South African Indian designs new parliamentary mace

JOHANNESBURG, September 19 2004

:A South African Indian has designed the new ceremonial mace for the country's parliament.

The mace, designed by Neeran Naidoo, replaced the one being used in the South African parliament for more than half a century.

It was unveiled a day prior to Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's address to the parliament last week.

Naidoo spent three years incorporating a wide range of suggestions before the final product was unveiled in time for Kalam's address.

He said that being Indian had little effect when designing the mace.

"The new mace is African in character, feel, look and design. It draws on a rich tapestry of images, concepts, traditions, rituals and culture that are quintessentially African, and interwoven into the fabric of South African life," Naidoo told IANS.

"First and foremost, I am African. I was born in South Africa and my experiences are no different to those of any lower middle class black South African."

He added: "I love Indian classical music, but I was equally taken in by the Beatles. But equally the rhythm of African music coursed in my veins. A sense of cultural identity was being formed, mixed with protest politics and my Indian roots and African experiences, the best manifestations of which are expressed on the mace."

Naidoo said the Bureau for Heraldry, tasked with developing South Africa's national symbols, came up with designs for the mace that parliament was not happy with.

"The speaker then asked me to review the designs. The public also made submissions on what they wanted to see in the mace."

Asked what he enjoyed most about designing it, Naidoo said: "The fun part was modelling the mace on a knobkerrie (traditional African stick with a large head, used as a defensive weapon). I really wanted to get the form to represent a knobkerrie as closely as possible.

"I enjoyed playing with different materials and experimenting with different forms and concepts and mixing materials and technique - gold, platinum and diamonds, but also chiselling and beading. I knew that combining hand work with advanced engineering was going to be challenging, which it was."

Naidoo recalled that he had mixed closely with children of black farm workers while growing up.

"I speak more Zulu than any Indian dialect. To be fair, I spoke no Indian dialect and learned none of the seven Indian dialects spoken fluently by my grandfather to both his wives.

"The nearest temple was about 80 km away. Regrettably, there was no strong religious affiliation, deep-rooted cultural tradition or a large Indian community in close proximity to reinforce my cultural affiliation. Weddings, funerals and Deepavali were the few occasions for cultural expressions.

"But the system of apartheid that removed me from my parents for school and university was bothering me. I couldn't attend the local high school since it was reserved for whites only. I was expelled from the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg, the town where (Mahatma) Gandhi was kicked off a train for occupying the wrong coach."