Former Irish President and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, will deliver the10th Nelson Mandela Lecture at the Cape Town City Hall tomorrow. The City Hall is a particularly significant place for former president Mandela. It was from its balcony that the world heard Mandela's voice for the first time 22-years ago, when he was finally released from prison. While the building is one of Cape Town's icons and hosted some important events, many people remain oblivious to the imposing structure's history.
Situated on the Grand Parade in the City Centre, the large Edwardian building is flanked to the west by the Castle of Good Hope. It was designed as the result of a public competition and built 107 years ago, the Cape Town City Hall, is one the oldest civic buildings in the country. It once hosted the Cape Town City Council and the City's main library. Both have now moved on to bigger facilities. Standing on the Grand Parade and facing towards the front of the city hall, one sees its impressive yellow limestone facade - a sight known all over the world as it adorns postcards and other promotional materials.
The City Hall's famous pipe organ is made from mahogany, teak and pine. It consists of 3165 pipes of varying sizes and has recently been restored.
The City Hall has a very colourful history that includes the celebration of Queen Elizabeth of England's 21st birthday in 1947. It has also featured prominently on television news as a venue that made history in 1990.
Cape Town City Councillor, Brett Heron says: "I think the most significant event of all, is the speech made by former president Nelson Mandela. His first speech after he was released from prison."
The City Hall has a very colourful history that includes the celebration of Queen Elizabeth of England's 21st birthday
South African History Online senior researcher, Ngqabutho Madida says for the majority of the city's black people, the City Hall also holds sad memories. "This was a very political space. Certain decisions were made here which affected the public and not only that but those people were not consulted. They simply had to find how they adjusted to the lack of consultation of political decisions taken here. So lives were basically destroyed, people were, families were torn apart because of decisions made here as well."
Madida also highlights the contradicting roles that the place has played in history. At one point, he says, black people had separate areas designated for them in the hall. He says they were brutally dealt with whenever they would gather at the parade facing the hall to vent their frustrations. Yet it was the place where the seeds of post apartheid reconciliation were first planted. "For instance in the early 1900s, when black people that were forcibly removed protested and came to the front of the Grand parade they were expelled from there by the police force yet later what you get is that when Mandela is released he comes to the spot where those people had been expelled and basically issues out a message of reconciliation," says Madida.
Councillor Heron says the city council would like to see the place grow into a sight of cultural activity. To a large extent, Heron says, this is already happening. The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra still holds its concerts at the hall and there are other events as well. "We now have a space for conferences and exhibitions and displays. Later this year we will host the Loeries there for example, the advertising industry awards. It's also been a centre over the last few years where we've hosted some significant concerts. We've hosted Ismael Lo from Senegal. We recently hosted Jimmy Dludlu; we've hosted a jazz musician from Cuba. So, it's becoming a centre for arts and entertainment and it is something that we're nurturing," says Heron.