Nelson Mandela, our beloved Madiba, spent 67 years dedicated to the freedom of South Africa, 27 of those were spent in jail. The fact that after his release he continued to fight for South Africa is both astounding and wonderful. And Port Elizabeth’s Route 67, too, is astounding and wonderful. The route, starting down at the Campanile, includes 67 steps, 67 artworks by different artists and 67 quotes from the man himself.
Being in a wheelchair, the steps were out-of-bounds for me, but we took a drive through St Mary’s Terrace and stopped to admire the steps – 76 Youth, the history of the ’76 youth uprising – down; and the gorgeous mosaiced steps – from darkness to the new dawn of the democratic South Africa – leading up to the Donkin Reserve; before heading up and parking on Athol Fugard Terrace. From there one can easily see a number of the artworks – and the fabulous enormous flag – on gently-sloped brick pathways. The amount of public art included is incredible and PE deserves (a whole bunch) of gold star(s) for this project. It’s not often you see so much accessible art in a city, especially a small city like this. And it’s attracting people into the city, as art should.
Anthony Harris and Konrad Geel’s Voting Line, consisting of laser-cut figures representing the queue for the first democratic elections, led by Mandela, is possibly the most beautiful piece of public art I’ve ever seen. Wrapped around the wall on which the huge flag flaps – making the most powerful noise in the wind – their shadows change throughout the day making them seem almost real. Next time I’m in PE, I plan to spend a day sitting, watching.
From there, we ambled along to the Athenaeum. It was Women’s Day, so things were quiet, but the whispers of art being made and productions presented at the Little Theatre, could be heard on the still air. The 67 beaded squares, one for each year – again, each by a different local crafter – on the wall are beautiful. A colourful pictorial history of Mandela’s 67 years of service. There’s a gorgeous coffee table book of them, which our incredibly knowledgeable guide, Tony, gave us. And here, Tony of Gecko Tours needs a special mention. He showed us around PE with an enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, PE that is just fabulous.
We only managed to fit in some of Route 67 – we’ll be back for more – and it’s hard not to gush too much. It is the most gorgeous and varied display of the incredible creative talents of South Africans, all completely accessible to the public. A colourful celebration of Madiba, and of PE: thought-provoking, with moments of sadness, fun, sombreness and ingenuity, just like Mandela himself.
As mentioned above, the route is from down near the bay up the hill – which is steep! – so some parts of the route are difficult in a wheelchair. In saying that, at almost all of the artworks and places included in the route, one can get out and see things (except the stairs) and then get back in the car and move to the next. It’s wonderful, so worth the effort.
*We visited NMB as guests of the wonderful Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism.