Respect our history

For the past two weeks, students, universities, political parties and government have been debating the merits of retaining statues that hark back to South Africa’s pre-democratic era.

Statues of Cecil John Rhodes and Paul Kruger have been vandalised, with students reasoning that the statues are reminders of the pain inflicted by the deeds of these oppressors and that they should give way to heroes of the struggle that ushered in democracy. Political point-scoring has followed, with politicians using the opportunity to deface the statues in what others regard as lawless acts that should be actionable by police.
That these statues are divisive is a given. What they represent – part of this country’s chequered history – remains as record, even if they should be removed or replaced. Placing them in a national, underground archive to rot serves to simply paint over a part of this country’s history. As horrific and wrong as apartheid was, it actually happened and if nothing else, these statues serve as reminders of how we arrived at our present day democracy.

Perhaps moving and adapting them so that they become part of an enlarged monument that speaks of a broader historical context is a solution to consider. Importantly, the contribution of struggle heroes must be reflected in the public spaces that surround us. Many of these people placed their lives on the line to help bring about the change that led to an equal society where everyone enjoys the same freedoms.


Toti’s local history also has its heroes and villains, some of whom reflect both sides of the coin depending on one’s perspective. Andrew Zondo is one such character.

The name of the man who bombed the Sanlam Centre in December 1996 today graces the main arterial road through the area, adding to the pain of families who lost loved ones that fateful day. Andrew’s father, Pastor Aiken Zondo, gave credence to the tenets of Nelson Mandela’s ideal of reconciliation when he sympathised with the outrage around the city’s controversial renaming of Kingsway a few years ago. He said naming the main road in the very area where people died would rub salt in the wounds of those who lost loved ones in the bomb blast. Exalt his son’s sacrifice elsewhere, but not where his handiwork claimed lives and tore families apart, he said.

Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa has said that these national monuments “…demonstrate a particular aspect or time of SA’s natural or cultural places or objects. Also, they may hold strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.”

Government claims to promote a transformative national agenda, in which it accepts that the past cannot and should not be completely wiped out, for fear of repeating the same mistakes that have gone before. However, the Toti community would argue the renaming of the road has vengeful tendencies and does nothing to advance the cause of unity. To espouse a spirit of reconciliation, the city of Durban would do well to undertake a consultative process to hear all participants and decide once and for all what best serves not only the public of today but the memory and legacy of Andrew Zondo as well.



Michelle Izatt
Managing Editor

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