JOHANNESBURG – Nelson Mandela had a way with words, but not quite like this.
Cyclists traversing Johannesburg in the former South African president’s honour on Sunday wore T-shirts with one of his many inspiring quotations, along with a glaring typographical error in the word “freedom.”
The T-shirt read: “The purpose of freedoom is to create it for others.”
Some 5,000 T-shirts with the typo were made for the 35-kilometre (22-mile) “Freedom Ride,” which passed landmarks in downtown Johannesburg and the city’s Soweto area, organizer Hugh Fraser said Tuesday. The spelling mistake was “a bit of a PR hiccup” but the cycling event was otherwise a success, drawing 8,000 riders, Fraser said.
The ride came two days after the July 18 birthday of Mandela, who died in December at the age of 95. The goal is to promote commuter cycling and to connect communities in Johannesburg, a city that was divided into wealthy white suburbs and poor black townships during white minority rule, which ended in 1994.
The ride passed the Nelson Mandela Bridge, which was completed in 2003 amid efforts to revive the dilapidated downtown area; a cemetery where anti-apartheid activists are buried; and Soweto’s Vilakazi Street, where Mandela and Desmond Tutu, a former archbishop and fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, had lived.
In an email to organizers, rider Valli Moosa said it was “the most multi-racial ride I have been on.”
The quotation on the cyclists’ T-shirts is from Mandela’s prison desk calendar, and was written on June 2, 1979 while he was on Robben Island, where the anti-apartheid leader was held for part of his 27 years of incarceration during apartheid. He was released in 1990 and became president in South Africa’s first all-race elections in 1994.
Most people took the spelling error with a “pinch of salt” and laughed, Fraser said. He speculated that Mandela would have done the same.
“He had a great sense of humour,” Fraser said. “He would understand.”