Statue to be relocated off campus

2018-11-28 06:00
The statue of Pres. M.T. Steyn is to be relocated to a site off the University of the Free State’s Bloemfontein campus.

The statue of Pres. M.T. Steyn is to be relocated to a site off the University of the Free State’s Bloemfontein campus.

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The council of the University of the Free State (UFS) has approved the relocation of the statue of Pres. M.T. Steyn to a site off campus.

This was announced on Friday (23/11) after the council’s quarterly meeting.

The council furthermore requested that the relocation must be done in complete cooperation with the family of Pres. M.T. Steyn.

According to Lacea Loader, UFS spokesperson, the council’s decision followed a recommendation made by the special task team in a report to the rector and vice-chancellor, Prof. Francis Petersen, that the statue should be relocated to a site off campus.

She said the task team consulted widely with various stakeholders, including the family of M.T. Steyn, to gather qualitative data before making the decision.

An independent heritage consultant was appointed to conduct a Heritage Impact Assessment, which included the two-month-long public participation process that was extensively reported in the media.

Petersen said the decision to approve the relocation of the statue to a site off campus followed careful consideration and a robust discussion by the council.

“The decision was not taken lightly, but I believe that it was in the best interest of the university,” he said.

Petersen appointed the special task team earlier this year to develop and implement a framework to review the position of the statue in front of the main building on the Bloemfontein campus.

The team considered four options during the review process, namely the retention of the statue in its current position, the reinterpretation of the statue and the space around it, the relocation of the statue on campus, and the relocation of the statue to a site off campus.

The review process commenced in April and was concluded with a two-month public participation process from 9 July to 9 September.

According to Loader, discussions regarding the repositioning of the M.T. Steyn statue date as far back as 2003, with the issue being raised again at a University Assembly on 28 April 2015.

“In January this year, the university’s integrated transformation plan work stream dealing with names, symbols and spacesembarked on a process of reviewing how space and symbolic representation facilitates or hinders social inclusion in a diverse community.

“The M.T. Steyn statue was identified as a priority to be dealt with within the mandate of the work stream.”

After a student engagement survey on 8 March, the student community, through the Student Representative Council, once again asked for the M.T. Steyn statue to be removed.

Petersen has acknowledged wide consultation with various stakeholders and the urgency of the matter which led to the appontment of the special task team.

“Since there are no precedents for such a process in South Africa under current legislation, this process could result in the development of a protocol to be adopted by any institution to facilitate similar challenges in the future,” he said.

“The executive management supports the recommendation made by the task team for the relocation of the statue to a site off campus, and believes that the public participation process preceding the recommendation was sufficiently thorough, transparent, inclusive, and well-publicised.

“The educational value of the public participation process was also commended by members of the executive. The decision of the executive management to support the recommendation is motivated by one vital consideration: The best interest of the University of the Free State,” Petersen said.

Although the relocation of the statue has the potential to create division within the university community, Petersen believes the public participation process demonstrated the potential for creating a level of tolerance, with different members of the university community listening to the views of others.

“The best way to counteract this imminent division and to develop a deeper level of tolerance, would be to craft a path towards a new and more defined university citizenship focusing on caring or repairing.”

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