Destruction of monuments a diversion from true transformation

The Democratic Alliance has condemned the senseless call by the EFF for the destruction of monuments, resulting in the “necklacing” of the Uitenhage war memorial by its members as well as the defacing of the Paul Kruger statue in Pretoria.

paul kruger statue

History cannot be erased, nor should it be desirable to do so in a South Africa with so much to learn from the past.

It is precisely the failure to learn from the oppression and deep suffering of the South African War, that contributed towards the rise of Afrikaner nationalism that found political expression in the construction of the Apartheid edifice, and the oppression of millions of South Africans.

Attempting to destroy this monument in Uitenhage only reaffirms an ignorance of the past that does not serve the democratic project.

The historical mission handed over to us by our first democratic President Nelson Mandela, challenges us to pursue a truly transformed, inclusive society based on reconciliation.

Lasting transformation requires the commitment of society in its diversity, and a capable state that promotes substantive equality by expanding opportunities for more citizens. Transformation is not a single, populist event, and it cannot be driven by anger and hate.

President Mandela did not support the destruction of monuments, but rather the building of new ones, and the incorporation of existing monuments into an inclusive vision for the future of our society.

This inclusive vision can only be achieved through constructive dialogue that recognizes the pain of our past, and a creative re-imagining of our public spaces and monuments.

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We would do well to remember the words of former Chief Justice Pius Langa in his 2006 speech on transformative constitutionalism:

“There is no right way to deal with the immense violation that was apartheid. But, as a society, we must keep alive the hope that we can move beyond our past.

That requires both a remembering and a forgetting. We must remember what it is that brought us here. But at the same time we must forget the hate and anger that fuelled some of our activities if we are to avoid returning to the same cycle of violence and oppression.”

Of course it is easier to destroy than to build and create, but that is no excuse for mindless criminality.

As concerning as the destruction of monuments, is the tendency toward the outright removal of them, as we see at UCT, rather than rising to the intellectual challenge of incorporating them into powerfully inclusive spaces that affirm a vision for the future.

Universities, as the intellectual hearts of our country, should be leading the national debate through the creation of visibly inclusive campuses. And the debate can and must go further toward addressing the scandalous lack of support, both educational and financial, for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

To place the blame for a lack of progress on statues, many over a century old, makes a mockery of the cause of true transformation in our society.

This while education and health services remain fundamentally unequal, institutions that should provide for equality before the law are under threat, and redress measures continue to empower a small elite rather than ordinary South Africans.