Johannesburg – The country’s history could not be destroyed and attempts to do so would polarise society, African National Congress secretary general Gwede Mantashe says.
“The hammer approach is opportunistic, it’s anarchy, it’s dangerous,” Mantashe told News24 in an exclusive interview, referring to the call to have all apartheid and colonial-era statues destroyed.
“You don’t use a hammer to deal with sensitive issues. You don’t deface statues.”
Controversy surrounding statues has swept the country over the past week, resulting in many statues being defaced.
The issues started when a protester threw faeces at the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town.
Students protested to have the statue removed. The UCT council subsequently decided to remove the statue. It was taken down on Thursday.
Mantashe said trying to destroy all statues was like taking a history book and tearing out the pages one did not like. There needed to be debate on what to do with them.
“Any decent nation would have a historic area where you put those statues, because we still have to go and educate generations to come on who Jan van Riebeeck was, what happened to him, who [Hendrik] Verwoerd was and what happened to him and all those things.
“You don’t deal with that by destroying those statues.”
Lime green paint was thrown on a statue of Paul Kruger in Pretoria, the Queen Victoria statue in Port Elizabeth was vandalised, a soldier giving his horse water from his helmet was pulled from the Horse Memorial in Nelson Mandela Bay, and the Louis Botha statue outside Parliament was defaced.
On Wednesday, Afrikaans singer Sunette Bridges chained herself to the Paul Kruger statue in protest. She said the defacing the monument was part of an unyielding attack on Afrikaner heritage and the minority group. People representing Afrikaner political parties including the Front Nasionaal, the Boer Vrou Liga and the Freedom Front Plus gathered at the monument in Church Square.
Mantashe said those behind the vandalism would plough the country into conflict.
“The people who benefit from this issue are your extreme left and the extreme right,” he said.
“These issues need to be dealt with systematically and not be a free for all. Once you leave a free for all you will see a red beret taking charge of it and making it their program, precisely because they have no program,” he said, referring to the Economic Freedom Fighters.
“Any anarchy can become part of their program. You don’t deal with history and heritage by a hammer. It can’t work like that. You undo what has been a painful attempt to build a nation,” Mantashe said.
“For those who drive that program they will have instant satisfaction, but that instant satisfaction is not going to resolve our problems. The challenge facing us in transformation.”