By Kabelo Kemp
Willem Boshoff, a sculptor by profession, presented a true work of art in the form of a granite sculpture to struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada on May 6, 2016.
The 100kg slab of granite was handed to the anti-apartheid stalwart at the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s office in Lenasia. Boshoff was accompanied by his colleagues Patricia Flentge and John Mthimkhulu.
Marked with prison tally etchings, the granite piece records the exact number of days (9269) that Kathrada spent imprisoned on Robben Island and Pollsmoor Prison from 1964 to 1989.
The granite sculpture, which according to Boshoff, took at least a week to prepare, is worth almost R100 000. It is a replica of one of eight art pieces – each capturing the prison sentences of the Rivonia Trialists: Nelson Mandela, Denis Goldberg, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni and Kathrada. The granite sculpture project started in 2003 and various versions of the sculptures have been sold to people and galleries abroad.
The grey prison tally marks are etched onto black granite, that looks almost like a larger than usual tombstone. When asked about the choice of material and colour usage, Boshoff responded, “I wanted the entire piece to have a sombre feel to it since it is in commemoration of the days that were stolen from Mr. Kathrada and his fellow activists.” The sculptor added that his work could be categorized as “protest or gratitude art”. In addition to being a contemporary artist, he is also a teacher at the University of Free State.
Boshoff, who grew up in an environment where apartheid and racism were considered normal, found it difficult to share with those present some of the racial attitudes he encountered as a youth. He was conscriptedinto the South African army in his younger years before rebelling against military service by refusing to carry a rifle and wear his uniform. “For white people who dared to challenge the system, life became very hard and at times we were treated like we were not human,” says Boshoff. The sculptor says that art was his way of coping with the challenges that life presented at the time.
Boshoff credits individuals like Kathrada and Mandela with sparking the change in his attitude. He described himself as Kathrada’s “secret admirer” because of the values that the stalwart possessed.
Kathrada said that he was “humbled” by Boshoff’s words, and thanked him for the sculpture that symbolically captured his prison sentence. He was joined by fellow Robben Islander, Laloo Chiba, who shared with Boshoff details of their everyday experiences in prison. One memory that Laloo Chiba vividly recalled, was how ‘Madiba’ had advised him not to hold on to feelings of bitterness, anger and revenge because “one day we would be free and our historic mission would be to rebuild and reshape the country and that would not be possible without forgiveness and reconciliation”.