In May 2009, the City of Cape Town initiated a competition for the installation of a Memorial on Langa’s Washington Square to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of these events. The winning submission would be responsible for the creation and installation of the Memorial for unveiling on 21 March 2010.
Gugulethu artist, Bongani Mbangeni, metal sculptor Mark O’Donovan and architect Malcolm Campbell together with Shirley Gunn of the Human Rights Media Centre formed the LANGA MEMORIAL COLLECTIVE for the purposes of submitting the proposal to the City Council Public Art Competition.
The submission by the Langa Memorial Collective was unanimously chosen by a panel of judges and the Collective was commissioned by the City to install the Memorial for it’s unveiling on Human Rights Day, 21 March 2010, with a budget of R500 000. R400 000 in donations was raised by the Collective and included donations from Corobrick, Afrisam, The Cape Times, the Premier of the Western Cape, and Vivien Cohen.
The memorial represents a celebration of the courage and determination of participants in the Sharpeville, Vanderbijlpark, Langa and Nyanga massacres on 21 March 1960 widely regarded as a turning point in South Africa history, the threshold to the train of events that ultimately led to the installation of a democratic government in 1994, and as a reminder that the struggle for human rights and human dignity is a continuing struggle.
The Langa Memorial comprises a raised circular podium across the full extent of Washington Circle, upon which rest three legs, forming a portal or threshold, which carries a tall slender chimney-like structure from which seven flag posts emerge. The flags represent flames that constantly flutter in the breeze. Immediately above the portal, is a drum like structure, featuring images associated with the events in Langa on 21 March 1960. The material used is in the main red satin brick, red representing fire and the brick being the material extensively used in all residential and institutional structures at the time. The combined height of the memorial structure is 19 meters and is visible from a distance.
Design presented to the City of Cape Town’s Public sculptural competition.
The Memorial is located on a traffic circle in Washington Square, adjacent to the Langa taxi rank, on the axis of the Washington Avenue Boulevard, flanked by rows of the landmark four-storey hostel blocks.
The base of the Memorial comprises a raised circular podium surrounded by a circular brick wall accessed by a ramp and two flights of steps. Imbedded in the floor of the podium is the narrative that describes the significance of the Memorial. The floor incorporates a radial pattern represents the PAC logo. Existing Ficus trees have been retained, and thee more planted to provide shade for visitors to the Memorial when seated on the circular perimeter wall.
The primary component of the Memorial is a perforated aluminum drum that acts as a billboard featuring images derived from photographs and newspaper headlines published in March 1960, and a wooden relief sculpture of Robert Sobukwe. The drum is supported on a brick portal element, a reference to the portal element that defines the entrance to the memory garden at the Sharpeville Memorial.
Emerging from the top of the drum are six flag posts bearing orange, red and yellow flags representative of flames, signifying both the continued anger at the outcomes of the events and celebrating the significant impact they made on the path to the new democratic order.
The form and content of the memorial has significantly been informed by the consultative workshops with representatives of the Langa community, in particular the branch structure of the PAC, which included activists and witnesses of the massacre in Lange in March 1960. They continue to play an active role in safeguarding the Memorial and take great pride in engaging with visitors on its significance and meaning.
The Langa memorial, Cape Town.
Disappointingly, Dan Plato, the City’s Mayor, did not formally unveil the Langa Memorial due to differences among PAC members for and against PAC President, Letlapa Mphahlele. Unable to come to an agreement, there were two community commemorative events on the day neither of which was attended by City officials.