above you. You can stand by their side, you can take selfies and at the same time you learn things about them. 


Valery, in his sixties, has just gone back over the 350 years of history represented in this exhibition. She recommends the trip, especially to the youngest: “ 

It seems that this story does not interest the younger generations. They think that these characters are not that memorable, because they could have been racist, cruel ... But they weren't all like that and there is good in each of them. So I think young people should come here.


During our meeting, students from the University of Cape Town covered the bust of a former South African Prime Minister. An action to " 

rid space of its racist and colonial heritage

 ", they say. But why not try to rebalance the space, even to saturate it with forgotten figures? This is the position taken by Dali Tambo, creator of the monument. “ 

I was shocked to know that there are so few black statues, to see that we are not represented. Some people have criticized the ambition of the monument, claiming that it costs too much and that it is too bulky. I have always wanted it to be a unique and spectacular exhibition. But more importantly: there are so many people who are forgotten in history. 


Dali Tambo still has the ambition to reach the number of 400 statues against 100 today.

There is no shortage of suitors.

Some are already ready, we have seen them.

But shhh: their time has not yet come.


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  • South Africa

  • Architecture and urbanism