South Africa lukewarm over ‘Mandela square’
The South African Embassy and rights groups have raised concerns about a plan to name a square in central Berlin after Nelson Mandela. Some feel the square is associated with Prussian militarism and racism.
After the anti-apartheid leader’s death, citizens’ foundation Stiftung Zukunft Berlin suggested naming the main entrance to a former Prussian palace being rebuilt in the centre of the city, after Mandela.
But black rights group, Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (ISD), said the palace, Berliner Schloss at the Humboldt Forum, should not be linked to Mandela because of Prussia’s militaristic past.
The forum is supposed to be completed in 2019 and house cultural treasures from across the world. It was the home of Prussian and German Kaisers and was destroyed by bombing in World War II.
The South African Embassy said it was following the debate over the naming of the new square after Mandela.
A spokesperson said: “Although the decision to name public places like squares, streets, official buildings and the like rests entirely with the municipal authorities of Berlin, the Embassy of South Africa would expect that careful consideration be given to the integrity and legacy of Mr Mandela in their decision-making processes – particularly to his unequivocal standpoint on matters like colonialism, racism, slavery, cultural and material exploitation as well as respect for the cultural heritage of the people and nations of Africa.
In a statement the spokesperson added: “The Embassy would furthermore assume that such a decision would only be finalized after an open, rigorous and transparent debate with all segments of Berlin’s citizenry so that we can all be assured that the name of Nelson Mandela and the ideas he stood for remain untarnished and without any blemish.”
The ISD has also demanded a critical examination of slavery in Prussia in the 17th and 18th centuries and said Mandela should not be associated with the former seat of the kingdom which was famed for its militarism.
Instead they want the “colonial racist” Mohrenstrasse [Moor Street] and its metro station in the centre of Berlin to be renamed in honour of Nelson Mandela.
Tahir Della, from ISD said: “We share the irritation and concern of the South African Embassy. He added: “Madiba is not part of Prussia’s cultural heritage.”
In a statement Della said it “would amount to the rejection of Mandela’s ideals” if the ISD’s long-held demand to rename Mohrenstraße to Nelson Mandela Straße was ignored and the Humboldt Forum naming was carried out.
The idea to name the square after Mandela was put forward by Volker Hassemer from Stiftung Zukunft Berlin last week.
At the time he said: “Our idea is that people will cross over Nelson Mandela Square to go to the Humboldt Forum.” He said that like Mandela, the building would stand for linking the cultures of the world, the Berliner Zeitung reported. “He [Mandela] showed that cultures can learn from one another,” Hassemer said.
The Berliner Zeitung said the suggestion from the Stiftung Zukunft Berlin had found widespread support in the city.