The construction and unveiling of two new statues of former president Nelson Mandela in the Eastern Cape, has left the public with a bitter taste, with some expressing that it was an insult to continually erect statues while millions lived in abject poverty.
The statues were unveiled on Tuesday at Mthatha and Qunu as part of Nelson Mandela Day celebrations which commemorates the 67 years he dedicated to the fight against apartheid.
The statues cost R3 million to design, develop and install. The project was spearheaded by the Nelson Mandela Museum in partnership with the Department of Sports Arts and Culture, the OR Tambo District Municipality and the King Sabata Dalindyebo Local Municipality.
Nelson Mandela Museum CEO Vuyani Booi told News24 that although the poor could not eat statues, having them would attract local and international tourists, while also expressing that they were aimed at developing liberation heritage tourism.
But there is more. IOL reported in June that the eThekwini Municipality was forging ahead with a R22 million project to unveil statues of former ANC presidents Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. The statues would be placed outside the lawns of the Durban City Hall.
Ethekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda said in June that the project had been first mooted in 2017, but was disrupted due to Covid-19 as the statues were being imported from China.
Kaunda has defended the project, saying the quotes they got for the statues were he cheapest. The statues are understood to have arrived in Durban, but were under storage while the municipality outlines a plan for their location and unveiling.
People took to social media questioned the need for another Madiba statue when majority of the people in the country still experience harsh realities of poverty and the province where the statues are being unveiled, the infrastructure is in a poor condition, to say the least.
Statues in memory of beloved Nelson Mandela are great.But truth be told Madiba would be prouder if we built bridges of hope and schools of dignity as monuments of his legacy.Why not place a temporary moratorium on building statues with public funds and divert funds to tackling…— Prof Thuli Madonsela #KindnessBuilds (@ThuliMadonsela3) July 18, 2023
Speaking to Newzroom Afrika, Sonwabile Macontywa, heritage expert, said creating memorials for national heroes was a common practice around the world, however, it becomes an issue when it’s prioritised when people are still struggling to get access to basic needs.
“We have to re-think beyond having a symbol, what does it benefit the community, go to place called Nkantolo where Robert Sobukwe was born, and you ask yourself what does these statues of the icons carry the paradigm and benefit the communities,’’ he said.
Macontwa added that the heritage sites could be commercialised to benefit communities.
“So in these rural areas, there’s a lot that could be played if you were to find equity partners to run these things to benefit communities,’’ he added.
[WATCH]: Unveiling of the Nelson Mandela Statue at the Nelson Mandela Museum, Bhunga Building in Mthatha in observance of #MandelaDay. The erection of this statue contributes to the creation of memorialisation programmes in honour of President Mandela’s unwavering commitment to… pic.twitter.com/l7E1ik5rwk— Presidency | South Africa 🇿🇦 (@PresidencyZA) July 18, 2023
Meanwhile, Eastern Cape premier and the ANC chairperson in the province, Oscar Mabuyane, who attended the unveiling of the statues, said that the government had not ignored the plight of the people in the province, instead, there were currently a number of projects underway to develop infrastructure and create employment.
He added that this was not about money being spent on things that don’t add value, but it was about social cohesion.
“Its not about money that we spend, its bigger than the value that we are looking at. You can’t put value on programs of social cohesion... It’s important to have statues of Nelson Mandela as our leader, as the first president of the democratic dispensation,’’ he told the SABC.
Reflecting on the legacy and relevance of Nelson Mandela I want to say the following.— Mmusi Maimane (@MmusiMaimane) July 18, 2023
1. We need to remember Mandela but we do not need more statues.
2. The legacy of Mandela has been diminished by the government.
3. Mandela did not sell out.
4. His vision is still possible. pic.twitter.com/0IVmWQLutL
How does having so many statues of the same person help a developing country?— 🔴 Black Conspiracy Reality 🔴 (@BCRealityy) July 18, 2023
Paul Kruger and Nelson Mandela
At least I have left my people with land, Mandela left his with poems, quotes and a statue.
~Robert Mugabe pic.twitter.com/Q4Rz3X4sHp
Nelson Mandela himself would be very disappointed,that his failing party can't deliver to the people,but keep on unveiling statues of him.He hated that.— ERROL💥💥💥💥💥💥💥 (@errolbsk) July 18, 2023
Eradicate Pit toilets , we don’t need more statues of Mandela.— Sibulele Gwiliza (@S_Gwiliza) July 18, 2023
Writing in an opinion piece in September 2020, former foreign affairs editor for Independent Media, Shannon Ebrahim, wrote: “We should never underestimate the emotive importance of statues and what they mean in our society.
“They are a reminder of the people our society considered great, people worthy of respect and looking up to. That is why we put them on pedestals and honour them in central places in our towns and cities, so future generations will pay tribute to them.”