A R20-million project led by the Johannesburg Development Agency will revitalise the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication in Kliptown, Soweto ahead of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Freedom Charter.

JDA development manager Joselyne DavidsJDA development manager Joselyne DavidsThe Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) is set to spend in the region of R20-million on refurbishing the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication in Kliptown, Soweto.

The upgrade is expected to revitalise the public environment and give a boost to investor and community confidence in the area.

According to JDA development manager Joselyne Davids, the refurbishment will turn the Square into an attractive place of work and leisure for residents, tourists, street traders, office workers and shop keepers.

“The concept is to change the character of the Square from a hard open space into public gardens,” Davids said. “This will involve introducing soft landscaping in the form of trees, grass and flowerbeds, improved lighting, children’s play areas, and public seating.”

The Square was the site of the 1955 Congress of the People, at which over 3 000 representatives of resistance organisations met to adopt the Freedom Charter, an alternative to the apartheid vision of a divided and repressed South Africa.

Walter Sisulu, then deputy president of the African National Congress (ANC) and one of the key figures in the anti-apartheid struggle, was one of the delegates at the Congress. Nelson Mandela was in hiding at the time in order to avoid arrest by the police, and on the second day the authorities broke up the gathering, but by then the Charter had already been adopted.

The document remains the cornerstone of ANC policy to this day, and is widely regarded as the foundation of South Africa’s 1996 Constitution.

What was little more than a dusty field in 1955 was declared a national heritage site, and on 26 June 2005, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Freedom Charter, then President Thabo Mbeki lit a flame of freedom in Kliptown to mark the opening of the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication.

A multi-million rand development project subsequently saw the construction of an open-air monument and museum along with a marketplace, hotel, offices and multipurpose centre.

The new upgrade project will pick up where previous work left off by making the Square more welcoming both to residents and to visitors, encouraging people to visit the gardens and spend time in them not only as part of their daily lives but also for special events.

“The site will be used as a gathering place and venue for concerts and other events,” Davids said.

Construction is likely to start at the end of February once a contractor has been selected. The project has been divided into three phases, the first of which will focus on the eastern side of the Square, especially the circular route marked by 10 pillars as well as the arrival zone.

The first phase is expected to be complete by June, in time for the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Freedom Charter.