Striated Skies No. 15 – Stay or Go

Striated Skies

This week I wanted my Striated Skies piece to be current and ask questions about current affairs in South Africa. The piece depicts the General Louis Botha Memorial that sits outside parliament in Cape Town. Many South Africans are currently talking about statues, our heritage and the deeper meaning of the symbols that are present in many cities and towns. All of this was sparked by the #RhodesMustFall campaign that UCT students held for the removal of the Statue of Cecil John Rhodes from the campus. If you follow the news you will know that the statue has in fact been removed.

South Africa is a country that protects freedom of speech and this freedom has allowed different groups of people to demonstrate their position on the matter. This has resulted in people getting worried about the possibility of unrest between Afrikaaners, who want to protect their heritage, and Black South Africans ,who do not want a constant reminder of our Colonial past. Government has expressed that we have taken too long to change the memorial landscape of South Africa but have called for a stop to the defacing and destruction of heritage sites and landmarks.

Louis Botha was the first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa from 1910 – 1919. Winston Churchill described him as one of the three most famous generals he knew in his life time. Louis Botha also ensured the postponement of Black voting rights, believed in segregation of black and white and when negotiating with the British in 1902 made many concessions at the expense of Black and Coloured people. Should he Stay or Go?

The General Louis Botha Memorial, by Italian artist Raffaello Romanelli, was initially unveiled on 2 February 1931 in front of the Sammy Marks Building then relocated to its current position in the 1980’s after the building of a parking garage under the parliament entrance square. This memorial commemorates his role in war and as the first prime minister. Should he Stay or Go?

An Audit of Sculptures, Memorials and Monuments of Cape Town  undertaken in 2009 give the following definitions:

  • a monument is a statue, building or other structure erected to commemorate a notable person or event and/or an obelisk, a statue, a building erected in commemoration of a person or event
  • a memorial is  something, especially a structure, established to remind people of a person or event, and/or it is serving to preserve the memory of the dead or a past event
  • to commemorate is to recall and show respect for something or someone in a ceremony and/or to honour or keep alive the memory

The General Louis Botha Memorial was part of this audit. Given these definitions should this memorial Stay or Go?

I am sure that different people will have different answers to the question of Stay or Go. Where I stand on the matter is that the prominence of this statue is not representative of the current South Africa and feel that it should be moved. I believe that it has historical significance and therefore should be given a new home.

My hope for this current debate is that we, as South Africans, look to understand our differences and acknowledge each others truths. That we will learn to listen without reacting and forge a better South Africa together.

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