DURBAN. – Heritage experts have drawn parallels between the vandalism of historical monuments and the recent xenophobic attacks, saying both were symptoms of underlying frustrations fuelled by poverty, slow transformation and unemployment.
They were sharing their insight during a seminar hosted by the eThekwini Municipality’s Libraries and Heritage Department, attended by close to 100 people, in Durban on Thursday. The seminar came a month after numerous statues were defaced around the country by perpetrators who described them as symbols of white supremacy.
While most of the monuments remained, the University of Cape Town management backed down and removed the statue of Cecil John Rhodes from its campus last month.
The seminar resulted in a heated debate over the preservation of these symbols, with some groups calling for the removal of all monuments commemorating colonial and apartheid leaders.
“Xenophobia and vandalism of historical symbols are related; they are fuelled by the same source. So people take out their frustrations due to lack of service, poverty, on what’s in front of them,” said Professor Sabine Marschall, a cultural and heritage tourism expert from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
The National Heritage Council’s chief executive, Advocate Sonwabile Mancotywa, said that most of the statues people wanted pulled down were created to legitimise apartheid.
But, like Marschall, he warned against the dismantling of the symbols, saying they were part of South Africa’s history.
“(Hendrik) Verwoerd might not be part of my heritage, but he is part of my history – and history is about both the good and the bad,” he said.
He recommended that the statues be moved to theme parks where they could be used to educate people so they did not repeat the mistakes of the past.
“We should ask ourselves if it’s the statues today and if it’s the foreign nationals today, then what is going to happen tomorrow when the situation remains unchanged?”
He said it would not help replacing the old statues with new ones because “people do not eat policies, they cannot eat statues. If they have nothing to eat, they will destroy these statues”.
University of Johannesburg sociologist Professor Ashwin Desai and UKZN Student Representative Council president Dithobe Mosane held opposing views – Mosane called for removal of “all symbols of white supremacy” from public spaces.
“Our public space should reflect what is significant to all South Africans. It makes us uncomfortable to have to look at symbols of people who stole (land) from our grandfathers and then killed them.
“They should be moved to a museum,” said Mosane.
Desai, however, called for South Africans to fight for decolonisation of the economy rather than that of public spaces.
“I don’t want those statues removed. I want them there in public spaces because I believe we should not hide our history, but confront it every day and learn from it,” he said.
The SA Students’ Congress’s provincial secretary, Phinda Mofokeng, said the struggle was not about symbols but “about beating the dog until the owner comes out, because those who are defending these statues are against transformation”.
There seemed to be consensus that legal processes needed to be followed by those who wanted statues removed. – The Mercury.