This memorial park stands high above the capital city of South Africa, beaming a glow of pride over the nation that has overcome so many difficulties to be where it is today. On the mountain of Salvokop on the outskirts of Pretoria, hundreds of men and loads of bulldozers were working for years on end, excavating, blasting, moving earth around and mixing concrete to create one of the worlds best modern gardens and a tribute to democracy founded on dignity, human rights and freedom.
Freedom Park is a garden that one has to visit when jetting into South Africa, not only for the landscaping but also for the unique and strong architecture of the main building that houses the museum, and the truly amazing message portrayed inside.
When arriving at the entrance you are immediately met with friendly smiles to show you where to go and how to start your journey through the park – a journey, be warned, that will take the most out of your day, as it is absolutely gigantic in size.
The main building and museum is truly contemporary in style and named //hapo. The name //hapo means ‘dream’, which has been drawn from a Khoi proverb “//hapo ge //hapo tama /haohasib dis tamas ka i bo” that translates into:
“A dream is not a dream until it is shared by the entire community.”
All the elements in Freedom Park including, //hapo were designed to melt into the surrounding highveld mountains, and not spoil its unique landscape. The building frames have been sculpted by using steel structures and then overlaid with copper, shaping //hapo to resemble boulders.
The gardens next to //hapo are structural and the lawned areas are shaped into square mounds, planted with rows of Fever trees (Acacia xantophloea).
After exploring the highly recommended intrigues of the museum, you take your car to the top of the mountain where the garden begins. It’s a truly African garden, using only local plants, like Aloe ferox, Strelitzia reginae, and loads of grasses that made me smile from ear to ear, such as Eragrostis curvula and Melinis repens.
On arrival, the vast amphitheater takes your breath away. It is massive and has 2000 seats. The circular amphitheater looks on to the main building which contains the eternal flame – which wasn’t that eternal after all, as it didn’t work that day. In front of the ‘dead’ flame was a mass of small fountains in a shallow pond with the water touching the memorial walls, where the names of all the fallen South African soldiers of World Wars I and II, and also the South African wars were engraved.
On the outer circle of the amphitheater stand 200 long metal reeds, all lit at night and visible from all over the city.
The pathways and steps have a mix of elements, including crusher stone, paving, concrete, pebbles, steel, and water.
Following the pathway you enter a dark hall and inside this ‘Hall of Leaders’ you have glass square openings looking out onto small planted courtyards, which are peaceful and calm. It’s a time to reflect on what this garden stands for, and lessons learned the hard way.
Exiting the Hall you follow the spiral rock path to lead you to other hidden water sanctuaries, containing stunning works of art by talented local sculptors.
Then suddenly there a board that tells you to ‘please remove your shoes’ as you are now entering the the holy ground of the spirits of those who have fallen. This is a area that commands respect without asking for it; it’s a space that takes your voice to a faint whisper and it’s a space that calms your inner spirit, as you kneel down to burn your candle in respect to the lives lost.
The holy ground is known as Isivivane.
The concept of Isivivane is derived from the word ‘viva’, which means ‘to come together in a group’. It can also be interpreted as ‘commitment to solidarity’ and ‘unity of purpose’. An accumulated heap of stones (beacons), called Isivivane, was believed to bring good fortune to long-distance travelers by paying homage to the landscape and all that it contained.
Fine water mist blows through the cracks of the stone, giving you that distinct mystical feel.
Heading back to my car and looking at my watch in horror as I realized that I spent the whole day wandering around these gardens, and still didn’t see everything there is to be seen, I turned around and looked back at this stunning feat, a feeling of warmth spread through my body and to my heart – a feeling of utter and true pride for my beloved country.