With the growing support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which has sparked global protests, following the death of American George Floyd at the hands of a white policeman, the focus has now moved to target what is regarded as symbols of white supremacy.
In the US and Britain, BLM protesters pulled down the statues of slave traders and white supremacists. Similar actions took place in other countries as well.
The incidents have reignited the debate about whether statues of controversial historic figures should be removed.
In 2015, South Africa witnessed the beginning of #RhodesMustFall (RMF) campaign. This began with protest action at the University of Cape Town and quickly spread to other campuses around the country, and then to Oxford University.
The campaign successfully led to the removal of the large statue of Cecil Rhodes from the University. However, the same cannot be said for Oxford University, where Rhodes’ statue still stands. One of the students, who was involved in the campaign, is Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh.
“This time is different this time statues are being removed in the UK of slave owners. MPs have joined the call for Rhodes to fall. Oxford councillors have joined the call for Rhodes to fall. In Oxford 18 000 people have now signed the petition for Rhodes to fall and so that small ripple has now turned five years later into a wave and I think that’s something that should make South Africans proud. Not only have we successfully contested the legacy of Rhodes in our country but we also managed to take the fight to the epicentre of the empire and contest the legacy there.”
During the height of the #RMF, protesters also targeted the statue of Paul Kruger, in Church Square in Pretoria, while white supporters rallied around it. Government went as far as surrounding the statue with barbed wire and then ringed it with a more permanent fence, to protect it. Lead researcher from Benchmark Foundation and Social scientist, David Van Wyk says this flies in the face of much talked about reconciliation.
“When we talk about reconciliation we talk about victims and beneficiaries of the apartheid and colonial system and one asks what is it that the beneficiaries of apartheid and colonial system are actually giving up. The least they can give up are statues and symbols of apartheid and oppression as it is there’s been no change in the economic realities of our country and the ownership structures and so on of our country.”
During the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) Black Lives Matter solidarity protest on Monday, its deputy president Floyd Shivambu lambasted South Africa for the use of what he called symbols of colonial invasion and oppression.
“We know that Paul Kruger is not a hero of Africa. We know that Jan Smarts is not a hero of Black people. We know that Verwoerd is not our hero. We know that Louis Botha is not our hero. We know that all these colonial settlers are not our heroes. But go in all parts of South Africa you will find symbols of colonial invasion and oppression of the callous murder of black people this is after 26yrs of the so-called democracy. We are surrounded by the system that oppressed all of us.”
However, Afriforum CEO, Kallie Kriel says mutual recognition and respect are key to a democratic society.
“And the way to do that is on the basis of mutual recognition and respect that means you need to be able to respect the fact that even the heritage you don’t like is dear to someone else and you also need to respect the fact that there needs to be more statues to accommodate all if we are going to do that we will have true unity and diversity. If you simply going to remove some statues that are dear to certain you are promoting polarisation and that is not in the interest of anybody.”
The debate continues as some believe that these statues mark history and honour heritage — many argue that they are racist symbols of oppression and slavery.
In the video below call for the removal of statues is discussed
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