Damage to colonial statues: Statement by Arts & Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa


“Heritage sites and national monuments have cultural significance and value because of their importance to a community in revealing a pattern of South Africa’s history,” writes Arts & Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa.

Rhodes articleA student helps tape up protest messages on the plinth of the UCT statue of colonialist Cecil John Rhodes, covered in black plastic. (Image: University of Cape Town)

Nathi Mthethwa Minister of Arts and CultureMinister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa

We have noted the defacing of Paul Kruger statue on Church Square in Pretoria, Tshwane.

This happened soon after student raged on the matter of the Cecil John Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town. These developments threaten to or have spread to other campuses and communities around the country.

As the Department of Arts & Culture we reiterate that we have not yet received any formal application for the removal of any statue in any part of the country.

As government we encourage citizen participation in efforts to find an amicable resolution to this matter through dialogue and negotiation.

Thus we encourage citizens to engage in consultative community conversations to find solutions to problems that face us as a country.

It must be emphasised that the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999 stipulates particular technical as well as consultative processes that should be followed in the case of a removal and or relocation of a statue.

As a result, it is advisable that a consultative process be initiated at the earliest opportunity in the process where the applicant must notify all relevant bodies, including applying to the South African Heritage Resource Agency or relevant provincial or local structures.

But the entity or community that wants to move or remove the statue or monument will need to undertake a 30-day public consultation process. This will include public notifications that entail presentation to the authorities and inviting comments from affected and interested parties.

Most importantly, heritage sites and national monuments have cultural significance and value because of their importance to a community in revealing a pattern of South Africa’s history. They demonstrate a particular aspect or time of South Africa’s natural or cultural places or objects.

Also, they may hold strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons. This may entail a strong or special association with the life or work of a person, group or organisation of importance in the history of South Africa.

Thus as a government that promotes a transformative national agenda, we also accept that the past cannot and should not be completely wiped away. This is to avoid repeating the same mistakes out of ignorance of what has happened before.

It is for this reason that as part of transformation, the diverse voices of all citizens of this country must be allowed to express themselves but guided by the law in our efforts to alter the national heritage landscape.

The government’s attitude and policy to all heritage sites including statues of former colonial heroes like Cecil John Rhodes and Paul Kruger, among others, is based on a national policy of reconciliation, nation building and social cohesion.

Thus we neither support nor encourage the defamation or violent removal of any statue because we do not encourage people to take the law into their own hands.

In fact, we cannot allow anarchy and demagogues to play on the feelings of the people by whipping up emotions on this issue.

The process emphasises consultation and reconciliation as government policy and this should not be mistaken for capitulation. The debate around this is a most welcome development as it results in deepened knowledge and understanding about the history of this country.

There is absolutely nothing new in the Rhodes or Kruger development, as over the last 20 years we have pursued a heritage landscape transformation agenda including making a place for the newly built Nelson Mandela statue at the Union Buildings.

For further details contact Spokesperson for Minister, Sandile Memela on 082 800 3750.

Issued by the Department of Arts & Culture