Elephant sculptor Andries Botha maintains that all his dealings over the disputed public art work were done directly with the municipality, including the authorisation of his payments.
“They are trying to abdicate responsibility by shifting the blame,” he said outside court on Wednesday, in reaction to eThekwini city manager S’bu Sithole’s court affidavit of a distant relationship with the artist.
Botha claimed that on more than one occasion, both on and off the record, then city manager Mike Sutcliffe had said that the reason the project was put put on ice was because of its strong resemblance to the IFP’s logo.
“I even put forward the idea of creating an extra elephant to Sutcliffe – he seemed keen, but then nothing happened,” he said.
But in court papers, Sithole described as “unsubstantiated hearsay” that the ANC had stopped the sculpture of three elephants because it looked like the IFP logo.
Sithole said on Wednesday he was still open to settling the protracted battle with Botha, despite claiming in court papers that there was no contractual obligation to do so.
The city boss said he had previously indicated a need to resolve the matter outside court: “This is still an option,” he said in an interview. “But if we are taken to court, we have the right to reply.”
His comments came as Botha’s legal team prepared to file the next batch of documents in the Durban High Court to hold the city accountable for the elephant debacle.
“We will be disagreeing with, contesting and contradicting all of these (Sithole’s) claims,” Botha’s lawyer, Toby Orford, said on Wednesday.
Depending on how the court process unfolded, Orford said it could set a precedent for the way artists – and art – were regarded in the country. “There are vast differences between artistic objects and ordinary ones – art cannot be treated in a derogatory or disrespectful way,” he said.
The Daily News reported on Wednesday that Sithole had in an affidavit distanced the municipality from the Warwick Junction sculpture project.
Sithole had claimed that the city had contracted with Rumdel Construction for the rejuvenation of the area, and that the company sub-contracted work to Richson’s Trading Enterprises – which took on Botha.
Orford said he would be carefully examining
all Sithole’s allegations.
“We will be issuing a replying affidavit, but will also be approaching Rumdel and Richson’s Trading Enterprisesto issue their own affidavit in response to the claims made by the city manager,” he said.
“All this ducking behind arguments will not help in the long-term.”
Botha said that art was a part of his right to freedom of expression, and that the way it had been treated was highly regrettable
“Why object to something you gave the go-ahead to? How can you ask the artist to change his vision, while work is under way? I’m a conceptual sculptor, not a wildlife sculptor, so how can I change the sculpture and fashion the ‘Big Five’ instead?”
He said that when Sithole had taken over from Sutcliffe, he was assured of a speedy resolution to the dispute. “But now the sculptures stand unprotected and heavily mutilated – and there’s no end in sight.”
eThekwini Municipality spokesman, Thabo Mofokeng, said the city remained committed to finding an amicable solution to the issue.
“Engagements are still ongoing and we’re hopeful that they’ll produce positive results.”