Black Lives Matter protesters target statue of 'killer' Paul Kruger
The protests over racism and heritage were sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an African-American man, by police officers during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25 and have spread through the US, the UK, Europe and beyond.
Statues and other heritage sites have taken centre stage with renewed calls for the removal of statues of slave traders and imperialists such as Cecil John Rhodes.
Following a number of protests in Pretoria and Cape Town, Kruger, a 19th-century Boer leader and president of the then South African Republic, who is memorialised in the bronze statue with four Boer soldiers, became the latest target.
The statue - which is protected by a fence following previous attacks - was defaced with red paint and the word “killer”, and there has been an attempt to write the words “we can’t breathe” - a reference to Floyd’s final words - on the ground.
At the height of the #FeesMustFall movement five years ago, the statue of Cecil Rhodes at UCT was targeted repeatedly and eventually removed by the university.
At that time, there was also debate about the Kruger statue with its pride of place in the capital, and other memorials from South Africa’s colonial and apartheid past.
Yesterday Cecilia Kruger of the Heritage Foundation said they distanced themselves from vandalism of the statue.
“I am surprised there hasn’t been a stronger onslaught after I heard what happened in the US and England, and what happened here in 2015,” Kruger (no relation to Paul Kruger) said.
She said heritage sites and statues presented an opportunity to educate the public. “We have an opportunity to learn if only we could talk more and engage, instead of vandalising and defacing our heritage.”
Kruger said that in the past consideration had been given to moving statues such as “Oom Paul”, although this took away the opportunity for education. There were also suggestions of adding other statues to the square, so present and past could encourage engagement in conversation.
City of Tshwane spokesperson Lindela Mashigo said the city’s Community Social Development Services Department was informed by the Heritage Foundation of the vandalism on the statue on Thursday.
“The department immediately visited the site for inspection. According to some eyewitnesses at the square, the statues was vandalised on Monday, during a march to the US Embassy against the death of George Floyd.”
Mashigo said at this stage, the Heritage Foundation had indicated that they were receiving offers from concerned civil society organisations to assist with cleaning the statue.
“It is unfortunate to note that even the fencing that was donated and erected around the statue was damaged in order to gain access to the statue,” said Mashigo.
Meanwhile, yesterday protesters under the banner of the ANC Youth League and PAC marched from the Union Buildings to the American Embassy in Pretorius Street.
Aside from renewed calls to remove the Rhodes statue at Oxford University, the statue of former British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill in London’s Parliament Square has been boarded up as part of steps to protect landmarks - including the Nelson Mandela statue - from attack.
Earlier in the week, protesters in Bristol threw a statue of slave trader Edward Colston into the harbour, while in Boston, Minnesota and Richmond, US protesters angered by the death of Floyd toppled statues of explorer Christopher Columbus.
Others figures targeted have included Belgian King Leopold II, sovereign of the Congo, and Scottish politician Henry Dundas, who delayed the abolition of slavery.