Johannesburg – The destruction of statues that supposedly have to do with colonialism and white supremacy will only serve to polarise South Africa further, lobby group AfriForum said on Sunday.
“AfriForum condemned calls by the ANC Youth League and EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] for the removal and even worse, the destruction of statues that supposedly has to do with colonialism and white supremacy,” deputy chief executive for heritage and culture Alana Bailey said in a statement.
“The legacy of public figures never is purely positive or negative. Such figures are interpreted differently by diverse opinion groups and different generations. To remove or destroy a statue does not change the events that led to its creation, nor does it contribute to the ongoing healthy debate about history.”
“Each generation should instead add more historical landmarks to the existing order, thereby ensuring a comprehensive, balanced portrayal of the past.”
“It does not mean that we all have to feel the same about such figures and events, but it does necessitate that we respect the opinion of people who differ from us,” she said.
“People who hastily support the decision to relocate statues for fear of vandalism, succumb to the pressure of populists who incite hatred and intolerance for temporary ideological gains.
“The relocation of historical landmarks would only serve to advance the opinion that some communities in South Africa only made negative contributions to the past.
“If there was no longer space in the public sphere for statues and memorials commemorating the colonial and Afrikaner past, the question may well be asked whether South Africans of colonial or Afrikaner descent are still welcome in the country.”
Bailey called on political and civic leaders to take a strong stance against the current iconoclasm and to participate in a debate in which communities’ numerous and diverse contributions to history were recognized and mutual respect was encouraged.
The ANC Youth League has called for the removal of the statue of Paul Kruger in Pretoria, and wanted a 15m high statue of former presidents Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and President Jacob Zuma.
The EFF on Friday claimed responsibility for setting alight the War Memorial statue in Uitenhage’s Market Square on Thursday.
“Unfortunately we could not topple the statue, as the police came and stopped us,” deputy chairperson for the Nelson Mandela Bay region Bo Madwara said.
He said the Uitenhage war memorial was just the tip of the iceberg.
“The EFF has a programme in Nelson Mandela Bay that will seek to destroy all colonial statues that have been identified,” he said.
“As we wage a campaign for economic liberation, we said that economic liberation must be accompanied by the falling of these colonial statues.”
The issue of statues of colonial figures came into sharp focus after protests about the presence of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes on the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) campus.
UCT students began protesting against the statue on March 9 in a campaign called #RhodesMustFall. Two students were seen throwing human excrement on the statue.
UCT’s senate has since voted in favour of recommending to the university’s council that the statue of Rhodes be moved when council held its special sitting on Wednesday, April 8.
The senate also recommended that the statue remain boarded up until a final decision is made on its future.