durban22052013. Andries Botha with elephants.

Durban - Artist Andries Botha says he is eager to get busy rebuilding his R1.5 million elephant sculpture and regrets the controversy that has come his way.

Botha who paid a visit to the sculpture near Durban’s Warwick Junction this week inspected damage done to the artwork by scrap metal thieves and said he was still awaiting the go-ahead from the municipality.

Since the municipality called a halt to the work in October 2010, the metal frame of one of the three steel-and-rock elephants has been dismantled and stolen. Framework stolen from the side of a second elephant has caused its stones to fall out and the third elephant’s trunk has been removed.

Work was halted on the sculpture after the ANC-controlled municipality tried to persuade Botha to change his artwork from three elephants – thought in some quarters to echo the IFP’s logo – to one representing the big five.

Botha refused on artistic grounds and took the municipality to court. The parties settled out of court earlier this year.

Botha said security had been beefed up in Warwick Junction recently, but this should have happened a long time ago, which could have prevented his statues being damaged.

He said the delay had left his team heartbroken.

“I have no idea when I will be able to start with the project again. The ball is in the council’s court now. I have given them, as requested, a proposal drawing. This was done almost two months ago,” Botha said.

“I have a love of, and for, elephants, which are after all such compelling animals. It is exactly this ‘allure’ that makes them such appropriate ecological ambassadors as we struggle to find new ways of dealing with, and for, the ailing environment,” Botha said.

The elephants had not been named yet, and Botha said it would be a great idea if residents could name them. He suggested a public campaign in this regard.

“When the dust has settled on this matter and the elephants are finally reborn, then they (the sculptures) will simply take up their place among the many other interesting tourism sites that the city has to share. I think their entire provenance should be embraced and promoted as how we as South Africans struggle and prevail,” Botha said.

A nearby pedestrian bridge could be used, he said, as a viewing platform.

Botha said it was difficult for him to imagine how a project with such potential could have been so poorly managed and said he would be hesitant to work on another project with the municipality, after what he said had been a bruising process.

Botha said he remained motivated by the belief in his work as an artist, but did not welcome the controversy that the debacle had brought him – locally and internationally.

“It created a negative image of myself as a confrontational and controversial artist.

“What interests me now is how we all can transform this situation into a win for creativity and the city of Durban.

“I have received many invitations to exhibit my existing elephants internationally, but not necessarily any new commissions based on the controversy of the Durban elephants,” Botha said.

Municipal spokesman, Thabo Mofokeng, said: “The municipality is still finalising costs and the scope of the project. Thereafter, a report will be submitted to relevant committees for final approval by council.”

Daily News