While I was researching this week’s column, an article about whether it would be possible to remember South African icons without “expensive statues” caught my attention.
The impetus for the article appears to have been two statues of Nelson Mandela that were unveiled at Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. face criticism Angus Leandertsa founding member of the CAMESA Museum and a PhD researcher in Thinking Through the Museum.
“Statues were typically used in public spaces to represent strength and power,” Linderts said — not history, just what people chose to commemorate. He went on to say that the money could be better used to fight poverty and hunger, to build schools, hospitals and so on.
Although he wasn’t totally against statues, he said they should be balanced against the needs of the community — a fair point.
This argument made me think more deeply about the issue of preserving our history, the stories we choose to tell and our ability to see ourselves and our aspirations in statues across the country.
I don’t think it’s an either-or situation. We can commemorate iconic figures while mobilizing resources to address the social and economic imbalances that hold us back.
The case also drew my mind to the bronze statue of a young girl named Hope at Constitution Hill, just outside the women’s prison, a site that once housed unimaginable horrors of political prisoners, who were tortured and oppressed, as well as the children who died in those cells.
Constitution Hill states: “The jubilant hope in a dancing pose, however, symbolizes the site’s ambivalence – once a place of human rights abuses, [it] He is now watching over the rights of everyone, including children.”
Memory and new ideas
My view is that we are more than the sum of our miseries and deserve the optimistic and inspiring characters that represent it. Although statues, especially in South Africa, have already previously been signs of conquest and power, it is possible to change this script and I believe that statues such as those of Mandela and Hope chart this course.
If the problem is about hospitals, schools and poverty alleviation, we need to challenge the relevant departments and ask them why their budgets are not doing enough to provide the services needed to break the cycle of poverty.
Similarly, in the construction of memorials, the budget allocation and procurement processes need to be scrutinized so that the allocated funds are not exorbitant.
Read more at The Daily Maverick: Celebrating the (not forgotten) struggle heroes
It is important to preserve history and memory, not only in the form of text. It provides more subtle and nuanced opportunities not only to pause and reflect on past experience but also to imagine the people we want to be.
The monuments are also sites for sparking much-needed conversations and ideas on how to build a unified and cohesive identity as a nation.
Indeed, what Leendertz’s assertion did was create a moment of scrutiny of backwardness in certain societies and call for accountability, which is undoubtedly what Mandela He wanted the same. DM
This story first appeared in Our Weekly 168 newspaper, which is available nationwide for R29.