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IIn your wanderings around the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, you might come across 4 larger-than-life bronze gentlemen standing pensively in a row.
They are the focal point of Nobel Square, dedicated to South Africa’s 4 Nobel Peace Prize laureates, all of whom played a role in our transition to democracy: Chief Albert Luthuli (late former president of the African National Congress), Anglican Archbishop Emeritus (and world-famous anti-apartheid activist) Desmond Tutu, FW de Klerk (South Africa’s last apartheid president) and the late, legendary Nelson Mandela, our first post-apartheid president.
Chief Albert Luthuli, president of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1952 to 1967, was the first African to win the Nobel Peace Prize – and the ANC leader who voiced the greatest misgivings about the adoption of the armed struggle against apartheid, believing that non-violent resistance was both more effective and more morally defensible.
Whether he was right or not, his policy of non-violent opposition didn’t make him any less of a target to the National Party government. Throughout much of his life, Luthuli was arrested, charged and banned from public participation. In fact, when he received his Nobel prize in December 1961, he was under another banning order that restricted him to Groutville in KwaZulu-Natal, and he was only allowed out of South Africa long enough to attend the Nobel ceremony in Oslo.
‘What is important is that we can build a homogeneous South Africa on the basis not of colour but of human values,’ reads Luthuli’s quote inscribed under his statue.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, is one of the world’s most beloved leaders. His fame stretches far beyond South Africa’s borders, and his words remain relevant to the world at large.
Tutu became globally known for his measured, non-violent but uncompromising opposition to the apartheid regime – or violent injustice of any kind; in one famous moment during the anti-apartheid struggle, he plunged into a mob at a political funeral who were preparing to burn an alleged police informant alive and dragged the man to safety.
More frequently in that era, he could be found castigating the white supremacist regime for injustice and oppression on international news bulletins, and his moral voice founded on unimpeachable Christian values added significant weight to the global anti-apartheid movement. A key figure on South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he has become a symbol of national reconciliation who still speaks for the oppressed and the poor.
‘A person is a person through other people,’ reads the Tutu inscription.
FW de Klerk was South Africa’s last president during apartheid – and a controversial addition to both Nobel Square and the Nobel laureate list, because like any long-serving member of the apartheid government, he was tainted by the dirty war against anti-apartheid groups that his regime fought for more than 30 years.
Whatever skeletons might lurk in his closet, however, De Klerk has to be given credit as the minority-rule president who faced the fact that apartheid had to end, and who received a 90% ‘Yes’ vote from the white population when he called a referendum to decide if his path to a negotiated transition should continue.
In 1990 he sounded the death-knell of apartheid by releasing Nelson Mandela from prison and unbanning the ANC and other opposition movements, and he spent most of the next decade working with Mandela and others to bring about democratic elections in 1994 and then establish the country’s new constitution.
‘Our new Constitution is a powerful symbol of reconciliation, justice and of the ending of centuries of conflict,’ reads the De Klerk inscription.
After 27 years in prison, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela became South Africa’s first president elected by universal franchise in 1994. He and FW de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, the year before the historic elections of 27 April 1994.
Mandela taking the reins of a government at last representing all citizens was a moment of massive symbolism for every South African, and he led the fledgling democracy with charm, insight, compassion and grace – and no small measure of political subtlety. After just one term, he set another example by passing on the torch, but even in retirement he remained South Africa’s beloved ‘tata’ – grandfather – till his passing in 2013.
‘Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will experience the oppression of one by another,’ reads the inscription under the Mandela statue.
There is a fair amount of South African art scattered around the V&A Waterfront precinct. When you visit the 4 laureates, you can also see the Peace and Democracy sculpture by Noria Mabasa nearby.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
V&A Waterfront Information
Tel: +27 (0)21 408 7600
How to get here
Nobel Square is situated in the V&A Waterfront precinct of Cape Town, near the V&A Hotel and the Two Oceans Aquarium; you can self-drive or take buses, metered taxis or app-based rides.
Best time to visit
The V&A Waterfront is an all-weather destination, but it’s advisable to pick a sunny day so you can enjoy some of the outdoor features of the area – Cape Town stays warm and dry, mostly, from October to March.
Around the area
The Two Oceans Aquarium nearby is one of the finest, most informative aquariums in Africa, and the Cape Town Comedy Club, the only full-time stand-up venue in town, is also close.
Tours to do
Take the Cape Town ‘hop-on, hop-off’ City Sightseeing bus tour – it’s the easiest way to view the Mother City.
Once you’re in the V&A Waterfront area, all the sights are within walking distance.
Where to stay
There’s no shortage of hotels near the V&A Waterfront – see the listed websites.
What to eat
There are some very good seafood restaurants at the V&A Waterfront.
You’ll find excellent local crafts at the Red Shed Craft Workshop at the V&A Waterfront.