FREEDOM PARK @ 20

 

Today, 01 June 2020, marks the 20th Anniversary of Freedom Park. To celebrate this important occasion, we publish below a letter by President Thabo Mbeki addressed to cabinet ministers on February 25, 2008.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

February 25, 2008.

Dear Ministers,

                                  Re: Freedom Park.

         One of the greatest challenges that has faced us since our liberation, has been the obligation to infuse into the national consciousness and conduct, hopefully for all time, a permanent celebration of the sustained and titanic effort of many generations, which gave actuality to the emancipation imagination.

From the beginning, we took the decision that Freedom Park would serve as a monument that would help us to achieve this objective.

Proceeding from the proposition that freedom for our people, who occupy a particular place in the evolution of humanity and human society, means more than freedom from colonial and apartheid oppression, we argued that the conceptualisation and physical form of Freedom Park must also express the philosophical proposition that “freedom is the recognition of necessity”.

Albert Einstein is said to have advanced the proposition that human knowledge, and therefore ‘the recognition of necessity’, represents a continuous “flight from wonder”.

Thus the further away humankind has fled from wonder, and therefore gained progressive mastery of the objective regularities that govern the natural and social worlds, the more this has extended the frontiers of human freedom.

From the start, we therefore conceptualised and consequently set out to create Freedom Park as an expression of freedom understood in both the finite and the infinite meanings of freedom thus defined.

This has given Freedom Park a truly unique place and space in the rich and varied global panoply of memorial sites which celebrate freedom and human achievement.

Among other things, this has dictated an absence of towering monumental constructs on Freedom Park, on the basis of our respect for the fact that no single instance, or individual person or phenomenon could possibly assume an extraordinarily monumental proportion that would dwarf all others, in the context of an historical period that spans billions of years in the evolution of the natural and human worlds.

Surely, this must also serve as a salute to our national quality of humility and the corollary unequivocal repudiation, expressed at great cost in human lives, of the arrogance of assumed superiority!

Additionally, again among other things, the uniqueness of Freedom Park derives from the fact that, from the very beginning, we visualised the Park as a celebration and monument both to our freedom, in its narrow meaning, as well as our freedom as part of humankind, which humankind has striven to accomplish since its emergence from the Cradle of Humanity, instinctively seeking to achieve freedom based on the correct subjective understanding of objective necessity.

To capture all this, as far as it concerns Freedom Park, we have therefore wrestled with the challenge to give an architectural and other expression to a monumental presentation spread over an entire hill, which celebrates a history, indigenous to our country, that is three-and-half-billion years old.

The architecture at Freedom Park, which highlights stone, the colour of mudstone, and wood, surrounded by trees, grass, water and light, emphasises the native and yet universal essence of the extraordinary place represented by the Park.

From all this you will understand that both the conceptualisation and the construction of Freedom Park have, of necessity, posed difficult problems that have no known precedent.

I have no doubt that those directly responsible for the creation of the Park, and the rest of us who also carry a responsibility to ensure the birth of Freedom Park, have made many mistakes, which those who only stand and wait would understandably and justifiably criticise.

Equally, I am certain that, unless we were gifted with the prescience and omnipotence of a God, it would have been impossible for us to avoid mistakes at all the points during the process that will, in the end, manifest in a fully constructed Freedom Park.

Just over a week ago, the CEO of Freedom Park informed me that our Government had not allocated enough funds to ensure the completion of the process of the construction of Freedom Park early in 2009, as originally intended and decided.

As part of my response to this observation, I undertook yet another inspection tour of Freedom Park to update myself on the challenges that face the nation in this regard.

I am very pleased to inform you that I am indeed greatly inspired by the progress that has been achieved to date. At the same time, I believe that I have some understanding of what needs to be done to ‘complete’ the project.

I decided to communicate to you in writing, to emphasise my firm conviction that we owe an obligation to our people to complete the construction of Freedom Park, and hand it to the nation, in 2009, before the mandated term of the present Government comes to an end.

Such is the importance of this outcome that henceforth the Deputy President and I will make it a point closely to monitor the process of the completion of the construction of Freedom Park by 2009, treating this as one of our Apex Priorities.

I trust that we are all of one mind about the truly extraordinary importance of Freedom Park. This includes agreement about the quality of “sanctity” that surely attaches to a monument that must provide a place of rest for the countless restless souls which have wandered in the wilderness for centuries, as did the soul of Sartjie Baartman, before it found a final place of rest in the Gamtoos River Valley in 2002, where she was born two centuries earlier.

I sincerely hope that we will work together on the Freedom Park project driven by a shared understanding and passion. I trust that in this regard we will act with the common determination to ensure that our people and the rest of the world will have the possibility to journey to Freedom Park when they celebrate the birth of a new, democratically elected Government in 2009.

I hope that together we will find it within ourselves to imagine the moment when the celebrants of 2009 will tread on Freedom Park to ask all nature, all the ancestors and all the gods, and all humanity, including those who emerged from the Cradle of Humanity and from there populated the world, to shower their blessings on a new child which will be the offspring of the democratic will of the people.

I know that we have it in our power to ensure that this does not become a dream deferred, that will dry up like the raisin in the sun!

I know this also, that when the work on Freedom Park is done, millions in our country will say their prayerful thanks that at last, fifteen years after our liberation, there exists a place in our immediate and accessible universe, where the nation can commune with all the heroes and heroines who are to all of us our ancestors and saints.

The official inauguration of Freedom Park, which our Government should also use as the moment of farewell when it will say to the nation – we have done our best to serve the people of South Africa! – will also serve as the pinnacle of what the democratic order has done to make the symbolical reparations to the entirety of our society, all of which suffered in various degrees from the gross violation of human rights immanent in all racist belief and practice, the reparations mandated by the historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

As such a permanent pinnacle of the collective national commitment always to do what is humane and just, Freedom Park will live forever as a teacher who instructs that the blood of the martyred heroes and heroines speaks everyday without equivocation, saying that those who rule, and those who claim citizenship of our land, have no entitlement to claim a right once again to do evil.

It must surely be a unique gift to the generations that live, for which no measure of value exists, and therefore is invaluable, that time and circumstance have given these generations the possibility and opportunity to give birth to the wonder to which Salvokop Hill has provided a permanent home.

What obstacle could conceivably exist that would cause us to fail to celebrate the unparalleled blessing we already hold in our hands – out of our haunted past, to give birth to a place of peaceful and quiet contemplation – which will make it impossible for us and all humanity to stand in its sacred spaces and pray in silence – stille, mein wille!?

Yours sincerely,

THABO MBEKI.

 

Minister of Arts & Culture, Pallo Jordan

Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel

 

cc Deputy President

Chairperson, Freedom Park Board of Trustees

CEO Freedom Park

Minister and Deputy Minister of Education

Minister and Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs & Tourism

Minister in the Presidency

Minister and Deputy Minister of Public Works

Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture

Deputy Minister of Finance

DG Presidency

DG PCAS

CEO GCIS

 

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