Where South Africa’s fallen statues go to rest

2015-03-29 12:59
(Schalk van Zuydam, AP)

(Schalk van Zuydam, AP)

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Pretoria - Beneath two of Pretoria’s most iconic heritage sites – the Voortrekker Monument and the Ditsong National Museum of Cultural History – are sprawling high-security archives dedicated to the preservation of South Africa’s discarded monuments, City Press reported.

Cecilia Kruger is senior manager of conservation at The Heritage Foundation – a section 21 company tasked with cultural preservation, maintenance and installation – and Etta Judson is curator and manager of museum services at the Voortrekker Monument.

They show City Press into the climate-controlled area that houses the monuments, a massive collection of Afrikaner memorabilia and cultural artefacts.

Perfectly preserved busts of former leaders FW de Klerk, Hendrik Verwoerd, DF Malan, Jan Smuts and Pik Botha lie amid fading orange and blue ZAR flags and piles of oil portraits of other significant Afrikaners.

Kruger is unfazed by the #RhodesMustFall movement. In more than 30 years of heritage management, she has seen it all before.

“Every time there’s a new political party, the memory of the previous dispensation is removed to make way for the next one.

“In 1994, the objects in this store were removed by the department of public works, which is responsible for the works of art in state-owned buildings. They were removed because they became irrelevant.”

At her feet is the original portrait of Jan van Riebeeck that used to be displayed on our banknotes. She does, however, become enraged about the “pity” of attempting to “erase a tangible history”.

She explains: “Historically, these objects form part of an entire history of our country. History did not begin in 1994. There’s a reason 1994 happened and, if you break up the continuity of history, I think it can become quite confusing for young people to piece together.”

At the Ditsong museum, “stupid mistakes”, as the head of conservation, Jan Middeljans describes them, resulted in a fire in 2013 that consumed the studio housing Coert Steynberg’s vast collection of sculptural works that adorn most of the grand public buildings in Gauteng and appear on objects as diverse as our coins.

The sculptures went up in flames and, over the past two years, have been restored as much as possible by the Steynberg family and the Ditsong museum, which stores most of the valuable pieces that survived.

The charred, exploded effigies are arranged in rows next to paintings worth millions by Jacobus Pierneef, Anton van Wouw and Irma Stern. I ask Middeljans about separating the object as a work of art from the figure it represents.

“The artists were children of their time and, as such, produced works that spoke to the era. “Whether we remove them from public space or not, the things they did still exist. There is no way to demolish that,” he says.

Read more on:    uct  |  cecil john rhodes  |  pretoria  |  monuments debate

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