Soapbox Speakers

Soapbox on THE GRAND PARADE, Cape Town.

On the 19th of March 2002, Cape Town Mayor, Gerald Morkel, launched the Grand Parade restoration project.

“The Grand Parade is the one area of urban space in this country that historically, and culturally, belongs to all. It is the traditional heart of Cape Town, where great events, and great people, such as Louis-Michel Thibault, General Jan Smuts, the Royal Family, Dr Abdullah Abduraman, Zainurissa “ Cissy ” Gool and Nelson Mandela have left their mark on the Mother City.”

The Mayor continued to say: 

“For more than 300 years, the Parade has been the place where Capetonians have met and mingled in commerce, in prayer, in protest, in defiance, and in celebration. Well within living memory, it was Cape Town’s equivalent of London’s Speakers’ Corner, where anyone with issue could get on a soapbox and let fly, on any subject, from the price of oranges … or criticise any government that was in power. The Grand Parade’s speakers were silenced by apartheid security legislation, but now they will be able to come back and exercise their democratic rights once more.”

The Grand Parade is Cape Town’s oldest square. After the completion of the City Hall in 1905, the Grand Parade became Speakers’ Corner. The Communist Party of South Africa held a weekly platform there. Wolfie Kodesh (1918-2002), stalwart of the African National Congress, also held a platform there, as did Nelson Mandela and many other radicals.

In 1948 following the rise to power of the pro-Apartheid National Party, all radical speakers on the Grand Parade came under attack from fascist groups. When the Communist Party of South Africa was banned in 1950, Speakers’ Corner on the Grand Parade declined, and eventually freedom of speech was lost.

It was no accident that it was on the Grand Parade that Nelson Mandela addressed South Africans for the first time following his release from prison in May 9th 1990. Thereafter, all South African Presidents deliver their annual State of the Nation Address on the Grand Parade.

During large demonstrations, great care is now taken to designate a Speakers’ Corner – usually on the corner of Keizersgracht and Primrose Streets, Zonnebloem (District Six) near the Grand Parade. However, a Speakers’ Corner seems not to have re- emerged on the Grand Parade on a regular basis.

Steve Maxwell.

Short explanatory biography:
Zainurissa “ Cissy ” Gool 1897–1963: outstanding community speaker, and descendent of slaves.
Dr Abdullah Abdurahman, died 1940: first non-white person elected to Cape Town’s municipal council and founder and long serving president of the African People’s Organisation from 1918.

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