President MT Steyn statue to be relocated to a site off UFS campus

Security surround the Marthinus Steyn statue at the University of the Free State. (Jeanette Chabalala, News24, file)
Security surround the Marthinus Steyn statue at the University of the Free State. (Jeanette Chabalala, News24, file)

The University of the Free State's (UFS) council has approved the relocation of the statue of President Marthinus Theunis Steyn to a site off campus.

Steyn was the sixth and last president of the independent then Orange Free State from 1896 to 1902.

According to university spokesperson Lacea Loader, the decision was made on Friday during the council's quarterly meeting.

The council also requested that the relocation be done in complete co-operation with Steyn's family.

Loader said the decision followed a recommendation from the special task team, which was set up following the family's request.

READ: Plans to cover Marthinus Steyn statue at UFS

The task team consulted with Steyn’s family members, gathered qualitative data, and appointed an independent heritage consultant to conduct a Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA).

Loader said discussions regarding the repositioning of the statue started in 2003, and it was again raised during a university assembly on April 28, 2015.

Earlier this year, the statue was identified as a priority to be dealt with within the mandate of the work stream.

Relocation outside campus

Loader added that, rector and vice-chancellor, Professor Francis Petersen, had numerous consultations about the matter with internal and external university stakeholders, including staff and students, alumni, the SRC, and other individuals.

The university claimed the relocation of the statue to a site off campus would best serve the university's vision for the future.

READ: Security for UFS's Marthinus Steyn statue

Loader added that keeping the statue in its position, elevated and central in front of the building that housed the university's executive management, did not align with the institution's core principles of inclusivity and diversity.

"In fact, a large proportion of our student body is feeling unwelcome (at least in the specific space in front of the main building), as it represents a period in history that they do not feel part of," said Loader.

Background

Steyn was born on October 2, 1857 in Winburg, outside Bloemfontein and died on November 28, 1916 at the age of 58 in Bloemfontein.

He was a lawyer, politician, and statesman. Apart from the statue at the university, he was remembered for his ideals and contributions, together with his family friend Emily Hobhouse, through the unveiling of the National Women's Memorial on December 16, 1913.

The National Women's Memorial in Bloemfontein was the first monument in the world that was dedicated to women and children. 

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