The statue of Paul Kruger in Pretoria's Church Square. File photo: Thobile Mathonsi
The statue of Paul Kruger in Pretoria's Church Square. File photo: Thobile Mathonsi

If we remove statues, we kill part of history

By Opinion Time of article published Sep 17, 2020

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By Dr Maserole Christina Kgari-Masondo

A heritage narrative of a complex country like South Africa has to take into account the country’s diverse nature, meaning it must be inclusive of all groupings in society.

Heritage should be about the history of a nation and its pride. We have to try to accept what was the pride of our predecessors but represent our disagreement in the present dispensation, with a spirit of tolerance and nation building.

We study history so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. This is a call for a broad-perspective approach to reorganising our narratives on heritage sites, people and statues.

I believe decolonisation is about building the nation by elevating knowledge, cultures and traditions that were subjugated during colonial and apartheid periods.

It is about giving space for these to contribute to knowledge-making and development.

The replacement of heritage in a democratic setting will mean revamping the wheel of the colonisers’ strategy of discrimination that we do not want to repeat.

As a historian, I believe it is significant for multiperspectivity to be endorsed in narratives as we engage debates about reorganising heritage sites and statues.

The principle of a democratic nation is based on permitting difference but also promoting similarity, unity, tolerance, love, respect and co-operative work among all members of society.

Such a country acknowledges the past with its ugliness, so that there should not be a repetition of the horrendous social ills.

Replacing statues will be anti-democratic because some people’s heritage narratives will be killed. It will be anti-history because it will be as if apartheid and colonisation never happened.

Since history is about learning not to repeat mistakes, all learning styles have to be embraced in representing heritage narratives.

We must try to have our narratives told in a broad perspective by ensuring that details are engraved in such displays.

We can place recordings of past and future in a written and recorded fashion alongside heritage sites or statues. This will accommodate the blind, the deaf and other people’s reading and learning styles.

The skills of critical thinking and multiperspectivity must be part of the outcome of every curriculum, so we can empower our students to think critically and tolerate alternative views.

The #FeesMustFall Campaign, which culminated in Rhodes Must Fall, indicates an important era in our universities.

By defacing statues, students showed the world that critical thinking was pivotal.

However, multiperspectivity was absent as other histories were not embraced.

A university that has the history discipline will support apartheid statues being part of the institution’s heritage but will propose the erection of the new dispensation statues depicting a democratic South Africa alongside.

What can be progressive is to leave the statue as defaced but engrave a new narrative heritage on it.

Universities can erect another statue of a significant historical figure alongside the apartheid heritage statue. The strategy can be followed by the country.

Some can be removed and stored in our museums, but we cannot allow them to be destroyed.

The buildings and statues of the past tell stories that we, and the generations to come, need to know.

The narrative South Africa must embrace has to be based on a broad perspective, in order to depict what South Africa stands for - a home for rainbow people.

* Kgari-Masondo is a senior lecturer in economic history and academic leader of the Culture Cluster at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of IOL.

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