In a disheartening turn of events, the once revered Walter Sisulu Square has succumbed to a distressing state, becoming a sanctuary for drug addicts. This unfortunate transformation has significantly detracted from the square’s initial purpose, casting a shadow over its historical significance.

By Jabu Kumalo

The Walter Sisulu Square, which was once a vibrant landmark in the impoverished area of Kliptown in Soweto, has unfortunately succumbed to the surrounding conditions of the oldest township in the southern part of Johannesburg.

The once-dusty field in the heart of Kliptown was declared a National Heritage Site by the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). The square was originally named the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication.

The square is called Walter Sisulu Square, in honour of Walter Sisulu, who played significant roles in South African history. He was a delegate during the adoption of the Freedom Charter, a participant in the Rivonia trial, and a former prisoner on Robben Island. Ironically, he passed away in the same year that this monument was established in his name. Sisulu also held positions as the Secretary-General and Deputy President of the ANC. The flame of freedom, symbolizing the opening of the Square and the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Charter, was lit by former President Thabo Mbeki on June 26, 2005.

Today the square has become a cesspit and a cosy den for drug addicts. Some of the denizens residing within this once esteemed establishment have gone so far as to construct decrepit makeshift dwellings within its premises.

Once revered as a remarkable architectural achievement and a prestigious estate befitting the venue where the Congress of the People convened to ratify the Freedom Charter in June 1956, present circumstances have transformed it into a place that sends chills down one’s spine.

It has suffered extensive vandalism, to the extent that describing the current state of the place as a mere shadow of its former self would be an understatement.

Nearly all movable objects have been ripped off and stolen. The grass surrounding the area is overgrown, reaching knee height. Water taps are continuously leaking. The sight would deeply sadden any South African with a sense of pride. It is truly disheartening to witness such an important site in such a neglected state.

Currently, the only remaining structure that has remained intact at the heart of the monument is the conical red brick tower.

However, the question remains, how much longer will it last?

The tower holds the complete principles of the Freedom Charter, etched in bronze. Before long, that bronze will vanish, as if by magic. Remarkably, it has managed to escape the scavenging vultures that frequent the square.

The strong smell of urine and decay is overwhelming. It is recommended to be cautious when walking inside and near the crumbling building to avoid stepping on faeces that are scattered everywhere.

A hawker who sells his goods near the Square told The Telegram that the so-called nyaope kids were the ones who were taking “everything” from this place: “This happens in broad daylight. They don’t wait for the night. They do it right in front of the security that you see there.”

Another hawker chipped in: “When the security guards try to reprimand them, their mothers appear and ask them what their kids must eat because there are no jobs. The others that we suspect are behind this vandalism are guys who want tenders. They send these kids to rip out things like paving so that they can come from behind and get tenders.”

The governing African National Congress, which considers the Freedom Charter as its foundation, has unfortunately neglected this historically significant and stunning site, allowing it to deteriorate regrettably.

It is disheartening that the square is now in a state of total disrepair, especially considering that the Constitution of South Africa draws heavily from the principles outlined in the Charter, as many individuals have noted.

Multiple attempts to obtain comments from Zimasa Velaphi, the chief director of communication for the National Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, Nomazwe Ntlokwana, the spokesperson for Gauteng Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation MEC, Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri, the spokesperson for the ANC, and an ANC veteran drew a blank.

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