Mandela’s Head on Table Mountain?

(Opinion Piece by Liz K)

Cape Town residents - and South Africans everywhere, for that matter - were furiously checking their calendars on 1 August to make sure that the date was in fact, 1 August and not 1 April. This nationwide hysteria and confusion was sparked by the following headline (and variants thereof): Plan for 60m Mandela face on Table Mountain

The accompanying image made the situation even worse as it showed a 3D sketch of our Madiba’s green head slapped onto the side of the mountain as if it were some form of a fungus-blister on our beloved natural landmark, needing to be popped. 

The Who and Why of Mandela on the Mountain

Thankfully, this revolutionary vision could not be blamed on the shortcomings of our government, but rather a Dutch design and architectural firm – WHIM Architecture. A firm which, according to their website, “produces a modern, whimsical, sculptural architecture within its wider context”. The context here, we are led to believe, is to honour Nelson Mandela à la Mount Rushmore. 

WHIM aims to remind us of the history of Apartheid with its monumental centre which they hope will include a restaurant, a conference centre and an exhibition area, with a tall statue of Madiba at the core of the structure’s interior. 

The use of solar panels is to generate power for neighbouring areas, and the project as a whole will promote tourism and create jobs

Less than Happy Reactions

This rather outrageous plan has been met with some fierce hostility from local residents, although some managed to remain diplomatic and offer alternative ideas. For example:
“I would rather like to see a statue of Madiba on Robben Island looking over the bay. At least this would increase GDP for the City and give Robben Island a new look and lease on life”
“Why waste so much money if you want to pay homage or remember a person of worth what he stood for instead. Build more homes, train nurses, feed the orphan children, clean up the city, help fight against drugs and gangs, help with providing the correct infrastructure for electricity and water and sanitation”
“I'm more concerned about disturbing the natural environment [because] this surely is going to have a massive impact on the natural inhabitants of the mountain”
Others were not quite as amiable:
“Insanity! It would be a betrayal of the man and what he stood for - above all, humility!”
“It is a cheap publicity trick.”
“I'm sorry the Netherlands has no mountains, but please leave ours alone.”

Unfortunately for WHIM, their conduct on the project’s Facebook page is not helping matters in any way, and it certainly is not making locals any more receptive. Although WHIM is, apparently, still conceptualising the idea and still looking for the perfect location, they are pushing for Devil’s Peak. After some criticism, they responded with: 

“We never wanted to do something at table mountain phhhttt you all need schools to get some education and reading sessions.”

“Not you all, a few”

This, of course, incited even more anger:

“Nope, it is you who needs an education. Table Mountain National Park includes Devil's Peak. It's not just the flat bit on top of the mountain.”

Why all the Backlash?

There seems to be 3 main reasons why the people of Cape Town are so angered by this proposition, namely:

1. Our country does not need yet another reminder of our painful past of Apartheid. This is not to say that remembering and learning from the past is unnecessary, just that as a nation, we are trying to move on and build a better South Africa. 

2. The natural beauty of one of our nation’s most loved landmarks will be ruined by a giant green head—regardless of whose head it is. The mountain and national park is a tourist attraction in itself and needs no further vamping up.

3. This may be the most important reason – it completely goes against everything that we know Nelson Mandela to believe in.  His extreme humility is what makes him so great, and the same quote was shared by many: 

"It is not at all correct to elevate any human being to the position of a god."

While none of us can actually speak for Madiba, we certainly feel that we know him better than any outsiders. We know him to be a gentle, loving man, who does not elevate himself any higher than the average human being. This allows us to say with conviction that this is not something of which he would approve, and like many of us, would rather see money spent on helping the people of our country.

The Good News

Thankfully for us, the project is dependent on financial support, and the fundraising is not looking good for WHIM. Since they have only managed to raise a mere $150, it seems we don't have to worry just yet.

Paddy Gordon, manager of the Table Mountain National Park, further puts our minds at ease with his response: “As custodians of this international iconic site, we could not even begin to consider this proposal. In terms of the mountain’s legal status as a national park and World Natural Heritage Site, let alone its Natural Wonder of the World award, a development of such huge proportions would never be allowed.”

South Africans: 1, WHIM: 0

(Images source: WHIM - )

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