On a koppie halfway between Union Buildings and the Vortrekker Monument sits one of Pretoria’s newest, and most underrated, cultural sites: Freedom Park. It is a celebration of South Africa’s heritage and a centre of knowledge aimed at deepening the understanding of the nation.
Freedom Park is a place of remembrance and home to a final resting place for all who gave their lives in the conflicts that shaped South Africa. This place is called Isivivane. Isivivane roughly means ‘cairn of stones’, but its deeper meaning is ‘monument’, ‘memorial’, ‘testimonial’ and ‘fervour, concentration of energy and commitment to solidarity and oneness of purpose’ (Ngubane, 2003).
The cairn itself is called the Lesaka. It is a burial ground surrounded by 11 large boulders; one from each of the nine provinces, one symbolising South Africa as a unified nation and one symbolising the international community (that helped free South Africa from oppression). Rocks are considered sacred in many cultures, as “they are the stones and bones of the earth and some mountains are identified as places where the gods reside. Because they are timeless and ancient, because they have been here long before us, they carry sacred networks of information” (Freedom Park Trust, 2004). In the middle of the circle are rocks and soil, collected from known battle sites in the eight major conflicts that shaped South Africa’s history; the pre-colonial wars, the colonial wars and genocide, slavery, the wars of resistance, the Anglo-Boer War, the First World War, the Second World War and the Struggle for Liberation. The rocks and the soil have been cleansed in a special ceremony, allowing for the victims of the battles to finally come to rest. The spiritual and ancestral significance of the Lesaka is captured in the words of an elder to Archbishop Dandala:
If you dig the Earth in this lesaka, you will find me
If you dig and dig and dig
You will find me still
If you dig and dig and dig
And even if you use the big machines
Which the human race has made
To dig and dig and dig
To the fathomless bottom
You will find me in the earth
In the area surrounding the Lesaka, uMlahlankosi trees (Buffalo Thorntrees) from each of the nine provinces are planted. This is once again to symbolise the coming home and coming to rest of those that gave their lives. When a person dies far away from home (where it would often be impossible to take the body home), the elders of his or her family will go there to take their spirit home. They do this with the help of a branch from the uMlahlankosi tree, as it is believed that the spirit can hold on to this branch.
Binding the elements of Isivivane together is water. In the middle of Lesaka, there is mist keeping the ground damp, and there is also a small waterfall that gathers into a shallow pool. Water symbolises the cleansing of the spirit, and visitors are invited to wash their wash their hands in respect after paying homage to the spirits of those people who fought and died for South Africa’s freedom.
Freedom Park has many more interesting and moving places, like the Wall of Names and the Eternal Flame, and also areas for own reflection and contemplation, like the ambling pathways and the Uitspanplek with its wonderful views. I truly recommend a visit! The entrance fee includes a guided tour that will explain the history of the site, and its many symbolic features. The tour will help bring life and meaning to this beautiful place.
Freedom Park is open seven days a week, 8am – 4.30pm, and guided tours depart 9am, 12nooon and 3pm.