“When Nelson Mandela would visit the village at Londolozi it was always clear how important he was to everyone who worked here. The village staff would flock around him wanting to be around his peaceful presence,” says Bronwyn Varty, director and fourth generation custodian at Londolozi.
This memory informed the work of Simon Max Bannister, who was artist in-residence at Londolozi. He inscribed the presence of Nelson Mandela on the landscape in a thoughtful and reflective art work titled “Freedom’s Way”. It is a constant reminder of how Nelson Mandela’s values infuse Londolozi’s ethos and inform the daily practices of the reserve’s staff members, two decades after Nelson Mandela’s first visit.
Like much of Bannister’s work that is created ‘in situ’ in South Africa’s most wild and beautiful places, Freedom’s Way is an experience that fuses landscape and meaning. It draws attention to the values which Nelson Mandela espoused, as well as paying tribute to the spirit of the man who is remembered by Londolozi for his kindness, warmth and humility.
As part of a pathway that winds towards the Londolozi village, Freedom’s Way is the route the reserve’s staff members walk twice a day, to and from work. The symbolism inherent to this daily ritual is powerful; staff members ‘follow’ Freedom’s Way in order to go ‘home’. At the same time, they are reminded of its metaphorical significance, prompted by art works espousing Nelson Mandela’s values: courage, empathy, freedom, resilience, trust, unity, vision and patience.
“Freedom’s Way brings attention to the difficult path we all must walk to reach our greatest potential. The words cut from steel, ground the positive values that should be nurtured. The four steel bars represent the obstacles of life that master us – we pass through them to liberate ourselves,” says Bannister
Best known for working with natural processes that affirm the idea that life, like creation, is impermanent, Bannister enjoys seeing how work interacts with the elements. In this way, his work becomes a conversation with nature. At Londolozi, he “found a wonderful niche. They saw value in what I’m doing and made space for me to work and explore,” says Bannister. “Nature is healing. To see pristine wilderness is healing. To be in it is healing.”
As an artwork, Freedom’s Way is a tangible expression of both a place, a person and the ideals they represent. It is a powerful and meaningful lens through which guests to the reserve, and Londolozi staff members, can reflect on Nelson Mandela’s conservation legacy and his ‘dream for nature‘.
Visitors to Londolozi can also experience Freedom’s way as part of a Village Walk that gives them insights into contemporary Shangaan ways of life. It is guided by either Witness Mnisi or Linah Lamula. The entrance to the staff village is marked by a weathered old leadwood log and soon after this, you’ll see the first land art pieces installed by Bannister and take your own first steps on Freedom’s Way.
The journey continues on Nelson Mandela Day (18 July). And every other day.
Bannister is now based in the Western Cape. He is holding an exhibition of his latest bronze sculptures at Boekenhoutskloof on 17 October 2015. You can visit Simon Max Bannister’s website here, and read a previous interview with him and his award-winning sculpture, Long Journey from Londolozi.