In January 2019 the Long March to Freedom exhibition – an impressive collection of life-size bronze figures commemorating the lives of historical figures who have played a role in South Africa's long journey to democracy – was installed at its new home, the Cradle of Humankind Maropeng Visitor Centre.
Maropeng, with its dedicated focus on the origins of humankind, is a fitting location for this project that celebrates the best of humanity from well-known historical figures like Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo to lesser celebrated personalities whose struggles contributed to a greater freedom. The collection spans more than 400 years with the earliest figures drawn from the 1600s.
The Long March to Freedom project is the brainchild of Dali Tambo, son of former ANC President Oliver, and his wife Adelaide Tambo, whose vision is for a project that will eventually showcase 400 representational sculptures, and with that 400 life histories. The current collection includes around 100 figures with the latest, that of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, having been unveiled on February 14. The project has not been without controversy and has already involved a massive eight-year-effort so far to bring it to life.
What stands today is a magnificent effort – life-size and life-like bronze figures striding across a field, their stories in motion rather than confined to a dusty shelf. There is a sense of triumph conveyed by the poses of the figures, and in many cases a depiction of joy in the figures' expressions. Another warming aspect of the exhibition is the focus too on the female partners of historical figures, on the love stories behind political struggles.
The Long March to Freedom project has so far involved more than 40 artists from across the country, and sculptures have been produced by the Workhorse Foundry, led by artist Louis Olivier, a unique place based in Johannesburg's inner city where bronzes by the likes of artists William Kentridge and Haroon Gunn-Salie have also been cast.
Even if you have previously visited Maropeng we recommend a return to see this incredible collection. Take your time, walk among them and connect with the many interconnected stories of the struggle for South Africa's liberation.