Any statue or symbol from the apartheid past is welcome in South Africa – except those of Dr HF Verwoerd – says ANC national spokesperson Jackson Mthembu.
He was reacting after a political storm erupted this week over the removal of a bust of Verwoerd outside the offices of the DA-controlled Midvaal municipality in Meyerton.
There are only two places left in South Africa where Verwoerd statues are welcome – the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria and in the Afrikaner enclave of Orania.
A number of statues of Verwoerd and other leaders from South Africa’s previous dispensation now lie next to each other in storerooms at the monument, where they are occasionally exhibited to visitors.
The Meyerton bust was hastily removed on Wednesday by its owners, the Klip River Cultural Association, to “protect its best interests”.
Mthembu said apartheid was part of the country’s history and statues and symbols from the period still stood all over South Africa.
“It is not ANC policy to remove them left and right, but Verwoerd is a different case,” he said.
“He is the personification of apartheid and to look at statues of him is to relive the pain of the inhuman circumstances he put black South Africans in on a daily basis.
“We, however, do not have a problem with any other apartheid heritage symbols and we are even prepared to move the (Meyerton) Verwoerd bust to the Apartheid Museum, where it belongs.”
Regarding streets and places in ANC-controlled municipalities that are still named after Verwoerd, he said: “If the communities there don’t have problems with it, we will not change them.”
Lindiwe Mazibuko, DA spokesperson, said the ANC’s sudden interest and “manufactured hysteria” over the Meyerton bust was an attempt to shift attention away from the true issue of the coming elections: service delivery.
In an underground storeroom at the Voortrekker Monument are the statues and portraits of heads of state of apartheid governments.
“People send us the works when they are no longer welcome by the current dispensation,” said General-Major Gert Opperman, chief executive of the Voortrekker Monument and the Heritage Foundation.
“Others come to us out of fear that they may be destroyed and be sold as scrap. We keep them safely until the political dust has settled.”
Many of the images were removed from the union buildings when the ANC took over.
The bust of former president FW de Klerk is stored in an airconditioned room with those of all the prime ministers from 1910 to 1994.
Many busts of Verwoerd that were kept in public spaces in Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Centurion have been brought here.
Cecilia Kruger manager of heritage conservation at the Voortrekker Monument said they had about 100 works depicting former presidents.
“Some of them come to us in poor condition. We then restore them to their former glory.”
Opperman said the government had removed Verwoerd statues from nearly all the places they were to be found.
“There are, however, still statues of other political leaders in the country’s big cities, with scores of Verwoerd statues from across the country taken in by Orania.”
Freddie Peters of the Klip River Cultural Association said the bust, which stood in front of the municipal offices for about 28 years, was in safe hands in a secret location “as a result of intimidating threats that it could be damaged”.
After the removal the association held an emergency meeting attended by chairman of Die Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge Professor Danie Goosen, to discuss the future of the statue.
Goosen said: “In South Africa the majority makes the decisions for everyone and minority groups don’t have meaningful input, which leaves their wants and wishes lagging behind.
“Instead of relying on the state, these minority groups should adopt a can-do attitude to look out for their own interests.”
Peters said it was unfortunate that the Verwoerd statue had become “a political toy”.