Solomon Mahlangu Statue
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Solomon Mahlangu Statue
The substantial and imposing bronze statue of Solomon Mahlangu is mounted on a large pedestal, in the centre of a circular paved area. It is sited at the most prominent and visible corner of the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom Square. The statue lies on the centreline of the original access road into Mamelodi and provides a strong anchor to the promenade and this portion of the Square.
The statue is a once off casting, using the "lost-wax" process. It was sculpted by Angus Taylor, a prominent Pretoria sculptor and depicts Solomon Mahlangu (approximately twice life-size) in uMkhonto we Sizwe combat uniform, with laced boots, a beret under his left epaulette and 'standing at ease' with his legs slightly apart. His left hand is at rest behind his back; the forearm of the right arm extends outwards with his palm facing upwards and supporting a sphere or 'world of opportunity'. The bronze statue stands on a thin slab of polished black granite through which it is fixed into the concrete sub-structure of the plinth below.
The plinth has an oval plan and is faced with roughly formed black granite cobbles set in mortar. The finished face of the cobbles has a slight batter to the lower two thirds of the shaft providing a sense of stability. On the west facing elevation, one course below the granite capping, a broad projecting plaster band accommodates bold bronze letters, in a plain font, spelling out the name: "Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu".
A series of decorative square plaques were mounted on the north and south elevations on square plastered surfaces – directly below the projecting plaster band – but these plaques have unfortunately been removed for their scrap value. Square bronze plaques were also mounted at low level on both east and west elevations on a raised plastered surface – but again both plaques have also been stolen for scrap. The wording on the two missing plaques has not been determined.
The oval plinth resembles the trunk of a substantial tree and the landscape designer who set out the gardens in the proximity to the statue, decided to impose a series of graphic 'roots' onto the paving. These emanate from the base of the statue as broad, flowing charcoal bands, which finally break down into smaller and smaller 'roots' within a field of light, brown paving.
According to the sculptor Angus Taylor, the Solomon Mahlangu sculpture was formally commissioned by the City of Pretoria, although the Mamelodi community had requested him to make the sculpture, a few years prior to this. The site for the statue was chosen by the City Council and Thabo Mokebe from the City Council was the contact person who ran the project.
Taylor confirms: "I met with a couple of people including Solomon's mother to gather information and reference. The boots were non-specific and the camouflage-pattern was achieved by studying the uMkhonto we Sizwe camouflage clothing. The only reference for the portrait was one photo and an extremely poor video of Solomon leaving the courthouse during his trial. While modelling the figure in clay I asked a few of the family and others that knew him to come to my studio to assist me in trying to achieve likeness."
Taylor used - as a point of departure - Solomon's famous last words 'My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom', and "tried to visualise what the 'fruits of freedom' were at the time. I decided not to be the sole artist on the project but to work with two local primary schools that I had personal contact with. At these two schools the project started off by asking the children to make drawings of what they considered to be the 'fruits of freedom'. The best drawings were chosen and over a few weeks the children were taught how to model these drawings in relief onto clay that my studio provided. Ms Elizabeth Mahlangu who worked for the City Council was asked to choose which clay reliefs would be cast in bronze and attached to the base. With this newfound freedom of democracy, the world was made available to the children creating a sphere or 'world of opportunity' that was welded together. Some of the drawings made by the children were made into plaques. Unfortunately due to poor lighting and security many of these relief plaques have subsequently been removed and have not been found again."
"With the base I tried to work as true to the material as possible and tried to avoid using polished granite as it would refer to a grave stone. The landscaper wanted to work with the concept of the tree that the base was designed upon, although I did not agree with the design nor the materiality of the designed tree roots. The sculpture was cleaned and polished a few years ago, some of the children's plaques were recast and re-attached on this occasion."1
Statement of heritage significance
The Solomon Mahlangu Statue is an integral layer of the historic development of the site of the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom Square. It was unveiled 17 September 2005 in its current position at the westernmost end of the paved pedestrian promenade. The (then) Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota, and (then) Executive Mayor of the Tshwane Metropolitan Council Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa officiated at the unveiling ceremony.
The Statue's aesthetic value stems primarily from its landmark qualities. The presence of the Statue impacts on important vistas, such as the existing paved pedestrian promenade extending toward the east from the paved circular area at the Statue, and on general views, particularly from the intersection of Maphalla Drive with Tsamaya Avenue and Stormvoël Road.
The Statue commemorates a true hero of the armed struggle against apartheid. The execution of Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu on 6 April 1979 resulted in an unprecedented international condemnation of the then South African Government. Solomon Mahlangu paid for his beliefs with his life. The Statue contributes to an understanding of this. At the same time the Statue is a tangible reminder of one of the darkest chapters in the history of South Africa, i.e. the struggle against racial oppression and the fight for a free and democratic South Africa. The Statue is consequently of notable historic and symbolic importance as it celebrates both an icon and an iconic struggle.
Statement of heritage impact
The proposed upgrade of the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom Square will have a positive heritage impact on the conservation and future retention of the Statue of Solomon Mahlangu and will in turn, enhance its heritage significance. The upgrade proposal envisages strengthening the Statue’s landmark qualities. The Statue will become an anchor point for reflection on the proposed meandering ribbon pathway and the new Liberation Spine, with the latter further enhancing the aesthetic value of the Statue.
It is planned to change the existing status quo by rotating the Statue to face down the proposed new Liberation Spine across the park. A new sloping plinth will be constructed behind the Statue in order to accentuate its importance and for a gateway artworks intervention fronting onto the adjacent intersection of Maphalla Drive with Tsamaya Avenue and Stormvoël Road. This would constitute a positive impact, as it will strengthen the landmark qualities of the Statue as the central focus element of the proposed new Liberation Spine while at the same time, augmenting the symbolic meaning of the proposed new Liberation Spine.
1. Personal Correspondence A. Taylor – W. Martinson, 14 August 2012.