The Nkosi Albert Luthuli Monument

Sculptor: Gert Swart

The memorial comprises a bronze figure of Albert Luthuli, a wall featuring two bronze elements and, underneath the historic Indaba Tree, a bench, all set in a landscaped environment.  The memorial site is flanked by the King Shaka and Chief Albert Luthuli Streets.  The placement of the memorial and the features of its site have been carefully planned to distract people from their preoccupations to spend a while contemplating the historic significance of KwaDukuza, in particular the life of one of its sons, the remarkable Nkosi Albert Luthuli.

 

From the street, the memorial site is reached by the curved stairs and a ramp granting ready access to passers-by.  The invitation for all to enter the memorial site is reinforced by sections of sloping walls leading to the stairs.  The ease with which visitors can enter and leave the site is symbolic of the ideal for which Luthuli strove: freedom for all persons.

 

The figure of Luthuli is placed on top and to the side of the curved stairs.  He faces the confluence of two busy roads with his arms slightly raised, his hat in his left hand just doffed or about to be lifted in salutation.  A smile of greeting dawns on his face as he welcomes those who are ascending the steps with him.  His open stance embraces the intersection, King Shaka Street and the Indaba Tree in acknowledgement of his past as well as the history of his people.

 

With his compassionate gesture, suggestive of the passive resistance of a crucified figure, Luthuli takes cognisance of the suffering of his people and embodies the sentiment expressed in the statement of November 1952: “The road to freedom is via the cross”.

 

Luthuli’s position on the stairs, his receptive posture and benign disposition identify him with the masses.  His elevation and the exaggerated stairs below him, however, declare his status as a leader and a man of distinction.  The statue of Luthuli and the stairs on which he stands encompass the intersection they face, the precincts beyond, the changes wrought by suffering and struggle – his own and that of countless others - and the future of a fledgling democracy.

 

The ramp has a gentle slope to allow wheelchair access and as such is integral to the purpose of the memorial, encouraging us to consider those excluded by disabilities with the same passionate concern that Luthuli manifested towards the disenfranchised.  The ramp passes around a curved wing-like wall that supports a bronze feather, a representation of the Isithwalandwe, a bravery award for Xhosa warriors in the past and more recently, a high honour awarded by the ANC  for meritorious service to the community.

 

The title “Isithwalandwe” was conferred on Dr Dadoo, Father Huddlestone and Nkosi Luthuli by the delegates to the 1955 Congress of the People.  That this was the congress that adopted the Freedom Charter invests the Isithwalandwe with the aspirations of the people, and the fact that the title was awarded to representatives of different cultures makes it too a symbol of inclusivity.

 

Set into the wall is a bronze half-circle that frames a cut-out tree, an echo of the Indaba Tree that can be seen as a symbol of the nation.  A single candle, a spark of freedom, burns in the heart of the tree signifying the Defiance Campaign of 1952 led by Luthuli.

 

Seen from the outside face of the wall, the stark branches of the tree convey the pain of the people.  On the inside of the wall, the tree is softened by undulating forms.  In this instance the semicircle has concave edges that temper the harshness of the light on the bronze and suggest that the tree can now provide shade.  This aspect of the semicircle depicts the flourishing of a nation in a time of peace: the legacy of men such as Luthuli.  In this setting the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Nkosi Luthuli in 1961 is commemorated by a scroll at the base of the candle.

 

The bronze feather can also be seen from both sides of the wall.  The feather points to the council chambers as a reminder to those in authority to be mindful of the history and aspirations of the people they serve.

 

It is fortunate that the Indaba Tree under which Shaka held council still stands today as a tangible link to the past.  To integrate it into the memorial, a bench has been constructed at its base.  The cantilevered concrete bench is shaped like a stylized buffalo head, the horns of which partially encircle the tree.  The seat portrays the desirability of drawing on – through the “horns” – the collective wisdom of those who conferred under the tree and channelling it – through the “head” - to the future represented by the communal area at the top of the steps.  The sloped wall from the King Shaka Street pavement leads the eyes of the pedestrian to the tree, while the sloped wall next to the ramp draws attention to the figure of Luthuli.

 

The space encompassed by the components of the memorial is one in which all are welcome to pass through or to linger.  Here one can reflect on the past and contemplate the future under the shadow of one of the great South Africans whose lives have made the African Renaissance more than just an impossible dream.

 

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