Dashiki Dialogues: Does SA have an iconic image?

2011-07-26 08:29

What is the one South African image or ­symbol that captures our ­collective ­nationalist ­ideals as a country?

I found myself scurrying in search of that ­particular image ­just recently.

I figured this was an ­obvious wonder, considering all the ­Mandela Day campaigns that have been galvanising the nation throughout the week.

In fact, that old man himself has been ­deployed to play that role as ofour ­nation’s mascot. You know, the Madiba magic and all that jazz.

So, in the entire stock of ­paintings, photographs or ­landmarks that are associated with the South African experience, is there one image that, when we see it, we are reminded of the values and aspirations of this particular nation?

I’m talking about something with a similar emotional charge that the Statue of Liberty has for the American patriot, or the effect the Stars and Stripes has on ­everyone from a Texan ­hillbilly to a Wall Street mover.

Something like Liberty Leading the People, that bold painting by French painter Eugène Delacroix.

The picture has since become the symbol of freedom for the French – it dons their money, postage stamps and official letters.

Here at home too, as my search yielded, we have a few contenders for the all South African image, ­albeit we may need to ­negotiate a few glitches before ­settling on one.

There’s the bloody image of ­Andries Tatane finally succumbing to the bullets of General Bheki Cele’s police, killed for marching against a democratic state and ­demanding a better life for all.

Alternatively, we could look a generation back to the image of slain school child Hector ­Pieterson, the Soweto ­boy-child fatally shot by the racist police of the apartheid state. He was ­demanding a better education for all.

Perhaps the famous image of Nelson Mandela walking out of Victor Verster Prison with Winnie by his side could carry our ­national idea of freedom better.

Except the photographs of that moment don’t quite have the ­iconic force of the 1976 image.

The former two images are ­powerful and actually carry unique South African narratives.

My only qualm is that they ­commemorate victimhood and not ­heroic ­aspirations, something akin to ­David taking the head of ­Goliath, you know.

Perhaps we need a Dashiki ­dialogue around this topic before we hit the archives.

However, we should start with a few deeper ­questions: what is South Africa?

And what does it mean to be rooted in this land? 

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