Johannesburg South Africa Travel
The Purple Shall Govern Mandela mural
May 21, 2015

A little story of the significance of the Purple Shall Govern Mandela mural in Braamfontein

The Purple Shall Govern Mandela mural

The Purple Shall Govern – Artist: Shepard Fairey (@obeygiant).

I recently posted this  instagram of the stunning new Mandela Mural in Braamfontein with a caption about its significance. I was surprised by the many comments on the photo, that so many people did not know the history behind it’s ‘The Purple Shall Govern’ slogan.  So I thought it worth of a blog post, especially given my love for Joburg’s street art.

The Purple Shall Govern Mandela mural stands tall over looking  trendy inner city neighbourhood of Braamfontein. The mural has become a Braamfontein icon and is one of my favourite street art pieces in Joburg, after the Shadow Boxer. It’ s located just a block away from the Nelson Madela bridge, another Joburg icon. I love Madiba’s smile, and whenever I walk past I get the feeling that he is watching over Joburg, proud of the city he called home.

mandela mural shepard fairey

A smiling Madiba through the trees

A little history lesson – The Purple Rain Protest

The mural was painted to  honour the 25th anniversary of the Purple Rain Protestsan anti-apartheid protest held in Cape Town on 2 September 1989.  During the protests, the apartheid police used tear gas and new water cannons with purple dye to spray the hoard of activists who attempted to march on South Africa’s racially segregated parliament just four days before elections.

Purple dye was used to stain protestors for later identification and arrest. As the canons fired purple rain on the protesters, they scattered. One of the protesters, 25-year-old Philip Ivey, climbed onto the armoured vehicle and turned cannon with the purple dye on nearby police. Purple dye stained the surrounding buildings, including the National Party headquarters. How ironic. 

The day became known as the Purple Rain Protest. The next day graffiti appeared around Cape Town declaring, “The purple shall govern”. It is basically a play on words of the Freedom Charter’s declaration that “The people shall govern” . This was one of the last protest marches outlawed by the apartheid government, and signified a time of change in the National Party government’s dealing with public protests. Eleven days later, 30 000 people marched through Cape Town without any incident.

FYI, ‘The Purple Shall Govern’ slogan was used in the title of a book: The Purple Shall Govern: A South African A to Z of Nonviolent Action.

The Purple Shall Govern Mandela Mural

Legendary US street artist, Shephard Fairey, was commissioned to do the artwork. Fairey is best know for his  ‘Obey Giant’ sticker campaign and later the famous Obama ‘Hope’ poster.  Check out this video for the inspiration behind the mural.

Funny thing is the mural was originally planned to be painted in Cape Town, in commemoration of 25 years since the Purple Rain protest and South Africa celebrating 20 years of democracy, but the organisers couldn’t find a suitable wall within a timeframe that worked with the artist’s schedule. Cape Town’s loss, Jozi’s gain.


mandela purple shall govern

Image courtesy Derek Smith

For more Joburg street art pics and photo’s of my travels, follow me on Instagram!


Disclosure: I was hosted by South African Tourism as part of a local #MeetSouthAfrica blog trip. Mzanzigirl has full editorial control over all content published on this site.

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Meruschka Govender

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There are 6 comments

  • StephenCT says:

    I remember the day well. And it absolutely burns my arse that Cape Town blew the opportunity. Purple rain defeated by red tape. 🙁

    • Meruschka Govender says:

      Wow, what a memory! Sorry for Cape Town. Really sad that they couldn’t get their act together. Glad that it’s in Jozi though 🙂

  • Bernice says:

    Well done on a very interesting post. I visited the area a few weeks ago and that mural made quite an impression on me!

  • Four months later, Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, and in 1994 became the first president of a new democratic South Africa.

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