Build and respect, not destroy

Queen Vicotria's statue in Central, Port Elizabeth seems to have picked up a hanging calabash since the protest visit by Khoi activists
Queen Vicotria’s statue in Central, Port Elizabeth seems to have picked up a hanging calabash since the protest visit by Khoi activists

Historical monuments targeted

I URGE all South Africans to read Nelson Mandela’s speech to the Mandela Rhodes Foundation on the centennial anniversary of the Rhodes Foundation in 2003.

It was also the launch of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation which has subsequently, through funding from the Rhodes Foundation, provided generous scholarships to numerous South African students.

It is tough to quote one or two lines from the speech as it is indeed a Madiba classic. However he ends the speech by saying, after he had repeated their names: “It has been an honour to dwell in their ghosts’ company for an evening. Good night Willem Adrian and Cecil John.”

Madiba was not hateful nor at any time did he attempt to throw his faeces on their statues. No, he looked at how he could build something positive out of something negative.

Only short-sighted people take the easier option “to destroy”.

As for the latest debate about trying to eradicate history by throwing faeces and destroying statues, it is a ridiculous and simple solution. Once a statue is destroyed or removed, how do the proponents then go about rewriting the facts and the history books?

You cannot, as the past is the past and has already happened. A starting point though is for proponents of removal actually to understand history.

Not only does history teach us that if we do not learn from its mistakes, then we are doomed to repeat them, but it also teaches us that (with a few exceptions) “evil” men also do some good. The army of Napoleon, even though he unleashed 25 years of Napoleonic Wars, was the first to create an ambulance service, and his laws and restructuring of the civil service in France are pretty much still in place 200 years later. He was that efficient.

Look at two of the greatest German businessman, Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz. They were ruthless businessman.

George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John Quincy Adams and most of the Americans who signed the Declaration of Independence were initially slave owners, yet they were instrumental in creating the greatest nation on Earth today and in emancipating millions of slaves at huge cost. Even the British “colonial masters” had their pros.

They may have built statues and been ruthless colonisers and businessmen, but then what businessman is not quite ruthless? They did however introduce electricity, the Industrial Revolution, roads, planes and government, developed the concept of democracy (that originated with the Greeks), time-lines, global trade, telephones, cricket, rugby and soccer.

This is just a small list, yet they are all colonial concepts. The idea is that we have all added great value.

And Rhodes? I do not idolise him, but I do respect some things he created. By the age of 40 had built an empire that in today’s terms would have been larger than Bill Gates’s empire!

It was the largest business empire on the planet, and made even the Vanderbilts, Gettys and Fords look small. It was a fact that Rhodes was an imperialist, and that many whites and even more blacks suffered as a result of his “Cape to Cairo” quest.

However, in death, he did something massive, he did more for education than any other person in history. His legacy, if left alone, will continue to do so.

Rhodes’s will created the establishment of: ý Kirstenbosch Gardens; ý UCT – more than 300 000 graduates since it was established;

ý Rhodes University – more than 150 000 graduates since it was established;

ý The Rhodes Scholarship and Mandela Rhodes Scholarship – more than 1 000 of the greatest human minds alive have benefitted from this. Graduates have pioneered nuclear technology, the Large Hadron Collider, solar power and others, to being anti-apartheid activists (Bram Fischer), Nobel Prize winners, poets, authors, engineers and presidents;

ý De Beers, which has paid and continues to pay billions in not only salaries to all its employees, but also billions of rands in taxes. At present you could also safely say that the R50-billion in taxes that the ANC government receives from mining companies and employees is largely due to Rhodes.

Would we have heart/lung transplants if it were not for Rhodes/UCT? How many other great leaps would we not have had if it were not for him?

Would we have as effective cancer treatment? Yet people question what Rhodes did for our country or the world.

All that I have done so far is not to justify history but explain some facts and to leave the emotions out as what is needed are solutions. To me, this is primarily an emotive issue and emotions, like religion, are not logical.

Yet still solutions are needed. I have one.

Despite his latter mistakes, 20 years ago Nceba Faku had his 20/20 Vision for Port Elizabeth. It was brilliant. One aspect of his vision was to create the world’s largest Nelson Mandela statue.

What happened to that idea? Lack of funds and Portnet/Transnet would not allow the development to go ahead.

The ANC-controlled government had the chance to create and heal wounds, yet it did not. Now 20 years later, let us once again blame Queen Victoria and Rhodes.

I still believe that there is a much better solution that will, instead of destroying, create so many opportunities and heal many wounds. It requires a smaller budget.

Think of the City Hall precinct, library and the Queen Victoria statue, Route 67, etc that has already been expertly upgraded by the MBDA. Port Elizabeth has brilliant art departments at schools and tertiary level, get the MBDA to use the existing statues and route as the node for a future “art precinct”.

The MBDA and the business sector (I will donate) could contribute towards established artists, schools and the university using the area surrounding the Queen Victoria statue and City Hall to display artworks, statues, bronzes, etc during the year. At the end of each year, two diverse pieces could be chosen to be placed on permanent display.

During the course of the year the area would be a hive of colourful activity. People also bring more safety.

At the same time, art and large art exhibitions spanning cultures and years will naturally mature into its own tourist draw card, something that the city so desperately needs. All cultures will feel comfortable with the mix of old, new, African and post-modern art that could abound around the square. There would be something for everyone.

Or we can go back to destroying. However I must warn proponents of destruction, Mongameli Bobani, Mike Xego, Christian Martin, you cannot choose what history you wish to destroy.

If one thing goes, so must it all. If that is your wish, please also say goodbye to your Mercedes Benz, your football, cricket and rugby.

All are reminders of our colonial past. Or we can compromise and find amicable solutions for all of us as South Africans, as one nation.

I further back my comments up by a simple questionnaire that I asked a young black friend of mine to do with fellow students. The questions were simple – which is more important to you: bringing down statues; finding a job after your studies; eradicating bucket toilets and service delivery in PE’s townships; or crime and corruption?

Not one student thought that bringing down a statue was more important, as we have much bigger issues facing our society and economy, like keeping the lights on.

Perhaps it is time for all of us to re-read Thabo Mbeki’s “I am an African” speech from the launch of the constitution in 1996, where he states: “The constitution whose adoption we celebrate constitutes an unequivocal statement that we refuse to accept that our Africanness shall be defined by our race, colour, gender or historical origins. It is a firm assertion made by ourselves that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.”

We are all born of this land, we all have our history, we should all be doing our best to build and respect than to break and destroy. Good luck.

-Ed Gutsche, Port Elizabeth

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