The person who vandalised the bust of Cecil John Rhodes at the Rhodes Memorial last week has been called “an angel” by the Black People National Crisis Committee (BPNCC).
South African National Parks (SANParks) has opened a case of vandalism, after the face and the top of the head were cut off the bust.
SANParks spokesman Rey Thakhuli said a Table Mountain National Park ranger had noticed the damage last Monday July 13.
“The head of the statue was cut from the bust with what seems to be an angle grinder somewhere between Sunday night or the early hours of Monday morning,” he said.
No one has claimed responsibility for the vandalism, but in Black Lives Matter protests around the world in recent months, statues seen as glorifying racial oppression and colonialism have been defaced and toppled.
Rhodes, a British imperialist and mining magnate was the prime minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896.
BPNCC convener, Songezo Maziz said “Whoever defaced the statue is an angel that was sent by God as this statue does not represent us. These kinds of monuments represent violence against the black community and should have been dealt with, and we hope this can place pressure on the government to remove these kinds of statues.”
Professor Shadreck Chirikure, head of UCT’s department of archaeology, said colonialism was an oppressive system characterised by oppression, human rights violations, and much worse.
“The decapitation of Cecil Rhodes’s statue must be seen within that context, and it is a cry for help from the long suffering, the marginalised. The message is for how long will we suffer?”
However, Professor Chirikure said removing statues in South Africa was not the answer. “The answer lies in addressing the inequalities created by colonialism, by apartheid.”
It was important to ask whose history the statues represented, he said, noting that what really needed to be removed were the ills spawned by the thinking that had allowed the statues to be put up in the first place.
“In pursuit of social justice, removing statues is not essential, what is essential is the need to correct the problems caused by a system which the men cast in bronze created.”
Some of those who visited the Tatler’s Facebook page to comment on the issue shared Mr Maziz’s view while others felt that the bust served as a reminder of the past, teaching future generations “what not to do”.
Leanne van Rensburg said: “Keeping history alive teaches us what is wrong. It’s a reminder of what not to do going forward. How can that be a bad thing?”
Paul Cwave countered that as a “reminder” its purpose would be better served in a museum and not in a memorial.
“If the symbol is not in tune with the values we uphold, it only generates dissonance, and violence is predictable,” he said.
On the SANParks Facebook page, Lori Horn said “people who are destroying history can’t eat their paint and angle-grinders when food runs out”.
Provincial Department of Cultural Affairs and Sports spokeswoman, Tania Colyn, said there had always been a debate about the transformation of the heritage landscape in South Africa.
“Such debates have resulted in, among others, the reinterpretation of statues and monuments and, in certain instances, the removal of some statues or the erection of new ones,” she said.
Ms Colyn said statues belonged to the authority responsible for putting them up and the Department had no control over their restoration or removal.
Mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, Marian Nieuwoudt said anyone wanting to remove a statue that was public property needed to follow due process.
“The City is looking at ways of addressing issues around the symbolism of historical public art which may in today’s context be considered offensive, and there are various mechanisms which could be applied depending on the nature of the public art and its context.”
In the case of the Rhodes Memorial bust, she said someone seeking its removal should have put their case to the owner of the property, the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP), and followed the correct procedures.
TMNP spokeswoman Lauren Clayton told the Tatler that a decision on the monument’s future would only be taken once the police investigation had been finalised.