Council's U-turn on jumbo sculpture

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elephant sculpture INLSA Artist Andries Botha with his controversial elephant sculpture. Picture: Jacques Naude

Durban - Nearly three years to the day that the ANC stopped work on Durban’s elephant sculpture, city bosses have backed down and the sculpture, by internationally acclaimed artist Andries Botha, is set to rise again.

The three wire-and-stone elephants at Warwick Avenue Junction - once denigrated as being representative of the IFP logo - will trumpet again and will be joined by a fourth jumbo.

This is in terms of an 11th-hour settlement between Botha and the city, a deal brokered before a Durban High Court hearing scheduled for today, when a judge would finally have determined the matter.

“The city phoned us this week and said they want to settle out of court,” Botha told The Mercury on Thursday night.

Municipal spokesman Thabo Mofokeng said that “through a process of earnest discussion and sincere engagement, an agreement was made for Botha to complete his sculpture”.

“The settlement reflects mutual acceptance of the artist’s legitimate interest in, and rights with respect to, the maintenance of respect for his chosen field of work and the need to respect the role of democratically elected public representatives in public affairs.”

Botha would reconstruct the neglected and vandalised sculpture and build another elephant.

He would be paid his usual charges, less any amounts already paid under the first contract, together with all expenses for the reconstruction and new construction.

The city has also agreed to pay Botha’s legal costs, including the considerable expense of three senior advocates he used in his battle to maintain his artistic integrity and to rescue his work.

Botha believed the settlement was favourable to all stakeholders. Referring to a bid by the city to force him to change the sculpture to one depicting the “Big 5”, he said the municipality had acknowledged that this was unacceptable.

“I will complete my work in a manner consistent with the original contract and my creative vision, to produce a herd of elephants as ecological metaphors intrinsic to the ethos of The Human Elephant Foundation, which has been exhibited locally and internationally,” Botha said.

According to its website the foundation “creates the opportunity for thinkers... to join together, stimulate their imagination, collaborate and harness their creativity for the overall health of the planet”.

The sculptures are meant to symbolise the forgotten conversation between man and nature.

The deal was brokered on behalf of the city by advocate Griffiths Madonsela, while Botha was represented by Max du Plessis.

There was no indication from the city of where the funds would come from.

IFP spokesman Joshua Mazibuko said the ANC had to be made to shoulder the financial burden of the out-of-court settlement. He said ratepayers should not pay for a decision that was based on narrow political interests.

Botha was commissioned in July 2009 to install the sculpture at the gateway to the city at a contracted price of R1.3 million but, as the work was nearing completion, he was ordered off the site.

This was after top-ranking ANC official John Mchunu, who has since died, visited the site and apparently complained that the sculpture was representative of his party’s traditional political foe, the IFP.

Work was halted in February 2010. A year later the council resolved to endorse a different, “Big 5” design, but Botha resisted and, when negotiations failed, he took the matter to court.

While both parties fought a protracted legal battle over the sculptures, made out of wire frames filled with stones, the work was vandalised.

Botha, through court action, forced the city to secure the area, but the vandalism continued. On one occasion red paint was splashed over it. Closed-circuit television cameras that should have caught the vandals were not working or obscured by trees.

One of the elephants was dismantled and the metal frame stolen.

The Mercury


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