Cape Town - The Economic Freedom Fighters have acknowledged that two of their members were caught red-handed by police while defacing the statue of Boer general Louis Botha outside Parliament. “Yes, those are our very own fighters. They were taken by the police while they were at the statue,” EFF MP Sipho Mbatha said. “It happened on Wednesday night at around 7.30.” Mbatha said the party planned to continue its campaign to deface and topple apartheid and colonial era monuments around the country.
“This is only the beginning.”
An officer at Cape Town Central police station, who asked not be named, said the two suspects had sported red EFF berets.
“They are in the cells. We have opened a case of damage to property,” he added.
Mbatha said the EFF expected that the men would be released from custody later in the day after appearing in the Cape Town Magistrate’s court.
Red and blue paint was smeared onto the plinth of the statue of the Boer War hero who went on to become the first prime minister of the Union of South Africa, across the Afrikaans inscription reading: “Louis Botha, Boer, Krygsman, Staatsman.”
At the weekend, the EFF stopped short of claiming responsibility for a similar paint attack on the statue of Transvaal republic president Paul Kruger in Pretoria, but said it applauded the act.
The party stepped up calls to get rid of statues of white rule leaders as the heated campaign by University of Cape Town students for the removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes from their campus — which was happening on Thursday — was making headlines.
In late March, EFF leader Julius Malema urged supporters to tear down all symbols which reminded them of apartheid, including that of Botha.
“I’m challenging you, the fighters of Western Cape, that statue of Louis Botha at Parliament, it must go down and how it goes down it’s your business. How it goes down, I’m not interested… Make a plan for that statue,” he told an EFF rally in Langa.
On Thursday morning, EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi posted a picture of the defaced statue at Parliament’s main entrance on his Twitter timeline, with the words “Louis Botha must go”.
Several political parties condemned the defacing of Botha’s statue, and the Freedom Front Plus said it was mulling charging the EFF leadership for inciting vandalism.
“We must all respect the history and the culture of other groups,” said FF Plus MP Pieter Groenewald.
Groenewald had urged EFF leaders to “accept responsibility and to say publicly that it was them”.
ANC chief whip Stone Sizani and the Democratic Alliance also expressed disapproval, saying the attacks were neither constructive, nor courageous.
“The Office of the ANC Chief Whip regards the defacing of the statue outside Parliament and others elsewhere in the country as sheer acts of hooliganism and criminality which should be frowned upon by all sensible and law-abiding South Africans,” Sizani’s spokesman Moloto Mothapo said.
“The malicious damage of statues at certain locations in the cover of darkness signifies nothing but cowardice by those seeking to opportunistically piggyback on the publicity generated by the successful campaign led by the progressive students of the University of Cape Town regarding the statue of Cecil Rhodes.”
DA national spokesman Marius Redelinghuys said: “It adds nothing to a much needed constructive national dialogue about the role of statues, monuments and memorials in a post-apartheid society.”
“It is equally cowardly to do these things behind a veil of anonymity instead of making intentions known for their act of vandalism. Vandalising statues has become a bandwagon to jump on for quick attention-seeking political stunts.”
The statue stands some three metres away from a police sentry.
Technically, it is located not in the parliamentary precinct but on land belonging to the Cape Town city council. The council indicated that it intended to remove the paint marks.
Parliamentary spokesman Luzuko Jacobs pointed out that there had been discussion in the legislature on how to deal with objections to the statue in a sensible manner for some time. “It is a serious matter and from Parliament’s side there has been a constructive dialogue, from the time of the Fourth Parliament, and it continues within the context of a multi-party steering committee,” he added.