Colonial-era statues in Cape Town may be moved to a single site

The beheaded statue of 19th-century colonialist Cecil John Rhodes at Rhodes Memorial. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

The beheaded statue of 19th-century colonialist Cecil John Rhodes at Rhodes Memorial. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 16, 2020


Cape Town - The City is considering removing all colonial-era statues and busts and consigning them to a memorial park after the bust of Cecil John Rhodes at Rhodes Memorial, above UCT was defaced.

According to the Table Mountain National Park, the bust had its head removed either late on Sunday or the early hours of Monday..

Mayco member for spatial planning and environment Marian Nieuwoudt said: “It’s unfortunate that statues are being vandalised. But we are looking at ways we can preserve these statues in the city. One of the discussions we are having concerns removing the statues and putting them in a memorial park. But nothing formal has been submitted to council yet.”

Nieuwoudt said a submission would be made in the next two or three weeks.

A Table Mountain National Park ranger on patrol on Monday discovered that the statue of 19th-century colonialist Rhodes had been vandalised. The hand, arms and shoulder section of the statue remains, while most of the head has been cut off.

SANParks acting head of communications Rey Thakhuli said: “The head of the statue was cut (off) with what seems to be an angle grinder somewhere between Sunday night and the early hours of Monday.”

National Black Crisis Committee spokesperson Songezo Mazizi said he was in support of whoever beheaded the statue. “Racism is so endemic and institutionalised, to dehumanise black people as a race wherever they find themselves in the world.

“Its institutionalism is preserved and entrenched through colonial symbols. These symbols continue to emit psychological violence on the psyche of those bodies codified as sites of colonial trauma,” he said.

Mazizi said it was “colonial scars” such as these statues that reminded many people of the callous deeds of former enemies.

#RhodesMustFall international organiser Chumani Maxwele said: “Rhodes killed and enslaved people throughout Southern Africa and his iconographic signs do not unite people of a democratic country. We call on (Arts and Culture) Minister Nathi Mthethwa to implement the recommendations of his ministerial task team, which recommended that the statues must be removed and be taken to a museum.”

Nieuwoudt said each statue should be looked at and its meaning to the city interpreted. “But we must keep to the story of the city to make it relevant. We have over 24 municipalities and each one has a story, so how do we take all of them and put them in one big place?” she said.

Former public protector Professor Thuli Madonsela, current Law Trust Chair in Social Justice at Stellenbosch University, said the call by young people for the removal of racist statutes was a pivotal development for South Africa in that it reminded the country of the unfinished business of its unjust past, which would remain part of the country's present until it was dealt with. 

“Young people are forcing us to deal with the elephant in the room, which is the ugly shadow of our unjust past of condemning blackness while exalting whiteness and conferring unmerited privileges on white people in all areas of social, economic and political life,” she said.

Madonsela believes that a sober conversation needs to take place on what symbols of the unjust and hurtful past should go, and why.

Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport head of communications Tania Colyn said: “There has always been a debate about the transformation of the heritage landscape in South Africa. Such debates have resulted in the reinterpretation of statues and monuments, and in certain instances the removal of some statues or the erection of new ones.”

Colyn said the statues belonged to the authorities responsible for their installation, and the department had no control over their restoration or removal.

DA spokesperson for cultural affairs and sport Reagen Allen said: “The DA in the Western Cape does not condone the vandalism of any public property; this incident is a sign of the need for a national debate on how we as South Africans experience our different histories.’’ Allen said the country had a difficult past, with many symbols carrying painful reminders of injustices suffered by so many.

ANC provincial spokesperson on cultural affairs Ayanda Bans said: “As an ANC legislature caucus, we will be aligning ourselves with the position of the ANC Western Cape on having discussion reopened on contentious statues so we could have a well-informed position on approaching the matter.”


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