Tearing down statues will not change history - Mbeki

2016-05-25 18:52
(Lizeka Tandwa, News24)

(Lizeka Tandwa, News24)

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Pretoria - Removing South Africa's colonial-era statues will not change the country's history, former president Thabo Mbeki said in Pretoria on Wednesday.

When he was still president, a young woman asked him why there were statues of statesman Jan Smuts and Dutch colonial administrator Jan van Riebeeck at the Union Buildings. 

"She said to me, 'but how could you do that? How could you leave those people there?' I said to her 'why not? They are part of our history. We have our heroes and heroines. Why don't we build our own statues in addition, instead of saying remove these?'‎"

Removing statues would not erase the country's history, he said at an Africa Day event in Pretoria.

"We can't say that by removing Paul Kruger, you therefore remove that past. It's a pretence. It's a show, and in some instances leads to failure to attend to real challenges. You think the symbol is gone, but the substance hasn't gone," he said.

In April last year, following student protests, the statue of imperialist Cecil John Rhodes was removed from the University of Cape Town's campus. Several statues of the country's colonial and apartheid-era figures were subsequently vandalised in towns and cities across the country. There were calls for all reminders of the country's past to be removed from public spaces, in order to "decolonise" the country and eradicate institutionalised racism.  

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