Cape Town – President Cyril Ramaphosa used his Heritage Day address to throw his weight behind the removal of apartheid and colonial statues, saying any symbol, monument, or activity that glorifies racism and the country’s ugly past has no place in democratic South Africa.
These should be repositioned and relocated, he said.
“This has generated controversy, with some saying we are trying to erase our history,” Ramphosa said.
The DA earlier this month condemned the move by the Department of Sport, Arts, and Culture, saying it “aimed to create sanitised public spaces reflecting government-approved history”.
But Ramaphosa said: “Building a truly non-racial society means being sensitive to the lived experiences of all this country’s people. We make no apologies for this because our objective is to build a united nation.”
The struggle against apartheid was aimed at ensuring that all South Africans would reclaim their dignity.
“Restoring their dignity is the preoccupation of this administration. We come from a history of prejudice and exclusion, and since democracy we have worked to transform the heritage landscape of our country.
“The naming and renaming of towns and cities forms part of this, as well as the erection of new statues and monuments.”
The president also weighed in on the recent racist hair ad which was removed from Clicks’ website following public outrage.
“With the same determination, we must stand firm against attempts to disrespect our country’s women through crude forms of representation in the media, in advertising, and in popular culture. An offensive hair advertisement that was recently published shows that we still have a long way to go.
“It is disheartening to see that in democratic South Africa, there are still crude stereotypes of black women being put on public display.
“As much as we celebrate our customs and traditions on this day, let us also appreciate that in practising our cultures freely and openly, and in speaking our native languages, we are reclaiming not just our heritage, but our pride and our dignity as South Africans.”
Lobby group, the Black People’s National Crisis Committee has welcomed Ramaphosa’s statement, saying the historic decision comes at a time when the presence of colonial symbols in public spaces provokes anger from the majority of South Africans whose ancestors were murdered.
The organisation said removing apartheid and colonial statues would be a victory for black people.
“The debate around colonial symbols was ignited by the emergence of the #RhodesMustFall Movement which started at UCT on March 9, 2015 when Chumani Maxwele threw human excrement at the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, and it is rather unfortunate that five years on these problematic symbols are still glorified in public spaces.
“We believe this is a victory to the black nation and it must be celebrated when we finally remove these statues,” they said.
Maxwele, the movement’s international organiser, said on Thursday that it has always maintained that colonial statues and symbols that do not unify South Africans must be removed from public spaces.
“On this Heritage Day in South Africa, as young political activists from #RhodesMustFall South Africa, we are very pleased with the endorsement by both the Cabinet and President Ramaphosa that says the colonial statues and colonial symbols must be removed to museums and theme parks.”