Shirts with a different fashion statement are coming to Maropeng

The Long March to Freedom is proud to welcome and be associated with the South African History Archive (SAHA) T-shirt collection. The Long March to Freedom, much like the SAHA T-shirt collection, aims to deliver a powerful historical message to all visitors. It celebrates the bravery of our ancestors, the arduous struggle for liberation and the story of our nation.

Alan Paton appears at Maropeng

The “Long March to Freedom” Exhibition is being relocated from the Fountains Gardens to Maropeng.  There are probably not many people alive whose grandparent is represented in the exhibition. I believe that I am the only person who, in addition to being an immediate descendant of one of the heroic figures in “The Long March to Freedom”, also works for the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.  (The Official Visitor Centre of the site comprises of Maropeng and Sterkfontein).

The facial likeness of my grandfather is a good one, although he has been given a body which is about 20cm taller than his real height, so instead of being noticeably shorter than me at around 1.65m, his statue depicts a man of about 1.85m, which makes him taller than me, and somewhat more athletic looking than he actually was.

Besides this, the attention to detail is impressive.  For example, the detail of the missing index finger on his left hand is faithfully captured in the sculpture.  He lost the finger after one of the boys from the Diepkloof Reformatory (where he was once the principal) bit his hand reportedly in retaliation for Alan Paton giving the boy a beating.  Some of the inmates of Diepkloof Reformatory remembered Alan Paton as a harsh disciplinarian, whilst others remembered him as “the man who pulled up the barbed wire and planted geraniums”.   Of course this is long before I was born, so I cannot comment on whose memories were the more accurate.

The Alan Paton I knew in real life often wore the stern and serious expression which is well captured in the sculpture by Rosamund O’Connor.  Yet he was also fond of jokes, so when he received his monthly National Geographic and saw that it had a picture of a chimpanzee on the cover, he showed it to me, saying “Look, Anty, you are on the front cover of National Geographic!” to which I replied “No, grandad, that is not me, that is you.”  Unimpressed by my insolence, he went on to try the same line on my brother, Nic. To my delight my brother (without prompting or consultation) also said “No, grandad, that is you!” And I believe we had a point, because his facial expressions, particularly those of his mouth, were indeed often slightly simian.  Whether his lips were puckered, pouted or tightly closed as though sucking a lemon, he had the ability to present an unmistakable resemblance to some kind of ape, a theme which led to much banter and mythology in the Paton family.

Although Alan Paton was a conservative Christian in many ways, he was a firm follower of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and he displayed an impressive grasp of its general principals.  In fact, he was a science teacher and had no tertiary education in literature or the arts, which may take many people by surprise. He was had a broad interest in natural history and I believe he was (more than any other single individual) instrumental in developing my particular interest in birds.  Indeed, his two famous novels have birds which form important motifs in the narrative. In Cry the Beloved Country there is regular reference to the titihoya, known in English as the Black-winged Lapwing.  The “forlorn crying” of this bird may represent nostalgia for the innocence that may once have existed in rural areas, or may represent the Ixopo area, which is the heartland of this near threatened endemic bird and home to both the Jarvis and the Kumalo families.  In Too Late the Phalarope the phalarope plays a critical symbolic role.  This bird is usually seen off shore, but which occasionally ventures to inland dams and wetlands, where it is a rare and sought after species amongst birders.  The protagonist of the book and his father are united by the arrival of such a bird, but unfortunately their reconciliation is transitory and soon, like the bird, is seen no more.

Alan Paton was also influential in my developing a love for traveling, word games, card games and the rather eccentric game of croquet.  Croquet is a very mean game in which the best avenue to success is destroying the planned moves of your opponents. Bishop Ambrose Reeves, of whom Alan Paton was the biographer, reputedly called out on the croquet field “That’s the way! Bash them up! There’s the good Christian spirit!”  The dry wit and irony displayed by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was not unprecedented amongst the historical clergical leadership of the Anglican Church. In his visit to the Maropeng, Tutu declared controversially the he considered that the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site “should be considered a sacred place!”

The arrival of the Alan Paton statue amidst the esteemed gathering of heroes in “The Long March to Freedom” at Maropeng is a special thrill for me.  Now, not only are my most ancient ancestors represented at Maropeng, but one of my most recent ancestors now appears there too. I have a real sense that Maropeng is the home of my ancestors to a degree that is remarkable, profound and complete.

Join the Long March to Freedom Art Walk

Last January I visited the Long March to Freedom National Heritage Monument in Fountains Valley, Pretoria. I was enchanted by this glorious phalanx of 100 bronze South African freedom fighters, all marching in the same direction.

But the Long March to Freedom was hidden in Fountains Valley. No one would ever come upon it without actively looking.

A year later, the monument has moved to a much better location at Maropeng in the Cradle of Humankind. Maropeng is one of Gauteng province’s top tourist attractions, and the Long March to Freedom is prominently placed right at the entrance. Now thousands of people will get to see the monument every month, which is exactly the attention it deserves.

I took a trip out to Maropeng a couple of weeks ago. Not all the sculptures had been moved yet, but there were enough. The army of heroes marched across the open grassland, on this site where humankind was born, in their quest for freedom.

The Long March to Freedom Art Walk

Maropeng is about an hour north of central Joburg and I encourage everyone to get out there ASAP to see the Long March to Freedom. (Right now the sculptures are scheduled to stay there for six months but hopefully that period will be extended.) In the meantime, I’m organizing a little Long March to Freedom art walk in Joburg.

There are more than 40 sculptors involved in the Long March to Freedom project. One of them, Nkhensani Rihlampfu, is a friend of mine and has his studio at No. One Eloff Street in downtown Jozi.

On Friday, 8 February, I’m organizing a visit to Nkhensani’s studio at 10:00 a.m. Nkhensani will talk a bit about his art and his participation in the Long March to Freedom project. Then we’ll take a five-minute walk to the Workhorse Bronze Foundry, where many of the Long March to Freedom sculptures were cast.

I visited the Foundry briefly a couple of years ago. It’s a beautiful place to take photos and learn about the bronze casting process.

(Sorry this walk has to be on a weekday — I know it’s not convenient for the nine-to-fivers among you. But the Foundry is closed on weekends.)

The art walk will be limited to 15 participants. To sign up, please send a message through my Contact Me page. (No social media comments or direct messages, please.) I’ll take the first 15 responders.

Also, there will be a contest for the best Instagram photo of the day and the winner gets an Instax mini 9 camera.