Let's not destroy statues, says Bizos

Durban - Museums are anxiously waiting to take in statues of those people that have played a role in the history of our country, let’s not destroy them, advocate George Bizos said on Thursday.

Bizos was addressing a public lecture at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College Theatre, where the statue of King George V was defaced last month.

“I have thought about the statues and I have been on record saying that I was not on the side of the students. This [the university] is their environment and they had been confronted by a man that thought his empire would start from Cape Town and spread all the way to Cairo,” he said of Cecil John Rhodes.

“Museums are very anxious to have [the statues] of those persons that played a role in the history of our country, let’s not destroy them. There is a distinction about the removal of Cecil John Rhodes and the statue of Paul Kruger at Pretoria’s Church Square. Kruger and his people regarded themselves as the sons of the soil, not imperialists,” said Bizos.

He said Kruger was one of Rhodes' victims and the people he governed had to flee into exile.

Bizos also said he did not want to issue a final judgement on the matter.

“To remove one with merit is acceptable, but to just say remove all the statues is unfair. Defacing the statues is also not in accordance with our Constitution.”

For Bizos it was a question of political morality.

“I remember one day during the Rivonia trial, Bram Fischer who was our leader at the time, called us and asked us to walk around the building because he wanted to show us a statue of Paul Kruger. There was a message on the statue written in Afrikaans which read, ‘The day will come when freedom will come to Africa.’ You see Kruger considered himself a victim of colonialism and that is why some people considered him a hero,” said Bizos.

Unconscionable

In his lecture, titled Respect, but do not blame the Constitution, Bizos set out the framework of amendments to the Constitution, namely the right to life, the rights of arrested, detained and accused persons, the property clause and the calls to consider traditional leaders as the fourth arm of government.

Bizos also took a swipe at those who were trying to amend the Constitution.

“Those who call for these amendments purport to do so in the name of our Constitution, when instead these amendments have the potential to hinder rather than advance our constitutional aims and values,” he said.

He said he was not attacking those who had different views from him.

“I want to ultimately contend that the argument advanced by those calling for such amendments to the Constitution should not be accepted without careful scrutiny,” he said, adding that the Constitution had been amended 17 times.

When speaking about the rights of arrested, detained and accused persons, Bizos said the SA Police Service had become too militant.

“What we saw at Marikana was unconscionable, and will be a blight on our country for many years to come. There is no reason in a constitutional democracy such as ours to have a largely militarised police force that is not properly trained in public order polic[ing].”

Speaking about traditional leadership, he lambasted Limpopo chief William Singo, who made headlines for fining women who became pregnant out of wedlock.

“That’s what happens when traditional leaders want judicial power. Today there are calls for a fourth arm of government based on the current structures of traditional leadership. In my view, this would be untenable.

“Affording executive powers to traditional leaders would lead to a lack of certainty and accountability and appointments to positions of power that take place outside of the democratic electoral process,” said Bizos. 

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