Cenotaph for victims of world wars given facelift

Restorer Josua Strumpfer, of Studio Artaxia, cleans and repairs the Cenotaph in front of the Nelson Mandela Art Museum
Restorer Josua Strumpfer, of Studio Artaxia, cleans and repairs the Cenotaph in front of the Nelson Mandela Art Museum
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

An iconic monument commemorating those who lost their lives in both world wars has been given a facelift as part of Nelson Mandela Bay’s drive to promote the city’s heritage.

Restoration work on the Cenotaph, which towers over the Rink Street entrance to St George’s Park, was concluded earlier this week.

The monument was created in 1929 by sculptor James Gardener to commemorate the men who lost their lives in World War 1.

Further elements were added later to honour those who died in the second global conflict just over two decades on.

Although the Cenotaph had suffered some damage due to vandalism, restorer Josua Strumpfer, of Studio Artaxia, said it had still been in fairly good condition when he started working on it in March.

It was his first time working on this particular memorial, with work stretching over more than four weeks.

Anthony Keogh, of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, acted as consultant on the project.

“It took a whole week to work on the bronze part of the monument,” Strumpfer said.

“The bronze was originally cast in Italy and had to be cleaned. Ideally, this should be done twice a year.”

The stone base was an easier task.

“Stone is very durable. We had to clean it with a high-pressure washer, but it has to be done under 100 bars so as to not damage the stone. That is my job, to clean without causing further damage.”

Further work on the statue included removing graffiti using a chemical poultice to suspend the spray-paint, and repainting the lead lettering in which the names of the fallen had been recorded.

“A lot of the elements merely needed maintenance,” Strumpfer said.

He said the Cenotaph had certainly been an easier project than the work on the Queen Victoria statue after it was defaced with green paint in 2015, for which he was contracted as well.

“This was difficult because of the paint and the porous marble, which made the stains hard to remove.”

He praised the metro for being proactive in maintaining the war memorial.

“It’s great that the metro is having this work done. A monument is like a car in the sense that it needs regular maintenance.

“All the city’s monuments should be maintained, to avoid having to do restoration later.”

Municipal spokesman Mthubanzi Mniki said the Cenotaph project was part of the metro’s campaign to diversify its economy.

“Heritage, arts and culture is one of the areas that the city will focus on, as it has a huge economic potential,” Mniki said.

“This heritage site – which was last repaired in the 1990s – was defaced and there was vegetation growing around the memorial.

“As it is our responsibility to preserve and maintain heritage sites in the city, we went through the supply chain processes to source a suitable service provider to repair the site.”

Aside from this project, which had a budget of R43 000, the metro also plans to repair the Langa Massacre memorial in Uitenhage this financial year.