The light bulb moment: The artists’ concept

AFTER turning down various concept proposals for how best to commemorate the place where Mannenberg was recorded, the Sunday Times settled on an abstract design that evoked the sound of the times. By Sue Valentine.

Mark O’Donovan, a qualified electrical engineer, and performance artist Francois Venter worked together to find a design that would bring the sound of Mannenberg to the streets of Cape Town.

Venter and O’Donovan have collaborated several times over the past decade and working together was "a joy", says Venter.

"We understood each other’s ways of working and did not have to work too long to arrive at a common aesthetic and mechanism for the work," Venter adds.

"I’ve been making musical instruments for a long time," says O’Donovan, who heads up Odd Enjinears, an outfit that uses a mix of technology, music, machines and sculpture to "reinvent theatre".

According to their website (, the idea is to use basic mechanics and "off the shelf" technology to stimulate people’s creativity.

On this occasion, the task was to tune seven pipes to correspond with the opening notes of Mannenberg, but the challenge was to get them to make the optimum sound, bearing in mind the competing noise of the urban, outdoor setting.

"A piece of steel under tension resonates, so the technique is to weld the pipes at the point of resonance," says O’Donovan.

Seven metal pipes have been moulded, welded and mounted outside the building that housed the original studios where Abdullah Ibrahim, Robbie Jansen, Basil Coetzee, Monty Weber, Morris Goldberg and Paul Michaels recorded Mannenberg in 1974.

The stainless steel frame extends for a length of 1.6m and stands 1.4m high. The middle pipe is mounted at the comfortable height of 900mm — the standard height for banisters.

It’s a playful concept and it invites passers-by to engage with it — and to hear the evocative opening notes of the song that became an anthem of the anti-apartheid movement, embodied by the United Democratic Front in the ’80s.

Inscribed into the stainless steel is the instruction "Run a stick along these pipes to hear Mannenberg". A set of car keys will also do.

Co-innovator Venter says: "I want the public to interact with the work, the notes and the place where the song was recorded. I want anybody who sounds those notes on the sculpture to feel the thrill of expressing themselves through sound."




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"Mannenberg catapulted musicians' minds into what was really happening."
Abdullah Ibrahim
Abdullah Ibrahim
Picture: © Sunday Times


Interviews as historical sources

In this lesson plan, students are asked to think about how music enables people to express ideas and to affirm the cultural diversity of South Africa. They will be asked to reflect on the value of interviews as sources.

Lesson plan
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Archive Photo Gallery
Images of the men who created Mannenberg.
Artwork Photo Gallery
Check out the “sound” memorial marking the recording of Abdullah Ibrahim’s famous anthem, Mannenberg.
Audio Archive
Listen to Abdullah Ibrahim and others reminisce about what gave rise to their famous tune.
A 360º view of the memorial on Bloem Street, Cape Town.
Basil “Mannenberg” Coetzee 1
Part 1: Basil “Mannenberg” Coetzee explains why they named the song after a Cape Town township, and how it became an anthem of the struggle against apartheid
Basil “Mannenberg” Coetzee 2
Part 2 of a 1998 SABC3 documentary on Basil “Manenberg” Coetzee
Curious to see and hear the Mannenberg memorial?
SABC2’s Curious Culture magazine programme goes to Cape Town to report on the Mannenberg memorial
Launching the Mannenberg Memorial
SABC2’s Weekend Live programme reports on the launch of the memorial to Mannenberg