Every element of Freedom Park is purposefully designed to evoke symbolic meaning. With a pricetag of over 350 million rand, it is hard to deny that the monument accomplishes this goal.
As we passed through museum after museum over our week in Johannesburg, I was troubled by the inequality that was implicit in our access to these experiences. This was perhaps most evident in our trip to Freedom Park. When we first arrived at the monument, we were ushered past tall fences and security guards. During the entirety of our several hour visit, we were the only visitors to grace the palatial entanglement of museum halls and constructed gardens.
Against one of the fences that enclosed the park was a series of buildings that demonstrate the stark reality of life here. There were rusted metal shacks adjoining granite proclamations of equality. Diapers hung to dry on a laundry line facing a building that costs R35 (about 2.50USD) for a child to enter–more than a meal costs at the upscale dining center near my office.
It is hard to reconcile the supposed purpose of this monument with the inequality inherent to its existence. If one of the mandates of Freedom Park is “inclusivity,” why is access limited to those who can afford to visit it?
This question was present with me for most of the week. Our guide told us that South African guests most commonly ask if the victims of the Marikana massacre will be included on the wall of names. Although I had heard about the massacre, it wasn’t until we watched a documentary about the incident that I fully understood why those names would never be included.
The film we watched draws particular attention to the perceived hypocrisy of President Ramaphosa. Once a champion of the rights of miners suffering under the apartheid government, he had no qualms about ordering police action against miners suffering under his own government.
President Ramaphosa is now worth over 6.4 billion rand. He leads a country where 27% of people are unemployed.
Looking forward, we must recognize that we have opportunities to learn about the history of this country that many of our South African peers do not.