Heroes: Principles of African Greatness Part 6— South Africa's Long Walk to Freedom

Join us for the sixth of 7 dispatches from "Heroes," exploring artworks from the National Museum of African Art’s permanent collection that tell the story of key heroic principles and personages in Africa’s arts and history, through art, biography, quotes, interviews, and music.

Heroes: Principles of African Greatness Exhibit Entryway (2019) by Brad SimpsonSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

A long-term permanent collection installation at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art.  


Curated by Kevin D. Dumouchelle

Heroes Exhibit Banner (2019) by Sakinya Washington and Lisa VannSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Be your best. This is the quest that the greatest of heroes model for us. Through their journeys, struggles, and triumphs, exceptional individuals exemplify values that we celebrate in tales of heroic accomplishment—epics that outlast heroes themselves. Africa’s history abounds with such tales.

Heroes Exhibit at the National Museum of African Art (2019-01-01) by Brad SimpsonSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

South Africa—A Long Walk…

When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both . . . We are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
—Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 1995 

Heroes Series 6 (2021-01-07) by Kevin DumouchelleSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Heroes and Artists  of Part 6 (4:31)

Apartheid Laboratory Installation (1995) by Willie BesterSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Freedom, as Mandela suggests, is a process—and a deeply personal one, at that. South Africa’s vaunted “long walk to freedom” over the course of the 20th century makes up one of the largest and most sweeping sets of stories within Heroes.  It suggests a struggle ongoing and not yet complete.

Nelson Mandela at 19 (1937) by UnknnownSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Nelson...

Winnie Mandela leading a march in Cape Town (1990-02-02) by Rashid Lombard/AFP/Getty ImagesSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

... and Winnie.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (2004-02-11) by Benny GoolSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Tutu...

Steve Biko (1966/1977) by Mark Peters, Liason Agency and Getty ImagesSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

...and Biko.

Brenda Fassie in concert (1976/2004) by Joe Sefale and Getty Images/Sunday TimesSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Brenda.

Heroes Exhibit at the National Museum of African Art (2019-01-01) by Brad SimpsonSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Kathrada, Sisulu, Mhlaba, Motsoaledi, Mlangeni, Mbeki, and Goldberg. Ditsie and Nkoli. This section encompasses some of Heroes’ most iconic, larger-than-life personalities—along with some whose names have not yet earned mononymic brand status (but who, it will be argued, might yet deserve it).

Heroes: Principles of African Greatness - Dispatch 6 Themes (2021) by Marc BretzfelderSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Each principal in Heroes is represented by an artwork and a specific historic African person who embodies the value expressed in the selected work. In this sixth dispatch, we explore art and heroes who are RevolutionaryWokeFlawed, and Stylish, and who embody SacrificeEmpathy, and Pride. It also includes the project’s one wholly unredeemed, Malevolent villain—as well as everyday Collective heroes.

here

Apartheid Laboratory (1995) by Willie BesterSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Malevolent

Every hero story needs a villain. Apartheid-era South Africa standardized a villainous logic.

Apartheid Laboratory

Willie Bester 
b. 1956, Montagu, Western Cape Province, South Africa 
Works in Kuils River, Western Cape Province, South Africa 
1995 Mixed-media assemblage 
Gift of Gilbert B. and Lila Silverman and Jerome L. and Ellen Stern, 2017-15-1

At first glance, the piece almost seems like a stage set. 

Look closely and elements of a clinical workspace emerge. 

This is a space in which to imagine ourselves—as technician or as subject.

“I am sometimes tempted to go to the seaside and to paint beautiful things from nature,” Willie Bester has said. “But I do not do it because my art has to be taken as a nasty medicine for awakening consciousness.” 

Filled with sharp edges and menacing contraptions, Apartheid Laboratory appears to be a vision of a particularly “nasty medicine,” indeed. 

Bester’s focus is on apartheid-era South Africa and its systems of racial classifications and their unfounded claims to scientific legitimacy and racial superiority. The work centers on seven small dolls, labeled with the seven racial categories recognized by South Africa’s government at the time—“White,” “Cape Coloured,” “Malay,” “Griqua,” “Chinese,” “Indian,” and “Other Asian.” 

Black South Africans were legally excluded and instead designated residents of “Bantustans,” territorial reservations—convenient political fictions—that were politically designed to remove Black claims to full citizenship. 

Apartheid in South Africa ended in 1994. Yet, as a stage set upon which anyone may seemingly enter, Bester cautions us through this work to remain awake to how menacingly present such pretensions to difference can continue to be. 

Oppressive systems, he notes, can be built from the most mundane, and ugly, of materials. In so doing, Bester sets the stage for the consideration of Heroes’ one outright, unredeemed villain.

Hendrik F. Verwoerd - Villians in African History (2021) by Marc BretzfelderSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Hendrik F. Verwoerd

South African apartheid had many authors, but he may have been the most monstrously enthusiastic.
 
1901–1966, b. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Worked in Cape Town and Pretoria, South Africa

Hendrik F. Verwoerd Intro (2019) by Augustus (Gus) Casely-Hayford and Michael BriggsSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Hendrik F. Verwoerd (1960-03-29) by Nationaal Archief, NetherlandsSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

 . . . your Government, after receiving a mandate from a section of the European population, decided to proclaim a Republic on 31 May . . . Your Government, which represents only a minority of the population in this country, is not entitled to take such a decision without first seeking the views and obtaining the express consent of the African people . . . Under this proposed Republic [it is feared] your Government, which is already notorious the world over for its obnoxious policies, would continue to make even more savage attacks on the rights and living conditions of the African people.

—Nelson Mandela to Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, April 20, 1961

 · Verwoerd built a reputation in South Africa as the founder of a newspaper through which he promoted pro-Fascist, anti-Semitic, and racist ideas. 

 · Shortly after the 1948 election that brought the Afrikaner-dominated National Party to office, Verwoerd became minister of native affairs, through which he implemented much of the legal architecture of apartheid.

· After becoming prime minister in 1958, Verwoerd moved to consolidate the apartheid state. He oversaw the invention of Bantustans, reservations justified as homelands for the country’s African majority to which they were to be exiled and legally bound. Through these, he was able to fully disenfranchise Black South Africans. 

 · Growing in power throughout his premiership, Verwoerd narrowly won a referendum to turn South Africa into a republic in 1961. Ever more isolated on the international stage, Verwoerd’s government built a military police state and banned all Black political organizations.

· Assassinated on Sept. 6, 1966, Verwoerd was stabbed on the floor of the South African Parliament. 


Selections from the Heroes Playlist






Various Artists – “Izikunyatheli Afrika Verwoerd (Africa Is Going to Trample On You, Verwoerd!)”
This Land Is Mine: South African Freedom Songs. Folkway Records, 1966.
Liberation music (Isicathamiya)

Miriam Makeba – “Beware, Verwoerd! (Ndodemnyama)”
Lyrics by Vuyisile Mini
An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba. RCA Victor, 1965
Liberation music

The Notorious Green Car (1995) by Willie BesterSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Woke

“A people without a positive history is like a vehicle without an engine.”—Steve Biko

The Notorious Green Car

Willie Bester 
 b. 1956, Montagu, Western Cape Province, South Africa 
Works in Kuils River, Western Cape Province, South Africa 
1995 

Metal, paint, burlap, glass, plexiglass, bone, plastic, cloth, wood, rubber, paper, wire
Museum purchase, 96-26-1 

Imprisoned under apartheid for loitering, the artist Willie Bester memorializes the history of harassment and oppression in South Africa’s Black settlements. The Notorious Green Car’s mesh window screen recalls police vehicles used to patrol and terrorize Black residents. Bester created this large-scale, bright conceptual work to keep the memory of such oppression alive.

At an early age, Bester made metal toy cars (draadkar), a relatively typical practice for boys of his background, though Bester’s cars were covered in metal and expressively painted. He began experimenting with painting at age 7, but soon quit to support his family.

In his late teens, Bester was conscripted into military service, which served to reinforce his experience of the country’s systematized racism. 

In 1986, he attended classes at the Community Arts Project (CAP) in District Six, in Cape Town. Working alongside other artists actively involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, Bester quickly began to shift his artistic practice (which had initially consisted of photography and painted landscapes) to align with his sharpening political consciousness.

Soon the artist was creating works largely of found materials, first in comparatively two-dimensions like The Notorious Green Car.

Steve Biko - Heroes in Africa History (2021) by Marc BretzfelderSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Steve Biko

A martyr for Black Consciousness, Biko helped to build a movement of political action—in life, and in death.

1946–1977, b. Tarkastad, South Africa
Worked in Ginsberg, South Africa

Steve Biko Intro (2019) by Augustus (Gus) Casely-Hayford and Michael BriggsSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Steve Biko (1966/1977) by Mark Peters, Liason Agency and Getty ImagesSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Black Consciousness is an attitude of the mind and a way of life, the most positive call to emanate from the Black world for a long time. 
 —Steve Biko, 1977 

The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. 
—Steve Biko, speech in Cape Town, 1971

· Frustrated by the lack of Black voices in the anti-apartheid groups he observed while a student at university, Biko founded the South African Students Organization (SASO) in 1968 to resist apartheid through political action. 

 · Biko and SASO promoted the Black Consciousness Movement, which promoted Black self-empowerment and pride in the face of both the localized racism of the apartheid state and global postcolonial realities. Biko was placed under a government banning order in 1973.

· Following the 1976 Soweto uprising—in which the police brutally suppressed over 20,000 students protesting laws restricting education to the use of the Afrikaans language—Biko was arrested. While in police custody, Biko was severely tortured and beaten, causing his death. Those responsible were never tried.


· In death, Steve Biko became a global symbol of the apartheid state’s amoral violence, but also of resilience, dignity, and pride.

Selections from the Heroes Playlist





Peter Gabriel – “Biko”
Lyrics by Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel. Charisma, 1980.
Worldbeat

A Tribe Called Quest – “Steve Biko (Stir It Up)”
Lyrics by Ali Shaheed Jones-Muhammad, Kamaal Ibn John Fareed (Q-Tip), Malik Izaak Taylor (Phife Dawg)
Midnight Marauders. Universal Music Group, 1993.
Hip-hop

Prison Sentences (2010) by Willem BoshoffSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Sacrifice

They gave the best years of their life to the struggle.

Prison Sentences

Willem Boshoff
b. 1951, Johannesburg, South Africa
Works in Johannesburg, South Africa
2010
Belfast black granite
Museum purchase, 2016-5-1

Prison Sentences reflects upon the marking and passing of time—here, the jail time served by some of South Africa’s most notable apartheid-era political prisoners. Each tablet is inscribed with the days, weeks, months, and years served by Nelson Mandela and seven other political prisoners who were initially sentenced to life imprisonment at the close of the Rivonia Trial held in June 1964.

The names and sentences completed by the Rivonia prisoners are inscribed on each tablet (left to right):  


 Nelson Mandela: 11 Jun 1964–11 Feb 1990 (9,377 days) 
 Ahmed Kathrada: 11 Jun 1964–15 Oct 1989 (9,269 days) 
 Walter Sisulu: 11 Jun 1964–15 Oct 1989 (9, 269 days) 

Raymond Mhlaba: 11 Jun 1964–15 Oct 1989 (9,269 days) 
 Elias Motsoaledi: 11 Jun 1964–15 Oct 1989 (9,269 days) 
 Andrew Mlangeni: 11 Jun 1964–15 Oct 1989 (9,269 days) 

Govan Mbeki: 11 Jun 1964–5 Nov 1987 (8,548 days)
Dennis Goldberg: 11 Jun 1964–28 Feb 1985 (7568 days)

The Rivonia Eight - Heroes in Africa History (2021) by Marc BretzfelderSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

The Rivonia Eight

The fight for freedom cost them decades.

Denis Goldberg (1933–2020, b. Cape Town, South Africa) 
Govan Mbeki (1910–2001, b. Nqamakwe, South Africa) 
Andrew Mlangeni (b. 1925–2020, Soweto, South Africa) 
Elias Motsoaledi (1924–1994, b. Phokoane, South Africa) 
Raymond Mahlaba (1920–2005, b. Fort Beaufort, South Africa) 
Walter Sisulu (1912–2003, b. Qutubeni, South Africa)
Ahmed Kathrada (1929–2017, b., Schweizer Reneke, South Africa)
Nelson Mandela (1918–2013, b. Mvezo, South Africa)

The Rivonia Eight (2019) by Augustus (Gus) Casely-Hayford and Michael BriggsSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Rivonia Trial mural (2016-11-16) by Francisco AnzolaSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against White domination, and I have fought against Black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony… 

…and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, my Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
—Nelson Mandela, Rivonia Trial, April 20, 1964

· Leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) and other anti-apartheid resistance groups were arrested at a farm in Rivonia, a suburb of Johannesburg, on July 11, 1963. The ANC had been operating underground since April 1960, after the Sharpeville  Massacre of 67 protestors by the police.



· Two defendants managed to escape from prison; the remaining eight faced charges accusing them of planning acts of guerilla warfare, accepting aid from foreign supporters, and promoting communism, among others. 

· The United Nations Security Council condemned the trial and began the process of constructing a regime of international sanctions that restricted the South African government on the global stage.


· Mandela’s final speech from the dock, in which he bravely faced the possibility of a death sentence, marked the last time the South African people heard from the resistance leader until his release from prison on Feb. 11, 1990. 

Selections from the Heroes Playlist






Ladysmith Black Mambazo – “Shosholoza”
Featuring: Bhekumuzi Luthuli, Hugh Masekela, Lucky Dube, Nokukhanya, Phuzekhemisi, Thandiswa, Vusi Mahlasela
Long Walk to Freedom. Gallo Record Company, 2006 [recorded].
Isicathamiya

Amaryoni | Ulopa Ngoma – “Shosholoza Nelson Mandela”
Isicathamiya

The Limestone Quarry (2002) by Nelson MandelaSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Revolutionary

He changed it all.

The Limestone Quarry

Nelson Mandela 
1918–2013, b. Mvezo, South Africa 
2002 
Pastel on paper 
Gift of Cary J. Frieze, in memory of his parents Rose and George Frieze, who encouraged his love of all visual and performing arts, with additional support from of the family of Nelson Mandela, 2019-20-1

Lime quarry on Robben Island (2018-07-17) by Nurunnaby ChowdhurySmithsonian National Museum of African Art

While the stones of Robben Island brutalized his body, Mandela also used them as a site to expand the mind. Mandela was forced to work daily in a limestone quarry, where the searing glare from the white stones eventually damaged his eyesight. On the island, Mandela was almost wholly cut off physically from the outside world. Yet, using texts smuggled in from the mainland, he established “The University,” through which the prisoners taught a range of subjects—including art—to each other.

The Limestone Quarry (2002) by Nelson MandelaSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Despite his decades of internal exile, the memory of Mandela—the lawyer, the activist organizer of civil disobedience campaigns, the militant leader of the armed struggle, the imprisoned martyr—lived on in South Africans’ imaginations.  Upon his release, the political platform that those decades of memories provided helped to lift Mandela into the negotiations to establish democracy in South Africa—and, eventually, into the presidency.

Upon his retirement from the presidency, Mandela took up drawing in charcoal, crayon, and pastel, in part as a personal means of reflecting upon his tumultuous and consequential life.  This drawing, created upon a return visit to Robben Island after leaving power in 1999, is part of a series of 22 sketches from 2002 that reflect upon scenes of his homeland and memories of the struggle that transformed it.

Nelson Mandela - Heroes in Africa History (2021) by Marc BretzfelderSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla (“Troublemaker”) Mandela’s “long walk to freedom” took him from prison to the presidency—and his people from division to democracy.
 
 
1918–2013, b. Mvezo, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa

Nelson Mandela Intro (2019) by Augustus (Gus) Casely-Hayford and Michael BriggsSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Nelson Mandela at age 19 (1937) by UnknownSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end. 


 —Nelson Mandela, writing to Winnie Mandela from Robben Island, February 1, 1975    


People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.


—Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 1995

Nelson Mandela (1937) by UnidentifiedSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

· Born to Xhosa-speaking parents in the Thembu royal family, Mandela took it upon himself to study law at university. He and Oliver Tambo established a law firm in Johannesburg in 1952 offering free or low-cost counsel to Black South Africans. 


· Mandela helped organize the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League, which advocated for nationwide civil disobedience campaigns aimed to highlight the iniquities of apartheid. His growing profile led to arrests and harassment from the state.

· After the Sharpeville Massacre (1960), Mandela was convinced that only armed struggle could end apartheid. He cofounded the ANC’s militant wing. 


· Arrested and tried for treason and sabotage, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in 1963. While subjected to brutal treatment inside prison walls, Mandela became a global symbol of both oppression and hope for those outside.  

· Upon his release from prison in 1990, Mandela negotiated with President F.W. de Klerk to organize free and fair elections. He had to strike a balance between keeping dialogue open while maintaining political pressure through the ANC. Mandela and de Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.


· As South Africa’s first Black president (1994–99), Mandela worked to assure passage of a new constitution—based on majority rule, but guaranteeing minority rights and freedom of expression.

Songs from the Heroes Playlist





The Specials – “Nelson Mandela”
Lyrics by Jerry Damers and Rhoda Dakar
In the Studio. 2 Tone, 1984.
Ska/Worldbeat

Johnny Clegg & Sakuva – “Asimbonanga”
Lyrics by Johnny Clegg
Third World Child. Capitol Records, 1987.
Worldbeat

First Time Voters (1994/1995) by Kay HassanSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Collective

Nearly 20 million everyday South Africans shape their country’s future.

First Time Voters

Kay Hassan
b. 1956, Johannesburg, South Africa
Works in Johannesburg
1994–95
Paper, glue, staples
Museum purchase, 96-32-1

Kay Hassan used scraps from a billboard located near his studio to create this image of citizens of all colors and creeds anxiously waiting in line in April 1994 to cast their first vote. After the last of the apartheid laws were repealed South African citizens created a democratic national government charged with writing a new constitution.

The African National Congress (ANC) won 62 percent of the vote and formed a government of national unity with the Inkhata Freedom Party and the former ruling National Party.

Hassan’s use of everyday recycled materials recalls South Africa’s tradition of graffiti and poster arts, which afforded artists an inexpensive means for artistic creativity and for protesting the government's oppressive policies during apartheid. 

                 First Time Voters actually embodies the principle of collective action in its very form. Through the metaphor of collage and the incorporation of reused banners and advertisements, Hassan literalizes the idea that it would take many distinct voices, harmonized toward a shared end, to build the new democratic nation.

Citizen Voters - Heroes in Africa History (2021) by Marc BretzfelderSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Citizen Voters


They built the new “Rainbow Nation”—one ballot at a time, together.
Aerial view of long queue of voters taking part in South Africa’s 1994 general election.
Photograph by Raymond Preston, April 27, 1994 © Raymond Preston/Sunday Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images    

Aerial view of long queue of voters taking part in elections in South Africa (1994-04-27) by Raymond Preston/Sunday Times/Gallo Images/Getty ImagesSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

All of my life had been spent in the shadow of apartheid. And when South Africa went through its extraordinary change in 1994, it was like having spent a lifetime in a boxing ring with an opponent and suddenly finding yourself in that boxing ring with nobody else and realizing you’ve got to take the gloves off and get out, and reinvent yourself.
—Athol Fugard, South African playwright, The Guardian, March 18, 2002

· From April 26 to 29, 1994, nearly 20 million everyday South Africans came together for the first time to shape their country’s future. 

· These were the first general elections in South Africa in which people of all backgrounds were allowed to take part. They were tasked with electing a new National Assembly, which would write a new constitution for the country.

· The African National Congress (ANC) won 62 percent of the vote and formed a government of national unity with the Inkhata Freedom Party and the formerly ruling National Party.

· The new National Assembly elected Nelson Mandela president. April 27 is a public holiday in South Africa—Freedom Day.


Selections from the Heroes Playlist







Overtone – “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”
Lyrics by Enoch Sontonga and Cornelius Jacobus Langenhoven
Long Walk to Freedom. Gallo Record Company, 2006 [recorded].
National Anthem

Brenda Fassie – “Black President”
Lyrics by Brenda Fassie, Sello “Chicco” Twala, Colbert Mukwevho
Black President. CCP Records, 1990.
Township pop

Ladysmith Black Mambazo – “Halala South Africa”
Lyrics by Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Lihl’ Ixhiba Likagogo. Gallo Record Company, 2000.
Isicathamiya

Ladysmith Black Mambazo (with P.J. Powers) – “World in Union”
Lyrics by Charlie Skarbek
World in Union. Polygram Records, 1995.
Isicathamiya/Easy listening

Cold Turkey: Stories of Truth and Reconciliation (“De Kock Ready to Sing" (1996) by Sue WilliamsonSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Empathy

The ability to understand and share the feelings of another may be the most challenging heroic power.

Cold Turkey: Stories of Truth and Reconciliation

Sue Williamson
b. 1941, Lichfield, England
Works in Cape Town, South Africa
Cold Turkey: Stories of Truth and Reconciliation (“De Kock Ready to Sing”)

1996
Acetate, steel, plexiglass, wood
Museum purchase, 97-21-1.1

                   South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) offered a radically new approach to human rights violations, promoting restorative justice in the form of reconciliation over retribution. To achieve the amnesty offered to those who confessed their crimes and sought forgiveness, however, the TRC first had to unearth some truly chilling evils.

This assemblage refers to two cases brought before the TRC. Using images taken from newspapers, South African artist and activist Sue Williamson intended the prints to appear “as they might perhaps be displayed in a courtroom for the information of the jury.”

Eugene de Kock, a police commander known as “Prime Evil,” was reputed to be the apartheid state’s most efficient killer, responsible for the death of numerous activists. De Kock asked to testify before the TRC in the hope that he would be pardoned. Instead, he spoke without shame. 

Images of a pig’s head in the second line symbolize the victim of a bombing for which de Kock was responsible. 

In an experiment, a bomb placed in a cassette recorder blew up a pig’s head; a similar bomb killed human rights lawyer Bheki Mlangeni. Failing to demonstrate remorse, De Kock was convicted on 89 charges and sentenced to 212 years in prison.

Desmond Tutu - Heroes in Africa History (2021) by Marc BretzfelderSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Desmond Tutu

A “Rabble-Rouser for Peace,” Tutu remains a global moral authority as a truth-teller.
 
b. 1931, Klerksdorp, South Africa
Works in Cape Town

Archbishop Desmond Tutu - Principles of African Greatness Intro (2019) by Michael Briggs and Augustus (Gus) Casely-HayfordSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (2004-02-11) by Benny GoolSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

There are different kinds of justice. Retributive justice is largely Western. The African understanding is far more restorative—not so much to punish as to redress or restore a balance that been knocked askew.
—Desmond Tutu, 1996 


Without forgiveness there can be no future for a relationship between individuals or within and between nations.
—Desmond Tutu, 2000 

Photograph by Benny Gool, Feb. 11, 2004 

· Ordained an Anglican priest in 1961, Tutu rose through the church hierarchy to become general secretary of the South African Council of Churches—a position in which he gained global prominence as an advocate for nonviolent resistance to apartheid. 



· Desmond Tutu received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. 

· Tutu was elected archbishop of Cape Town in 1986, making him the highest Anglican authority in the country. Not known for holding back his opinions, Tutu earned a reputation for his incisive, wry, and often humorous insights. He also promoted the vision of a democratic South Africa as the “Rainbow Nation.”

· President Nelson Mandela asked Tutu to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 1996 to 1998. Promoting a vision of restorative justice and determined to hear from the “little people” whose suffering had been ignored, Tutu was sometimes openly overwhelmed with the emotion of the painful testimony. The commission took over 22,000 statements.

· Approaching retirement, Archbishop Tutu was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

Selections from the Heroes Playlist




Vusi Mahlasela – “When You Come Back”
Lyrics by Vusi Mahlasela
When You Come Back. BMG, 1992.
Folk

Winnie Mandela and the Assassination of Dr. Asvat (1999) by Sue WilliamsonSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Flawed

How could the “Mother of the Nation” have done that?

Winnie Mandela and the Assassination of Dr. Asvat

Sue Williamson
b. 1941, Lichfield, England
Works in Cape Town, South Africa

1999
Lithograph on paper with plastic film
Museum purchase, 2002-17-1

An activist in her own right—and the global face of resistance to apartheid during her then-husband Nelson Mandela’s 27 years in prison—Winnie Mandela’s reputation never recovered from the stories that arose about her through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). 

In the words of the South African artist, Sue Williamson, “although [the TRC] was undeniably an essential process in beginning the healing of the country, the ‘truth’ proved elusive. One of the most poignant hearings involved that of Winnie Mandela...

...The killing of a young teen [Stompie Seipei] in December 1988 at the hands of the Mandela United Football Club [her bodyguards] brought her reputation into disrepute.

Dr. Abu Baker Asvat was a beloved Soweto doctor who was assassinated by two men in his office in January 1989. 

Many believed he was killed because he refused to supply false medical records clearing Winnie Mandela of involvement in the death of Seipei, whom Mandela accused of being a police informer.” The lithograph depicts the confusing and sometimes contradictory testimonies surrounding Winnie Mandela.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela - Heroes in Africa History (2021) by Marc BretzfelderSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

The “Mother of the Nation,” she was a symbol of the best and the worst in the struggle.
 

1936–2018, b. Mbizana, South Africa
Worked in Soweto

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela - Principles of African Greatness Intro (2019) by Michael Briggs and Augustus (Gus) Casely-HayfordSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Winnie Mandela leading a march in Cape Town (1990-02-02) by Rashid Lombard/AFP/Getty ImagesSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Winnie Mandela leading a march in Cape Town

Photograph by Rashid Lombard, Feb. 2, 1990

©Rashid Lombard/AFP/Getty Images

To those who oppose us, we say, “Strike the woman, and you strike the rock.”  —Winnie Mandela, 1966

Together, hand in hand, with our matches and our necklaces, we shall liberate this country. —Winnie Mandela, 1986 (alluding to the notorious practice of lighting a gasoline-soaked tire placed around an opponent’s head)

· Trained as a social worker, Winnie Madikizela met Nelson Mandela in 1956 and became his second wife two years later. 

· During the 27 years of Mandela’s imprisonment, Madikizela-Mandela was continually harassed by the government, facing banning orders, travel restrictions, internal exile, and 17 months in jail.

· Throughout her husband’s long imprisonment, she remained a resilient symbol of resistance, keeping his memory and message alive in South Africa and beyond. 
 
· The kidnapping and beating of four young activists and the murder of Stompie Seipei in 1988 forever damaged her reputation. She was convicted of kidnapping in 1991, though the sentence was later reduced. The Mandelas officially separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996.

· Later in life, Madikizela-Mandela swung between moments of achievement and disrepute. She was a deputy minister in the first democratic government but resigned under corruption charges. Elected then as a member of Parliament, she was convicted of theft and fraud. She was reportedly at Mandela’s side with his third wife, Graça Machel, as he lay dying in 2013, but later sued (and lost) his estate for control of his home.

Selections from the Heroes Playlist





Hugh Masekela – “Mandela (Bring Him Back Home!)”
Lyrics by Hugh Masekela
Tomorrow. WEA, 1987.
South African jazz

Kepi Bree Street (from the Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder series) (2006) by Nontsikelelo “Lolo” VelekoSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Stylish

She sees you—and celebrates you—for bringing your best self.

Kepi Bree Street

Nontsikelelo “Lolo” Veleko 
 b. 1977 
Bodibe, North West Province, South Africa 
Works in Nîmes, France 

From the Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder series 2006 
 Digital print with pigment dyes on cotton paper Purchased with funds provide

Through Lolo Veleko’s lens, we see “sartorial success” stories about stylish young people fashioning themselves, and their looks, in a nation experimenting with new possibilities. Veleko’s series, entitled Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder (2005–ongoing), presents compelling photographic portraits that document the innovative street fashion scene among the young people of South Africa’s cities.

The creative individual styles sported by her subjects demonstrate a confident sense of beauty and optimism that counter perceptions, persisting deep into the post-apartheid moment, of South Africa’s urban neighborhoods being beset solely by crime and poverty.

Brenda Fassie - Heroes in Africa History (2021) by Marc BretzfelderSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Brenda Fassie

The “Madonna of the Townships,” MaBrr, South Africa’s “Queen of Pop”—her reputation was built on a fearless self-image.
 
1964–2004, b. Langa Township, South Africa
Worked in Johannesburg and globally

Brenda Fassie in concert (1976/2004) by Joe Sefale and Getty Images/Sunday TimesSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

I’m a shocker. I like to create controversy. It’s my trademark.
—Brenda Fassie, 1998 [source]
 
I’m going to become the Pope next year. Nothing is impossible.
— Brenda Fassie, upon winning the Kora Award as best female artist, 1999

· A precocious and talented singer from a young age, Fassie rose to stardom with the hit single “Weekend Special” at the age of 19, propelling her next album to multiplatinum status. In the 1990s, she was affiliated with kwaito, a genre of house music that sampled African sounds.


· She was celebrated as a voice of South Africa’s disenfranchised—during and after apartheid.

· Fassie was often compared to the American pop singer Madonna for the fearlessness with which she promoted her image, but also for the controversy that followed her. Fassie struggled with drug addiction and endured turbulent relationships with men and women in the public spotlight. 

· Fassie publicly came out as a lesbian in 2003.

· In addition to her music, Fassie is remembered as a pioneering fashion and style icon who died tragically young. She delighted in breaking taboos and innovating new trends.

Selections from the Heroes Playlist





Brenda & the Big Dudes – “Weekend Special”
Lyrics by Melvyn Matthews
Weekend Special. CCP Record Company/EMI, 1983.
Township pop

Brenda Fassie – “Vul’indlela”
Lyrics by Sello “Chicco” Twala and Brenda Fassie
Memeza. CCP Record Company, 1997.
Kwaito

Brenda Fassie – “Lekwaito”
Lyrics by Sello “Chicco” Twala and Brenda Fassie
Mina Nawe. CCP Record Company/EMI, 2001.
Kwaito

Brenda Fassie – “Too Late for Mama”
Lyrics by Sello “Chicco” Twala
Too Late for Mama. CCP Record Company, 1989.
Synth-pop

AMA #WCW (2017) by Dada KhanyisaSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Pride

#instagood #nofilter #instamood

AMA #WCW

Dada Khanyisab. 1991, 
Umzimkhulu, KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa
Works in Cape Town, South AfricaAMA 2017
Acrylic and mixed media on wood
Gift of Shari and John Behnke, 2018-11-1

A member of the “born-free generation,” Dada Khanyisa creates a range of works—from sneakers and graphic art to paintings—intimately connected to South African politics and popular culture. Dada self-identifies as gender nonconforming and has also produced work under the name The Mighty Whale.

In AMA #WCW, six young women are at a nightclub or restaurant enjoying cocktails, cigarettes, and chicken. But, most importantly, almost everyone is within arm’s reach of their smartphones. Three women are taking selfies...

...three other phones are actually embedded on the surface of the table...

...adding to the sculptural depth of a painting overflowing with hair extensions...

...jewelry, and fabric appended to its surface. 

An isiZulu caption (Vusa phela’ babes, or“Wake up, babes”) sits in the foreground.

One woman has even been“tagged,” Instagram-style.

The painting indeed takes on the look of an Instagram post—even as further posts are likely being framed and composed on other smartphones at the very moment the painting depicts. Its title recalls multiple acronyms regularly used on social media—“#AMA,” or “ask meanything,” and “#WCW” or “Woman Crush Wednesday.

Beverly Palesa Ditsie - Heroes in Africa History (2021) by Marc BretzfelderSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Beverley Palesa Ditsie

1971, Soweto, South Africa

Works in Johannesburg, South Africa

Simon Tseko Nkoli - Heroes in Africa History (2021) by Marc BretzfelderSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Simon Tseko Nkoli

1957–1998, b. Soweto, South Africa
Worked in Johannesburg, South Africa

Lesbian activist Beverly Palesa Ditsie (1990-10-13) by UnknownSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

They blazed a trail for intersectional human rights...

Image missing

...maintaining that “gay rights are human rights.”

Lesbian activist Beverly Palesa Ditsie (1990-10-13) by UnknownSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

Anyone who is truly committed to women’s human rights must recognize that every woman hast he right to determine her sexuality free of discrimination and oppression.
—Beverley Palesa Ditsie, Beijing Women’s Conference, 1995

Simon Tseko Nkoli 2 (1985/1995) by UnknownSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

I am Black and I am gay. I cannot separate the two into secondary or primary struggles.
—Simon Nkoli

Lesbian activist Beverly Palesa Ditsie (1990-10-13) by UnknownSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

· Ditsie and Nkoli are activists who had an important role in creating legal and cultural space for LGBT people in South Africa in the early 1990s. They were among the activists who founded GLOW (Gay and Lesbian Organization of the Witwatersrand), the first national Black LGBT rights organization in South Africa.

· A committed activist, Ditsie was the first out lesbian to address the United Nations onLGBT rights, speaking at the Beijing Women’s Conference in 1995.

Simon Tseko Nkoli 2 (1985/1995) by UnknownSmithsonian National Museum of African Art

· Arrested as an anti-apartheid activist, Nkoli came out while in prison. He used the moment to try to change the attitude of the African National Congress (ANC) toward gay rights.


· Nkoli met with President Mandela and campaigned for including protections for LGBT people in the new constitution. In 1996, South Africa became the first country to constitutionally protect individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Lesbian activist Beverly Palesa Ditsie (1990-10-13) by UnknownSmithsonian National Museum of African Art









· Ditsie and Nkoli organized the first Pride March in Africa (held in Johannesburg) in 1990.


Selections from the Heroes Playlist





Majola–“Simon Nkoli”Lyrics byKhanyisa Buti (Majola)Boet/Sissy. Tyala Imbewu Pty Ltd., 2014.South African jazz

Credits: Story

Curated by Kevin D. Dumouchelle
National Museum of African Art
Smithsonian Institution

Story Design by Marc Bretzfelder
Office of the Chief Information Officer
Smithsonian Institution

Photos of Woke, First Time Voters, Cold Turkey: Stories of Truth and Reconciliation, Winnie Mandela and the Assassination of Dr. Asvat, and Kepi Bree Street by Franko L. Khoury, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

Photos of Apartheid Laboratory, Prison Sentences, and The Limestone Quary, by Brad Simpson, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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