We could have done more over 21 years: Mthethwa

2015-04-09 10:58
Nathi Mthethwa (Netwerk24)

Nathi Mthethwa (Netwerk24)

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Cape Town - The ANC government could have done more since 1994 to erect statues representing the new South Africa.

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa made the comment on Wednesday in the midst of the controversy surrounding statues which has swept the country over the past few days.

After criticism about a lack of government leadership regarding this thorny issue, Mthethwa said in an exclusive interview with Beeld that he would "within a day or two" announce a national day of dialogue on the future of the country's colonial statues and monuments.

During the occasion, which is being planned for this month, political parties, interested groups and students would enter into a conversation about South Africa's controversial statues and monuments and deliberate on the way forward.

Nation building

Mthethwa said he understood people's anger and frustration.

“It is the pains of nation building and is not about the statues per se.

“The statues represent what people see as racialism. People’s anger is an expression of their frustration with the slow pace of transformation. People start looking around and say things are the way they are because this specific person is being glorified.”

Only a handful of statues of black prominent heroes had been erected since 1994.

A nine-metre statue of former president Nelson Mandela was unveiled at the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 2013 and a Mandela bust was erected in Parliament last year. Parliament has also recently acquired statues of Walter and Albertina Sisulu.

Mthethwa noted that there were not enough statues and symbols of black heroes and the ANC government had constructed too few new images over the past 21 years.

“Yes, we could have done more. We could have been much quicker,” he said.

The anger boiling over now was not surprising, Mthethwa said.

National Heritage Act

“It was bound to come. That is why the government has put mechanisms in place to deal with that, so when it comes, our democracy should be able to process that. The promulgation of the National Heritage Act of 1999 was no accident. It was something born out of a vision that such things would happen.”

In terms of legislation, if an entity or community want a statue or monument shifted or removed, a 30-day public consultation must be held. This included public notices, as well as an invitation to interested parties to comment. Without this no statue could be removed, Mthetwha said.

He spoke out strongly against the vandalism of statues and said people should not take the law into their own hands, but should follow the correct procedures if they had objections.

His department had so far not received an official request for the removal of a statue in any part of the country.

According to Mthethwa, the government's attitude and policy towards heritage sites, including statues of colonial-era heroes like Cecil John Rhodes and Paul Kruger, was based on a national policy of reconciliation, nation building and social cohesion.

Cultural significance

“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.”

Therefore, dialogue and negotiations were necessary when deciding on the future of the country's controversial statues and monuments.

“Our democratic transition was a negotiated transition. We are known for our excellent ability to engage each other. To sit around a table, thrash out problems and move forward. We say we should be able to do that again.”

He said change was a "painful process", but nation-building could not be done without change.

Read more on:    nathi mthethwa  |  cape town  |  monuments debate

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