How to “Survive in a color-coded world”[7]: The Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication

My fear coming into the topic of South Africa’s landscape architectural aesthetic was that I would continually draw back to the complexities of the countries apartheid history, therefore, proving to you that South Africa is no more than its past struggles. Yet in Kliptown – a region of Soweto, South Africa – I was able to observe a monument that demanded the recognition of that very same struggle, but through the lens of perseverance, conviction, and a spirit of resistance to an oppressive regime. This is the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication (WSSD), designed by StudioMAS.

In order to understand why the WSSD is so essential to the contribution towards post apartheid infrastructure and land reformation, a glance at the reasoning behind its existence is necessary. Figure 1 is a map highlighting the dispossession of black, Indian and coloured south Africans in the mid twentieth century. The coloured territories were known as ‘homelands’ and were populated by 76% of the population of South Africa[1].

Figure 1: Map of the South African homelands before 1996[1]

[1]
Alexander, Mary, The provinces and ‘homelands’ of South Africa before 1996, 18 July 2018, Accessed 21 March 2019, https://southafrica-info.com/infographics/provinces-homelands-south-africa-1996/

It looks like someone started colouring in a line drawing but forgot to finish it, right? Point being, South Africa’s land distribution was clearly disproportionate and disturbing. Not only this but the areas in which majority of the country were pushed to were insecure landscapes with poor infrastructure and services.[2] However, towards the end of apartheid, the country’s desire for social modification could no longer be suppressed.

In 1955, Kliptown hosted what is known to be one of South Africa’s most historical events, the realisation and signage of The Freedom Charter, which would later become a guide for South Africa’s 1996 constitution[3].

“There shall be peace and friendship!”[4]

“There shall be houses, security and comfort!”[5]

Figure 2: Cartoon depiction the community of black South Africans striking for the principles outline in the established freedom charter[1]

[1]
Britton,  Nonkululeko, #ThrowbackThursday: Sam commemorates 60 years of the Freedom Charter, 25 June 2015, Accessed 21 March 2019, http://www.702.co.za/articles/3409/sam-commemorates-60-years-of-the-freedom-charter  
 

And finally, 50 years following the creation of the charter, along with years of conflict, false accusation, murder and heightened racial animosity, it came into fruition, architecturally and socially in 2005, thus marking the opening date of the WSSD. StudioMAS boldly recognized the intricacies of what was 50 years of separatism; confronting you with what the true meaning of justice and human rights is, through the nine concrete slabs which represent the nine established provinces following the abolition of the homeland system, along with the crosses decorated on the slabs, symbolizing the first democratic votes placed on ballot papers in 1994.[6]

Figure 3: an image of the nine pillars representing the nine provinces [1]

[1] unknown name, The freedom towers , Tilt-up concrete association, unknown date, Accessed 22 March 2019, https://tilt-up.org/projects/profile/?id=1196
Figure 4: an image of the “Freedom Charter Monument” [1]

[1] unknown name, Kliptown and the freedom charter, brandsouthafrica, 22 June 2005, Accessed 21 March 2019, https://www.brandsouthafrica.com/south-africa-fast-facts/history-facts/kliptown-and-the-freedom-charter

This design is a symbol of togetherness and equality, and is a beautiful cherry-on-top to victories over the oppressive regime. The WSSD shows me that to design for the South African landscape, is to design for freedom.


[1] Chimere-dan O, Apartheid and demography in South Africa, Etude Popul Afr, 1992 Apr, (7):26-36,  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12321499

[2]Hilton Judin, Naomi Roux and Tanya Zack, Changing Space, Changing City, Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2014

[3] unknown name, History, waltersisulusquare, unknown date, Accessed 21 March 22, 2019, https://www.waltersisulusquare.co.za/history.html

[4] Department of Education, Celebrating 50 years of the freedom charter june 26 1995 to 2005, unknown publication, 2005

[5] ibid

[6]unknown name, Jobergs Freedom Architecture, brandsouthafrica, 24 Aug, 2005, Accessed 21 March 22, 2019, https://www.brandsouthafrica.com/south-africa-fast-facts/arts-facts/architecture-230805

[7] Hilton Judin, Naomi Roux and Tanya Zack, Changing Space, Changing City, Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2014

Cover image: unknown name, unknown title, urbangenesis.co.za, unknown date, Accessed 22 March 2019, https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/338051515749888736/?lp=true