For The People

Colonial symbols belong in a museum

In the new era of post-apartheid, there are still many representations of colonial and apartheid symbols that are scattered in several public places. Do these symbols still have a place in the modern society, or should they be removed. Faith Chabalala writes about the controversial topic.

The many representations of apartheid figures and symbols causes some people uncomfortable feelings of anger, disgust and anguish. Cecil John Rhodes statue caused the University of Cape Town students to go on a #RhodesMustFall campaign in April 2015 and sparked a heavy debate on these representations across South Africa.

The statue was perceived to represent a lack of transformation from colonialism and apartheid. Julius Malema, the President of the Economic Freedom Fighters, supported the campaign and said that the statue should be removed and called for all other representations of the apartheid regime to be removed. He further compared the United Kingdom, O’riel College Oxford’s statue as an action similar to forcing an abused wife to keep up a photograph of her abusive husband.

In April 2019, Minister Nathi Mthetwa during his campaign said, “We cannot have public spaces named after people who would not reconcile, it would be capitulation, it is like asking the Germans to have a symbol of Adolf Hitler in their public spaces”.

This is a debate that clearly has individuals on either side of the fence.  Removal of colonial and apartheid statues may be seen as reverse racism and an injustice to history, but some feel that they represent a gloomy and suppressive past. Should victims be forced to have constant reminders of their perpetrators?

At present there is a statue of Cecil John Rhodes riding on a horseback, holding a map of Africa in his hands at the heart of CBD, boarded by Du Toitspan Road and D’Arcy Street. A representation of his plot for Africa perhaps? Speaking to a local resident Karabo Seekoei (alias name used), he says that such statues should be removed from society as they serve as a reminder of a painful suppressive past, “These symbols should be kept in a museum if it is a question of preserving our history, they should be replaced with monuments of struggles heroes and individuals who have pursued and fought hard for the democracy of South Africa”.

There is evidently an urgent need to heal the wounds of the past and in the process of doing so, should colonial and apartheid symbols still have a place in society? Should they still have a place in a country that is governed by the Constitution that represents democracy, equality, non-sexist, non-racial, non-segregation, and rather speaks for economic justice, social cohesion and nation building that speaks to equality for all citizens who live in it?

 “Those that erase history are bound to repeat it, ”says Tumelo Mosikare, a local resident of Kimberley, “I think people are missing the mark, instead of spending time and money debating, fighting, and trying to erase the past, we could be working on learning more about our past and instead of wondering around uneducated about our city and where it comes from, this will help in building a better tomorrow, should we burn down the Oppenheimer Garden too, or the other representations of figures who have done wrong in society?” In Mosikare’s view, the world ought to build and not destroy. Cecil John Rhodes, Oppenheimer and many other historical figures have contributed to what the city is now, even though these figures may have done some injustices to the city or the world, it is also vital to acknowledge the contributions that they have made in developing it.

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