The statue of Chief Tshwane at the City Hall was spray-painted with the colours of the old South African flag overnight on Thursday.

The statue had been unveiled on July 6. Passersby were enraged at and bemused by the sight of the chief, one of the region's earliest settlers, painted blue, white and orange and with the letters BB - used during the apartheid era to denote "Black Bastard" - spray-painted on the chief's traditional beshu (loin cloth). There were also signs that the culprits had urinated around the statue and on the plinth.

Onlooker JJ Siqaze said: "These people are disrespectful and even with all the freedom we have they do not consider us to be humans as well. Beats me why some people refuse to accept change. South Africa is a country led by black people and if these people do not like it ... they should leave us in peace.

"The Paul Kruger statue at Church Square has been a part of their history and we as black people respected their history without damaging their leader. Now that it is our turn to honour our history, they destroy it. Some people will never change."

A fuming Thabo Mokoena said he admired Robert Mugabe's rule in Zimbabwe, where this would not happen.

Loutjie Venter said it was pathetic that people could do this to history and art. "A great piece of art has been destroyed. I do not understand what people hope to achieve by destroying someone else's history."

Angus Taylor, who created the statue, said this was the work of "small-minded idiots".

Tshwane Metropolitan Council spokesman Tiny Mokoena said: "It is unfortunate that there are still elements within our society who are trying to tarnish the good work of the city.

"The cost of the restoration of the statue will only be determined after an assessment of the damage has been conducted. We are working closely with the SAPS and the Metro Police and we hope the culprits will be dealt with."