In 2006 a vast colonnaded monument was built on Freedom Square in Kliptown, Johannesburg. It commemorated the 1955 Congress of the People at that place, when the Freedom Charter, the basis of our new constitution was signed. It had a Holiday Inn, a 2000 seat auditorium, artfully curved platforms on which hawkers might set their wares, shops. The hotel failed, the auditorium is hardly used, hawkers prefer the ground. It stands largely empty. The community was not consulted about what was planted in its midst. It is an exposition in what amounts to we-know-what-is-best-for-you thinking and Ozymandias-like palace building by politicians and by architects who should have known better.
Across the road from its western end is a shack settlement – “informal” as we say – known as Freedom Charter Square. It sits on the Klip River wetland. Every few years the Klip comes down in flood. It did so again last week. People were knee-deep in water. Possessions washed away. Homes destroyed. Inevitably there was what we now call a “service delivery protest”. Roads blocked. Crowds marching. Someone killed. People were promised housing in the 90s, some in the 80s. They’re still waiting.
But we built within their sight this huge pile now called the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication. Not Freedom Square as the empty piece of ground used to be known. The cultural commissars feared that tourists might be confused between Freedom Park in Pretoria and Freedom Square in Kliptown. That's called Branding.
Five distinguished South Africans have been invited to join discussions on global citizenship at Tate. I suggest that if they were to give their effective attention to matters such as those reported above, their moral authority to contribute to that debate would be immeasurably increased.
David Goldblatt, 27 April 2013