Following the recent widespread incidents where statues were vandalised, the Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, convened a public conference where stakeholders could give their input on heritage issues.
AfriForum was invited to the meeting and was represented by Kallie Kriel (CEO), Henk Maree (Chariperson – AfriForum Youth) and myself (Alana Bailey, Deputy CEO – Heritage Affairs).
More than 200 people attended the summit at Freedom Park, Pretoria. They represented political parties, civic organisations, government agencies, conservation organisations, and even larger museums such as the Voortrekker Monument, War Museum of the Boer Republics and the Language Museum. Minister Mthethwa was present throughout – from the beginning to the end just after 18:00 – and took note of all inputs.
Apart from representatives of political parties, the Council of Traditional Leaders and the students of the University of Cape Town who were responsible for the campaign for the removal of the statue of Rhodes, AfriForum was the only participant who was asked to make an official presentation to the attendees. This recognition is significant and is proof of the credible and responsible manner in which AfriForum approaches campaigns and earns respect, even if the authorities very definitely do not agree with our views. In debates such as this, it is essential that the voice of our community is heard and we therefore appreciate the opportunity.
Furthermore, all those who were present could participate in discussions from the floor throughout the summit – it was an open and robust debate on the future of heritage conservation in the country. Heritage institutions pointed out that comprehensive legislation exists on the basis of which processes, such as proposals to move statues or not, should be handled. Many people who were present stressed that the preservation of heritage and the debate about the past should not be reduced to the changing of place names or the removal of statues, but that more names and statues should rather be added to the landscape. However, there were also emotional appeals to the minister to eradicate all traces of the colonial and apartheid past. The facilitator, Prof. Somadoda Fikeni, had his hands full with giving everyone a turn to speak, and keeping the peace.
Kallie and I reiterated our view of the past years – that place names and statues cannot be changed or moved simply to give in to temporary ideological pressure, but that a culture of mutual recognition and respect should rather be promoted by making room for everyone’s heritage and views.
Already at the beginning of the summit, the students of the University of Cape Town were praised as heroes by the facilitator, and the audience was asked to give them applause – a position with which AfriForum cannot associate ourselves. AfriForum is in favour of an open and robust debate on campuses, but within the framework of the law, without resorting to the anarchic level where sewage is dumped or where people are literally taken hostage in an effort to force university authorities to respond to demands. From the students’ presentation it was clear that they had a mass of incoherent additional demands, which all have the theme of the “transformation of South African universities”. Amongst others, they ask that the UKZN should be renamed, because the current name reminds them of the IFP attacks on ANC supporters in the 1980s – a demand that clearly reveals their ideological position. My question about how they will use the transformation to ensure that their university, which is the only South African institution among the top 110 universities in the world, retains this ranking, or even improves upon it, was met with a deafening silence.
At the end of the programme, a number of resolutions were presented to the attendees. Some of these resolutions are seemingly harmless, for example that a survey be done to determine where offensive place names – like Kafferskraal – still occur and then to urgently change these names. Also that place names with variant spellings – like Bisho – must be standardised.
Other resolutions were totally unacceptable to AfriForum, for example that a nationwide survey be made of personalities that are represented by place names, statues and monuments, in order to establish who were villains who committed crimes against humanity (for instance, apartheid leaders) and who are therefore not entitled to public recognition. On the basis of the list – it is suggested – place name changes and the removal of monuments must then be accomplished with exceptional speed, so as to “transform” the heritage sector. Apartheid leaders were persistently likened to Hitler. AfriForum took in a strong position against the one-sided, one-dimensional and polarising assessment of the past.
An even more controversial resolution that was proposed, was that in the cases where it is decided to relocate public statues of, amongst others, apartheid leaders, these statues should not be given to the Afrikaner community for conservation, but they should be placed in so-called theme parks where they can be displayed to visitors in context, as violators of human rights. Kallie made the point that this proposal amounts to nothing more than a “concentration camp for statues”. It is unacceptable that heroes of the Afrikaner community are portrayed by the ruling party as scapegoats for all the current problems of the country.
The objections of AfriForum and many other institutions, including the Orania Movement and the Kruger Society, were recorded and the summit was adjourned with an undertaking that the discussion would continue.
It is increasingly clear, however, that the current debate is being abused in an attempt to speed up transformation in every possible area of heritage conservation, in line with the aspirations articulated in the ANC’s National Democratic Revolution document.
It is the responsibility of civil society, as amongst others represented by AfriForum, to ensure that the planned processes are opposed as far as possible, so as to ensure the future of our heritage.
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