‘The past cannot and should not be completely wiped off’

2015-04-09 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The future of the ­country’s statues must be decided through dialogue and consultation, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said yesterday.

Several historians, politicians, and cultural heritage experts on Tuesday appealed for the vandalism of statues to stop, in order for discussions to be held.

This followed the vandalism of Paul Kruger’s statue in Church Square, Pretoria, and the polemic over the statue of Cecil John Rhodes on the University of Cape Town’s campus.

Mthethwa said while he welcomed the debate about the country’s heritage, he was against vandalism and called for South Africans not to take the law into their own hands.

“We cannot allow anarchy and ­demagogues to play on the feelings of the people by whooping up emotions on this issue.

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

Anyone who wanted to move a monument or statue had to follow legal processes. According to the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999, this had to involve a 30-day public consultation process, public notices, and invitations to interested parties to comment.

Mthethwa said his department had thus far not received any official notification to remove any of the country’s statues.

The government’s approach to heritage sites, including statues of colonial-era heroes like Rhodes and Kruger, was based on values of reconciliation, nation building and social cohesion, Mthethwa said.

“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.

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

He called for “diverse voices of all ­citizens” to be heard in the debate on transformation in the country, but said this had to take place within the framework of the law.

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