Remembering our freedom icon Madiba: ten years on 

Four weeks ago on December 5, the nation commemorated the passing of its hero and icon, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who died at the age of 95. The national and international outpouring of grief as well as celebration demonstrated the stature that Mandela had, and continues to have, not only in his country of birth but for all of humanity.  

Resulting from this stature, Madiba has been celebrated by many from varied and often contradicting backgrounds and agendas. He is respected by activists, both nationally and globally.  

Speaking in 1999 following the publication of the first batch of reports by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) the previous year (1998), in which a recommendation was made for the establishment of a memorial to commemorate those who died in the struggle for liberation, Mandela had this to say: “It is, therefore, a weakness on our part that we have yet to create a monument to remember them and all South Africans who sacrificed so that we should be free.  

“The day should not be far off when we shall have a people’s shrine, a Freedom Park, where we shall honour, with all the dignity they deserve, those who endured pain so we should experience the joy of freedom.”  

With these words, Mandela laid the conceptual foundation for the building of “a people’s shrine” that led to the establishment of the Freedom Park Trust that oversaw the construction of the museum and heritage centre that we know today, located in Salvokop, Tshwane, Pretoria.  

At the core of Freedom Park’s mandate is the memorialisation of the struggle for the liberation of South Africa, starting with the onset of colonial conquest until the collapse of the apartheid regime and the installation of the democratic government in 1994.  

Thus, in commemorating the name of Mandela, we do not only remember him as a person, but we do so to commemorate all those who laid down their lives for our freedom. 

Like many, Mandela left behind what could have been an “easier life” of first serving as the leader in his place of birth, and later foregoing the prospects of a successful career as a lawyer. He could have pursued the privileges of emerging middle-class life. He did not. 

Perhaps the ultimate sacrifice that he made was to leave behind his young family and serve time on Robben Island.  

His words at the opening of the Rivonia Trial on April 20, 1964, epitomised his commitment to activism and the need for sacrifice when he said: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” 

Thus, Madiba loved his people and country so immensely that he was prepared to give everything for our freedom.  

Through various initiatives, such as the Annual Mandela Reconciliation Peace Walk, with the 2023 edition being held a few weeks ago, we continue to encourage South Africans to reflect on his values, ensuring that we strive for a united country and that the spirit of reconciliation is strengthened. 

On this tenth anniversary of his death, it is critical that the nation should introspect and reflect on how we attained our freedom. We must educate the young generation about human dignity and the values Madiba fought for and was prepared to die for.  

This commitment is aptly reflected in the preamble of our constitution, which says: “We Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our  

Hence, the call to dignity, equality, and human rights for all, as well as reconciliation and social cohesion, are enshrined in the core business of the Freedom Park. 

Mandela endeavoured to bring together a nation fractured by centuries of racial oppression and exploitation. It is a task he performed with distinction. 

Freedom Park seeks to be a liberating, cleansing and inspirational experience, a pilgrimage back to wholeness. A place where local and international visitors can celebrate the diversity of the country’s histories and personal stories. 

At heart, it is a reminder of where we come from, connecting our past to our present, and is a beacon to a future in which human rights, liberty and diversity are enshrined. A place that embodies the spirit and vision of Madiba – the activist and statesman.  


  • Mufamadi is the CEO of Freedom Park

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