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Pretoria's new symbol of freedom

Freedom Park shows South Africa's shared dreams of pain and liberation.

 Here are the San, captured like cattle in the 18th century, nameless but remembered through the reports of colonial officers boasting how many they had killed or enslaved. There are Afrikaner names of victims of the British concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer war of 1899 to 1902. On the longest and tallest wall are the names of those who died in the struggle against apartheid.

Sebastian Matroos choked with emotion at the wall of names when he made his first visit to the park.

“I feel my story intersecting with these walls,” he said. “This is where I stand as a mixed-race South African. My grandfather came as indentured Indian boy laborer in the 19th century. I have Khoi-San blood. I recognize names of people I grew up with who died in the struggle. I own this history.”

Freedom Park was designed to elicit such cathartic feelings. Kgothatso Sebola, 22, a guide, said her eight months at the park have been “an emotional experience”.

“Some are angry, or sad, or relieved that apartheid is over," she said. "Many have a need to tell their story, to share their pain. Here, you find your place in history, in democracy, in nature, in the present.”

Eleven boulders define the circle of Isivivane, a symbolic burial place. In African tradition, the spirits of ancestors cannot rest in peace until they have had a proper burial. Nine boulders came from sacred places in each South African province, the two others represent the national government and the international community.

Here, in plain view of the Voortrekker Monument, traditional African healers perform cleansing rituals, especially on Dec. 16, an apartheid-era national holiday on the anniversary of Blood River battle, when Afrikaner settler Andre Pretorius, after whom the capital is named, led white troops in a battle in which 10,000 Zulus were slaughtered.

The guide asks visitors to remove their shoes and stand among the boulders for a moment of silence, holding hands of friends or strangers, followed by a ritual hand washing.

The design team, chosen from an international competition in 2003, includes South African firms GAPP, Mashabane Rose and MMA Architects, and exhibit consultants Thinc Design from New York, and Visual Acuity from England.

The park includes an open air amphitheatre for 2,000 people, an event hall, spaces for meditation and votive candles, small gardens and conference rooms.

Next year will see the opening of //hapo, an interactive exhibit to tell the story of Southern Africa dating back 3.5 billion years.

//hapo means dream in Khoi, South Africa’s oldest indigenous language, and alludes to a San proverb: A dream is not a dream until it is shared by the entire community.

This dispatch was updated to correct a spelling.

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