The Arch for The Arch: the story behind a tribute to Archbishop Tutu

To celebrate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s 86th birthday, a new public space installation was unveiled in Cape Town on 7 October 2017. The Arch for the Arch represents Tutu’s life and legacy as South Africa’s moral compass for more than 50 years.

Arch for the Arch, Desmond Tutu, St George's Cathedral, Cape Town
The Arch for the Arch tribute outside St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town on 7 October 2017. (Image: The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation)

The Arch for the Arch is situated next to St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, and is made up of 14 wooden beams arched to form a dome. The project was commissioned by Design Indaba and sponsored by Liberty Group SA. It was created by Nordic architectural firm Snøhetta.

At its unveiling, attended by Tutu and Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, Design Indaba CEO Ravi Naidoo explained the symbolism and significance of the arches.

“The Arch for the Arch, representing the 14 chapters of our Constitution, [is] a constant reminder about where we come from and the need to uphold its values.” On each beam, phrases from the Constitution have been engraved and can be easily read by visitors.

In her dedication of the Arch to Tutu, De Lille said “[the South African] Constitution is considered one of the most progressive in the world, and similarly to how an arch relies on a keystone to avoid collapse, so too do South African freedoms rely on the Constitution”.

“As a leader in our community, Archbishop Tutu continues to speak truth to power before and after our liberation. I was fortunate to be one of the members of the Constitutional Assembly that wrote the final Constitution.”

In a short speech at the unveiling, Tutu thanked Design Indaba and the City of Cape Town for the tribute, saying how touched he and his wife, Leah, were by the honour. He briefly outlined the history of the cathedral, highlighting his personal memory of the 1989 Cape Town peace march when 30,000 South Africans of all races, religions and cultures gathered to begin toppling the “walls of unfreedom”.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you. We are who we are because of you,” The Arch concluded.

The presentation also featured a video message from the Dalai Lama, who paid tribute to his close friend and fellow freedom fighter: “[You have had an impact on] millions of people’s minds… The only remedy you see [for a] problem is compassion, forgiveness, love, tolerance… [and] you always… teach these values and you yourself practise these things.”

Naidoo explained that the Arch’s location was significant: “Straddling the country’s oldest avenue, the Arch connects St George’s Cathedral to Parliament. [Tutu] is a man of the holy book and a man of justice, which in our country is represented by our Constitution.”

The church is Archbishop Tutu’s spiritual home, a point from which he launched many of his anti-apartheid marches and campaigns during the 1970s and 80s. The public space next to the cathedral is still a popular gathering point for grassroots activists and protests.

De Lille said the Arch’s location should be viewed as a moral compass to the country’s leaders. “We hope the parliamentarians will view this Arch every day and remember that, and the integrity and resilience with which our Constitution was forged.”

Lead architect on the project Kjetil Thorsen said the structure was meant to serve as a reminder of what South Africans had sacrificed to get where they were, and the hope was that it would become a place maker and a space where people might stop for a moment to reflect on the country, the Constitution, or whatever it was that was influencing their lives at that particular point.

A smaller version of the structure will be unveiled on Constitution Hill in Johannesburg in December 2017, celebrating 21 years of the Constitution.

Source: News24, The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation

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