Durban - The defacing of the King George V statue at the University of KwaZulu-Natal has sparked a fiery debate on campus, with some students praising the vandalism as a “revolutionary” deed, while others said they were “embarrassed”.
The statue that towers over the Howard College campus was this week splashed with white paint, bearing the message: “End White Privilege.”
Other messages printed on A4 paper and plastered on the statue read:
* “The white race is the chosen race and blacks will work for us for ever.”
* “Our identity, our statues, our heritage and no one can remove them #KingGeorge.”
* “We rule universities as whites and all of the blacks are our servants.”
UKZN spokesman, Lesiba Seshoka, said an urgent naming committee meeting “to review the status quo of all statues on all our campuses” would be convened.
Below the towering statue, a midday debate raged among students. Some who were interviewed by the Daily News refused to be named or photographed, citing fear of victimisation.
Tricia Nxumalo, a third- year psychology student, said she was embarrassed by the incident.
“Someone’s just gone and ruined it with paint. It is part of history. It will be sad if they put it down because that money can be used on other things which can help with the challenges faced by students. The money spent on paint could have been used for a better cause.
“I am embarrassed. Are we just copying because of UCT (where students have called for the removal of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes)? We have bigger issues to deal with.
“You say this is about solidarity, but when we strike twice a year because of financial aid, do UCT students strike in solidarity? No,” she said.
Eketsang Keke, a third-year law student and a former UKZN SRC member, said he did not know who was responsible for the vandalism.
“He (George) does not belong here, he must go and be placed in a museum. This is not about race, we are attacking the system. This here is a great piece of art,” he said, pointing to the painted statue.
“Any colonial symbol that has the blood of our people, we will denounce, we are not saying ‘George Must Fall’ because he is white. It is because he has blood on his hands and cannot stand proud here.”
King George V was the husband of Queen Mary and reigned from 1910 to 1936, when he died, according to the official website of the British monarchy.
Many students did not know who George V was when asked, and Keke said this was because students were not interested in attending SRC programmes which educated them about the country’s colonial past.
Danielle Hall, a third-year psychology student, said it was a shame that a national monument had been defaced.
“In my opinion, I feel they have taken a political stand, but I feel the statue doesn’t represent anything about the university. To mess a monument up is bad, so I feel what they have done is wrong,” she said.
Andile Zulu, a third-year politics student, said the vandalism had caused a commotion, but called for the removal of the statue. “Steve Biko was a student at this very campus, but we never hear about him.
“We need to, as a country, undergo a process of having symbols that represent what we want as a country,” he said.
Another student who said he was neutral on the matter, said he did not care if the statue was removed or not.
“I’ve walked past this statue for the past three years and I have never cared who he is or what he represents. Why must I care now?” he asked.
Seshoka condemned the vandalism and called for students to exercise “restraint and care”.
“UKZN is recognised as the most transformed institution in South Africa and we are saddened and disappointed that the protesters chose not to raise any concerns through the proper channels established within UKZN,” he said.
Military historian and author, Ken Gillings, said the statue was “innocuous” and “our heritage is here to stay, whether we like it or not”.
Gillings argued that rather than seek to destroy the statues, they could be used to build for the better. He said city-state Singapore – a former British colony – had used its colonial heritage to create a tourism industry.
“Look at it now: it is wealthy… They had a rough history, but they built on it,” Gillings said. “How would you feel if a Mandela statue was defaced in 80 years’ time?”
ANC KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary, Sihle Zikalala, said the issue needed to be discussed. Defacing statues was inappropriate.
We could not get away from the fact that the statues were symbols of South African history and represented white privilege but, “if people at Howard have a problem they should discuss it. Destroying does not build”, Zikalala said.