7. For the Freedom of South Africa
SUSAN ACKOFF ORTEGA
1985, 10’ x 23’5”
For the Freedom of South Africa is a joyous, colorful tribute to South African women and their role in the anti-apartheid struggle. At the time, Susan was co-coordinator of Art Against Apartheid, presenting exhibitions and performances to bring attention to South Africa’s racist policies and the people’s struggle for freedom.
She researched photographs of protesting women at the African National Congress Office to the United Nations, working up black and white drawings and gouache color sketches, the most representative collaged into her final design. Artmakers and Susan were greatly honored that Neo Mnumzana, the ANC representative to the UN attended the September dedication ceremony.
Traditional South African dress inspiring its bold colors, the mural shows women— mothers, students, and workers—as activists protesting in the streets. They carry signs calling for the end to South Africa’s legal racist policies and for equal rights for Black Africans to govern, vote, and have access to better housing, jobs, and education. One woman waves the flag of the African National Congress, the leading force in the struggle. Actual signs are depicted: End the Pass Laws, Equal Work for Equal Pay, Free All Political Prisoners Now, and Free Nelson Mandela—who in 1990 was released from his imprisonment after 28 years. Fists are raised and it’s easy to imagine the women shouting the freedom call Amandla—a Zulu or Xhosa word meaning “power.”
“Among my favorite memories of the mural,” recalls Susan, “are the neighborhood people—even young children ages 8, 9 and 10—who joined me in the painting process. I enjoyed giving them an opportunity to add their creative touches and providing them with a sense of ownership of the final work.”
The mural was used as a backdrop in the 1985 music video I ain’t gonna play in Sun City which “brought together the two worlds of rock and rap to protest apartheid. The title refers to the song by Steven Van Zandt, former guitarist of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. It spearheaded the musical boycott of South Africa’s big-ticket resort town Sun City which, until then, had paid handsomely for superstars to perform at its concerts.”
Since 1985, Susan has painted more murals, shown in exhibitions, written about art, parented a daughter and son, retired from teaching art, and built a home on Mexico’s southern Caribbean coast where she lives some months painting and relishing her natural surroundings. She continues to be politically active.