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  • William Platt

Nelson Mandela bridge

Updated: Sep 15, 2022

In 1948, South Africa the white minority National Party began the process of legal discrimination called Apartheid. There were three main classifications, white, coloured and black. The first ever multi-racial democratic elections in 1994 marked the end of racial segregation.

Black Africans were mostly poor and after 50 years of chronic neglect, poorly educated. They lived in the worst parts of the city, in shanty homes, without access to reliable electricity or clean water. They did all the menial of jobs for minimal wages. Black on black crime was endemic and the police violently oppressive. The first ever multi-racial democratic elections in 1994 marked the end of legal racial segregation. The two key architects of bringing to a close such a violent and unjust political policy were F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.

The elections saw Mandela, the leader of the African National Congress, voted into power as the first ever President of the new "rainbow" South Africa. While the world could put apartheid into the history bin, white South Africa held its breath. They were afraid the ANC victory would be the spark to ignite black against white retribution. A violent and terrible civil war was a very real possibility.

It is one of the most amazing stories of modern times that a man, imprisoned for 27 years could walk out of jail with this statement on his lips.

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.”

By his total belief in a God of love and mercy and by the force of his impressive personality, he somehow managed to get millions of people to follow him on the path to peace.

On one side of 42 railway lines a predominantly black neighbourhood, characterised by poverty, unemployment and crime. On the other, the up and coming new businesses and access to the nearby University of Witwatersrand. It is a geographic picture of apartheid. Poor black on the wrong side of the tracks unable to access the white education and wealth on the other. In 1993, it was proposed to build a bridge between Braamfontein and Newtown to alleviate the traffic congestion on the old Queen Elizabeth bridge.

The designers knew from the start this was never going to be "just a bridge".

This new bridge would represent the new democratic South Africa superseding the old white colonial South Africa. One bridge built in stone the other modern and technologically advanced. The barriers which kept the black and white communities apart would be bridged. Any person of any colour could walk across this bridge.

In 2010, new lights were added. A country dominated by a black and white narrative would have a bridge lit at night by a changing multi-coloured rainbow. A country which once decided a person's worth based colour, now refuses to discriminate on the basis of religion, ethnic origin, gender or sexual orientation. This is written into their constitution. There was only ever going to be one name for such a bridge and on the 20th of July 2003, Nelson Mandela opened the Nelson Mandela bridge.

A rainbow bridge for a rainbow nation.


You can cross the bridge by car, bike or foot but if you want to walk or cycle it is still best to do it during the day. The hopeful symbolism of the bridge has not removed the real life dangers of being robbed.

Having said that, it is well worth a visit and make sure you allow enough time for the Apartheid Museum.

Bridge Details

Capacity: 3 000 vehicles per hour - Cost: R120 million - Designed by: Dissing+Weitling

Height: 27m - Largest cable-stayed bridge in South Africa.

Length: 284 meters long - Has one bicycle lane and pedestrian walk-ways on both sides of the bridge.

Spans 42 railway lines. - Time taken to build: 18 months.

Has two traffic lanes

#SouthAfrica #Bridges #AFRICA

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