Elephant brought to a stop, sculptor takes action

2011-08-02 00:00

“SOMEBODY very powerful put the brakes on my elephants and went back on a contract, but the deception runs deeper than that,” remarked heartbroken artist Andries Botha.

The world-renowned sculptor has now taken steps to sue the eThekwini Municipality for defamation of character and costs incurred.

“I had six workers who were contracted to me and there is a substantial amount of money still due to me,” Botha said.

He revealed that any funds acquired from a defamation and damages lawsuit will be put into a trust fund for struggling artists.

When Botha was headhunted by the municipality to build the life-sized elephant sculptures that would make headlines the world over, he was humbled and honoured.

“When I was asked to build the elephants I immediately got to work on three of seven elephants — but the buck stopped last year, not even half way through,” said Botha.

The reasons were apparently politics, that the elephants symbolised long time rival party Inkatha Freedom Party, which has the elephant as its symbol.

Botha said the late Ethekwini ANC regional chairperson, John Mchunu, was decisive in the matter, something that still perplexes him.

“The elephant symbolises co-existence and the fact that as a country we have overcome so much and yet remained a civil society.

“The world comes to South Africa to marvel at our animals and I built the elephants to show that we are tolerant and intelligent yet we are a force to be reckoned with,” he said of his sculptures.

Botha said he had been hired by Eric Apelgren, head of international and government relations in the municipality, to make the elephants in time for the World Cup.

A fee of R1,5 million was agreed, but the city owed him about R250 000.

There is significance for the elephants being at Warwick Avenue and according to Botha’s research, the last wild elephant in the vicinity was slaughtered there, “so on principle they should not be moved”, he said.

Then in June last year, a R3 million statue of King Shaka Zulu — which Botha had sculpted — was removed from King Shaka International Airport after King Goodwill Zwelithini and other Zulu royal house members expressed reservations. These included that Shaka looked more like a herd boy than the warrior king of Zulu history, and that the spear placed at his feet could mean surrender.

Botha said no one had spoken to him about the King Shaka statue, which was removed to be amended.

In support of Botha, amateur artist Peter Avis led a group of protesters and marched to Warwick Triangle and attached yellow ribbons to the shade cloth at the weekend.

He said that the initiative would continue until the cloth was covered in yellow.

Avis, who started the campaign three weeks ago, said he had been spreading the message about Botha’s “censored” artwork through social network sites.

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