Huge bunches of red flowers, symbolising bleeding injuries, were used by local artists as a protest against the vandalism of the sculptures known as the Warwick Elephants at the western entrance of the city.
By Thursday morning, the crimson blossoms had gone – perhaps stolen or removed by city cleaners – but again leaving gaping holes in the huge stone pachyderms sitting forlornly in the sweeping rain.
The elephant sculptures became the centre of a political storm ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup when they were being built by world-renowned local sculptor and artist, Andries Botha.
At that time, KZN ANC leader John Mchunu (who died in 2010 of pneumonia complications) arrived at the site and demanded Botha stop work on the installation as the elephants resembled the symbol of the IFP. All work stopped and a lengthy court battle ensued, resulting in a court settlement to rebuild the elephants. They were completed in 2014.
This week, Botha said he noticed the vandalised artworks on Monday, May 24, and gathering feedback, said the vandalism most likely took place the day before (Sunday). He highlighted that as the artist, he had a High Court injunction which compelled the city to protect, maintain and guard the elephants as part of the significant investment to the public purse. Part of this order was to ensure security by CCTV monitors.
On Monday evening, local artists gathered and tied the flowers to the areas where the elephants had been damaged.
Wanting to remain anonymous, they said: “The face and tusks have been hacked off one elephant, the second had the trunk and tusks removed, and the remaining two had their tails removed. Have we reached a point where elephants made of stone are being poached? The vandalism seemed so brutal, so we used the red flowers to symbolise the blood and grief, and when you are hurt, how you want to restore beauty.
“The city has not done anything about this yet and when we were at the site on Monday, no authorities intervened, even though a cop car drove past and the site should be being monitored,” they said.
The sculptures were made from galvanised wire and stone, and if stolen for scrap metal, the vandals were likely to have made less than R100.
On Thursday, Botha said that the municipality had contacted him with regard to a quote for repairing the damage and had also asked for his advice for suitable covering for the sculptures until such time as they could be repaired.
Botha said that on a personal level he felt “violated and vulnerable” by the damage wreaked on his elephant sculptures.
“I have been to the site and assessed the damage. It’s quite considerable. Vandalism appears to have become ingrained within our South African democratic lexicon. The destruction of personal and public property appears to be utilised as a ’persuasive bargaining’ instrument.
“Explaining this social delinquency as symptomatic of a fractured social project and contract, with its roots in historical and current inequality, is another recurring narrative. Building sculptures in the public space has to embrace these realities ... there is a mounting sense of futility when you enter into repeated optimistic partnerships with the city to enhance and affirm the quality of social space so that this city can realise its fuller African potential,” said Botha.
EThekwini spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela confirmed on Friday that the damage to the four elephant sculptures was being investigated and the artist had been informed.
“It’s not clear what was the intention of the damage as the work comprises of stones and galvanised wire with a mild steel frame, materials that will not fetch much when sold for scrap. The matter has been reported to local SAPS who will lead the investigation,” said Mayisela.
This week eThekwini mayor, Mxolisi Kaunda also announced the roll-out of a “5-Pillar Plan” to fight crime in the city’s CBD, saying, “We can’t have a city that is lawless”.
“The 5-Pillar Plan will not only include increased police visibility in the CBD, but sustained and joint operations that will take place every day. These will be aimed at reducing the alarming levels of crime,” said Kaunda.
Independent On Saturday