Dan builds Tree of Wisdom for Madiba school

President Jacob Zuma officially opened The Science and Technology School in Mvezo last Friday. The school was inspired by former president Nelson Mandela, said his grandson Mandla – pictured here with Daniel Popper – arguably one of SA’s most innovative young artists. Dan built a 4-story high tree for the school as well as the surrounding infrastructure.
by ANT KATZ | Jan 22, 2014

The school was commissioned "mainly because of (Madiba’s) vision and the manner he regarded education to be a weapon which one could utilise to change the world," said Mandla about the Mandela School of Science and Technology.

"That is really the ethos that informs us... as a nation to do better and to strive to contribute towards humanity," Mandela said.

Popper treeThe school, which is surrounded by green hills, is the first high school in Mvezo. Before it was built, children had to leave home to go to high school in Mthatha, about 50km away, and often dropped out.

Tree of Wisdom

Mandla said parents and locals were motivated and committed to the school's success. The school runs on renewable energy. There are three big wind turbines in front of the school. Each classroom block is fitted with solar panels.

On the school grounds is a metal sculpture of a tree, called the Tree of Wisdom which was commissioned from Dan Popper. Surrounding it are wooden benches into which Dan has etched inspirational quotes.

Popper Tree openingHow it came about

"It was then crucial for us, as the leadership of this community, to look at how we could come up with a mechanism to ensure that we are able to build an end-to-end programme for the kids of this community," Mandela said.

"We initiated the project by firstly speaking to [Nelson Mandela] and he was very touched." Mvezo is where the anti-apartheid struggle leader was born.

Mandla Mandela and other community leaders raised the funds for the 420 pupil school including R3.2m in Sweden, and R148m engineering company Siemens.

Popper - World CupWho is Daniel Popper?


The Tree of Wisdom sculpture at the new Mandela School of Science & Technology by artist Daniel Popper celebrates Nelson Mandela’s contribution to education.

 Popper at Tree opening


Born in 1983 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Daniel Popper is a man with a knack for creating artworks that bring fantasy to life – something that has always had the support of his parents Mike and Cookie.

Having earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts (with distinction in Oil Painting) at the renowned Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town in 2006, his career has developed onto a global stage with many mediums of art such as puppetry, performance, instillation and sculpture


Popper - Afrika Burn


See the burning version on HOME PAGE or on ALL SAJR VIDEOS


The spark that ignited Daniel’s career was the creation of his first giant puppet for the AfrikaBurn art festival in 2007. The attention generated by this saw Daniel commissioned by mobile operator MTN to produce 14 more for Fan Fests around South Africa during the FIFA World Cup 2010.

At the same time, Daniel’s solo exhibition of oil paintings was held at the Obert Contemporary gallery in Johannesburg. Since 2010, the popularity of Daniel’s puppets have seen him interviewed on South African television for shows such as Woza M-net, Supersport and Top Billing, and saw him take the puppets to the Portuguese electronic music festival, Boom, and build a new giant puppet for the Young Illustrators Awards in Berlin.

Expanding his work on puppets, 2011 saw Daniels’ gorilla puppet featured at many Cape Town events (such as Earthdance, the J&B Met, an MTV Base concert and the Adderley Street parade). In the same year Daniel participated in a group painting show at Salon 91, with his oil paintings curated by Andrew Lamprecht in an exhibition titled ‘Figuring Difference’.

On his return to AfrikaBurn in 2011, Daniel’s large-scale sculpture ‘Hand Of God’, which featured an Argon laser that beamed across the festival site, was a highlight for many festivalgoers.

This sculpture was instrumental in Daniel being commissioned by Siemens and Ogilvy to create a 15-metre Baobab tree featured 3,000 LED lights and was powered by solar panels and bicycles, for the COP17 climate change conference in Durban, South Africa.

In 2011, Daniel attended the Burning Man festival in Nevada for the first time.

With interest in his projects growing, 2012 saw Daniel commissioned to build two 25m Quetzalcoatl serpents for the Boom Festival, which were suspended above the crowd in the main dance temple. Subsequent to this, he embarked on a world puppet tour, which saw him performing his puppets at three festivals in The Netherlands (De Deining, Zwarte Cross and A Day In The Park), as well as at Boom in Portugal and at Burning Man in the USA.

Daniel’s interest in interactive art, puppetry ,art and architecture in public spaces, stage design and installation art, continues to expand, all the while still engaging with the fine art world and oil painting.

BELOW: Surrounding the tree are wooden benches into which Daniel has etched inspirational quotes:
Popper bench Bottom

Daniel Popper currently lives and works in Cape Town. See more on his WEBSITE


  1. 8 David Shapiro 23 Jan
    WOW!!!Danny,well done!!! All the amazing art work that you have done.CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! from Melanie and I.
    David & Melanie Shapiro
  2. 7 Gary Wolff 25 Jan
    Wow Danny! It's amazing to see you grow into a world renowned artist. Keep your dream alive and the inspiration flowing. Mazeltov!
  3. 6 Merle and Dave 25 Jan
    So thrilled you are getting the recognition you so deserve. Mazeltov Dan, may you just go from strength to strength ! All our love
  4. 5 terry diamond 26 Jan
    Danny, absolutely amazing! so very proud of you. Keep building, the sky is the limit.
    Diamond Clan
  5. 4 Leanne Dogon 26 Jan
    Danny your work is truly inspirational! I am so proud to have an original Danny Popper hanging in my home. May your talent take you to great heights.
  6. 3 gail 28 Jan
    wow Danny , your work is so impressive. What an incredible talent you have. keep it up. your wonderful parents must be so proud of you,
  7. 2 Dan Shamir 28 Jan
    Would this incredibleyoung talent be prepared to consider a commissionin Israel? HBow can we get hold of him? 
  8. 1 Ant Katz 28 Jan
    Hi Dan,

    Daniel's website link is just above these comments - or you could mail me [email protected] and I can forward on to him. As far as I am aware he is in Melbourne Australia right now so don't try and phone him.


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