PORT Elizabeth’s well-known Horse Memorial was attacked yesterday as the EFF’s countrywide campaign to damage or destroy colonial and apartheid-era statues and memorials gained traction at the weekend.
The impressive bronze statue, dedicated to the thousands of horses that died on active duty in the Second Anglo-Boer War between 1899 and 1902, was erected in 1905. It depicts a soldier kneeling before his horse, holding a drinking bucket under the horse’s mouth.
According to bystanders, a group of about 30 men dressed in red jumped over the spiked fence surrounding the statue, clambered onto the stone base and toppled the kneeling soldier before jumping into cars and racing away.
The EFF claimed responsibility minutes later and vowed to target more statues in the Bay this week – starting with Despatch.
However, there are no statues of real historical significance in Despatch.
The Horse Memorial stands on an inscribed stone plinth and its base forms a water trough.
The memorial, a provincial heritage site, was moved from its original position in Park Drive, where it was used as a drinking trough, to the intersection of Cape Road and Russell Road in the 1950s.
Last week, Uitenhage’s war memorial was torched and the Paul Kruger statue in Pretoria’s Church Square was defaced with lime green paint on Sunday afternoon in a move that sparked racial tension.
The Uitenhage incident received global media coverage.
Lobby group Afriforum has called for all heritage statues and monuments to be placed under 24-hour surveillance.
But while Tshwane has since put up security around the city to guard against the further vandalising of historic statues after the defacing of the Paul Kruger statue, police in Nelson Mandela Bay would only say that they were on high alert.
Port Elizabeth resident Caitlyn Granger, 48, was shocked by the drama that played out in the city just a few metres from the garage where she was filling her car with fuel yesterday.
“It was like a swarm of red ants attacking the man and his horse,” she said.
“I heard the commotion and went around the corner to see them tugging and pushing at the statue.
“The whole thing seemed so violent. The next moment, some of them cheered as the statue toppled and hit the ground. Then they just ran away.”
Paul Are nd ts, 54, described the group running across the road as “a red wave” that then jumped into waiting cars and sped off.
“I was driving up Cape Road and thought it was just some protest march,” he said.
“But when I saw the statue with the soldier missing, I stopped to find out what had happened.
“I drive past the Horse Memorial every day. It is one of our well-known landmarks.
“It breaks my heart to see what these people have done to it.”
The police responded quickly and one man, dressed in a red EFF-branded T-shirt and believed to be one of the getaway drivers, was arrested shortly afterwards.
Humewood police station commander Brigadier Ronald Koll said the 68-year-old man was arrested in North End 30 minutes after the incident, but was later released due to lack of evidence.
Municipal spokesman Roland Williams described the incident as “absolute hooliganism”.
“These actions are ridiculous and totally unacceptable,” he said.
“Under no circumstances can we tolerate such lawlessness and anarchy.
“The perpetrators must face the full might of the law.”
Williams said he would have to consult with the mayor and deputy mayor to discuss what measures could be put in place to prevent the further vandalising of memorials and other historic sites in the Bay.
EFF Nelson Mandela Bay regional deputy chairman Bo Madwara said: “It was one of the statues that fighters identified that represent a painful past.”
He criticised the moves to guard some of the statues and monuments as a waste of resources.
The EFF is also calling for the removal of Jan van Riebeeck’s statue from Adderley Street in Cape Town.
The outcry over the statues was sparked by University of Cape Town students who demanded the statue of Cecil John Rhodes be removed from campus.
A meeting to decide the fate of the Rhodes statue will be held today.
Meanwhile, Madwara said the party had resolved to intensify its actions in the Bay.
“These statues are scattered all over Nelson Mandela Bay and we want to make contact with all of them, one way or the other.
“We will topple or damage them,” he said.
“These statues cannot be in our faces as if they are something to be proud of.
“The arrogance of racist whites is further strengthened by these colonial statues in public. They must be taken to a museum.”
The first statues to be targeted would be in Despatch, Madwara said.
“There is this notion that Despatch is a white town but it is part of the greater Nelson Mandela Bay so it cannot operate as an island.
“This week, we will make contact with at least two statues and we want to start in Despatch. The message is simple: these statues must fall.”
Afriforum chief executive Kallie Kriel said yesterday the state had an obligation to protect heritage monuments.
“We can start by putting up CCTV cameras to identify the perpetrators and punish them harshly,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we cannot physically be at all statues and monuments all the time, but certainly the most popular ones should be guarded.”
Kriel said strong political leadership was needed to calm the situation before it spiralled out of control.
DA Bay caucus leader Retief Odendaal called for a national debate on the issue of the statues.
UDM provincial chairman councillor Mongameli Bobani said: “Afriforum must support what the majority of South Africans are supporting which is to remove these statues and put them in a museum.”
Bay ANC regional task team coordinator Cheeky Makasi said: “Let’s not be anarchists and burn. The statues should be taken and placed at a museum and not destroyed.
“How would we determine which statues to guard and which not to, if it came to that?”
Uitenhage police spokesman Warrant Officer Basil Seekoei said police had identified three suspects with regard to last week’s torching of the statue in the town and arrests were imminent.