Press "Enter" to skip to content

I’m sick of statues

I don’t want to tap into the anger, the misunderstanding and the adolescent reasoning anymore. I don’t want to be caught up in the wildfire of people who are wilfully ignorant about our past, and I don’t want to jump on some bandwagon either.

1. This is not about a statue

This isn’t just about a statue — we need to stop pretending it is. Yes, I’m looking at you News24 commenters. Let’s stop pretending the core issue is whether a statue should look down at us every day or not (funnily enough, most of us never even get to set eyes on these statues anyway!). The statue is a physical, tangible target in a massive crisis facing South Africa — whether people can live lives that they value, or not.

Get a grip South Africa: Rhodes is not the issue! The movement surrounding statues is not to be underestimated, because it represents the great trek South Africa needs to undertake to instil dignity for all. Incidentally, this trek is undermined by the polarisation along racial lines and the ways in which racial nationalists have tried to make this issue about them.

2. This should not be about racial nationalism, violence or polarisation

Yes, this issue is about transformation, and the inclusion of black voices. But we should not let the people who want nothing to do with the other side (white and black racists alike) take the lead. There’s a great opportunity for South Africa to discuss our shared contexts and identities, to forge a new path together, and learn to be conscious and accepting.

But this journey is not about the four white right-wingers who sing on the side (Steve et al). They can protest in Pretoria, and they can seize the opportunity to pretend they have a sustainable, viable movement in South Africa. We can let them make this about them; or we can tell them to climb off the bandwagon.

In a similar vein, where black people — like Assata Shakur — think that they can use this process to advance violence, instead of dialogue and change, we should show them the door too. Many will be taken by the poetic, revolutionary language of Shakur and her ilk. And some will shut down any dissent by saying “check your privilege” (Jacques Rousseau has asked whether we could perhaps see this as the privilege of avoiding arguments). This kind of stilted, antidemocratic engagement — by way of silencing dissent or pursuing violence — won’t assist in transforming our universities (something I have argued for, here).

3. History cannot be erased

Many people who have an opinion on this debate (and it seems everyone does!) have put forward the idea that history will be erased by the removal (and/or alteration) of the statues (and their prominence). This argument lacks contextual integrity. People need not look up at the boots of a bronze man to remember the past, nor do they need to see monumental memorialisation of the past to understand it.

Without being too glib: It’s 2015. We are inundated with information all the time. There is an ever-present stream of information in our daily consciousness; and unlike any other time in our history, we have been provided with an increasing number of opportunities to know, learn and think. This is the context within which we live.

We cannot erase the past, because it is always present. It affects the way we live, and think and dream. Its effects will go on, even after the statues are gone (or stay standing). However, we can choose to forget our past. We forget our history when we memorialise certain parts of our history, at the expense of others. Perhaps that’s what happens when we honour a man of history without reflecting on the parts of his past that make us uncomfortable?

There’s a great opportunity for togetherness in spite of the division caused by this debate — it comes from appreciating the good of democratic and equal debate. But it also comes from recognising that South Africa needs to be a country where all feel that they can live a life of value, respect and dignity.

I don’t know anyone who’d disagree with that.


  • Thorne Godinho has been a struggling freelance writer, blogger and editor for years. He completed his law degree at the University of Pretoria, and is embarking on an LLM focusing on the intersection between law and democracy at the University of Cape Town where he is a Claude Leon Scholar in Constitutional Governance. Thorne is a committed social liberal. He writes in his personal capacity. Follow him on twitter: @ThorneGo.


  1. Nic Brummer Nic Brummer 9 April 2015

    is it not amazing that when someone writes a reasoned article suggesting a reasonable way forward that the silence is deafening?

  2. YajChetty YajChetty 9 April 2015

    We really need to unite as a nation across all racial divisions against our real common enemy and that is an iniquitous and antiquated financial/banking system which is impoverishing the majority of us and widening the inequality gap between rich and poor through debt, compound interest and fractional reserve banking . This man-made system has served the interests of an avaricious elite for centuries but it can be and needs to be changed to serve the needs of the majority of people in a modern democratic non-racial society both black and white either through a comprehensive public banking system or full 100% reserve banking system together with universal basic income and an independent public money supply authority.The current system enables private banks to create 97% of our money supply (credit) out of thin air when they issue loans and charge us interest on them- very unjust and enriching for the very few.

  3. Arnaud Malan Arnaud Malan 11 April 2015

    Agreed. Past, present and future have a way of playing with our individual identity. At present the Outrage and fighting on either side dominates, and the voice of reason is not heard in the tumult.
    Where the author writes ‘History cannot be erased’, it should read: but it can be camouflaged:
    I am reminded of a tour to Germany in 1989-2007. West was glib, shiny, modern and East Germany dark, grey, depressing. In the West ALL visible traces of 2WW had been removed, in the East the bullet holes of 1945 were still to be found in city centre walls. In one part of Germany’s re-shaped history and new identity I could not find a trace of 2WW excepting the Feuilleton and Arts, and in the other half every step in Berlin or Dresden 2WW was a tangible reminder of Wartime reality. Germany today has the same relentless a-historical shiny efficiency allover , only a couple of metres of the infamous Wall or Checkpoint Charlie have been retained as remembrance of a divided Nation, and the street name changes in GDR after 1990 were swift and ‘cleansing’ ,the new won freedom and unity making way for a proper housecleaning and riddance of redundant or inconvenient baggage. It is to the Humanities and Arts studies one must turn for seeing the amount of soul-searching Germans had to inflict on themselves after the Holocaust to become ‘unburdened’ and ‘move forward’.

  4. Nyanga paNyatate Nyanga paNyatate 11 April 2015

    good article, and very balanced. which is why you see no racist (black and white) comments here. the shallow prefer attacking each other on more trivial rationales.

  5. Mntungwa Mbhulazi Mntungwa Mbhulazi 16 April 2015

    The issue, Ms Liberta, is not as simplistic as or about ‘reading the past’, it has more to do with celebrating the oppressors. Our quest for “unity” does not mean that we should accept, Verwoed’s statue on every park, while uShaka is still demonized on your version of history. We can have no harmony when whites are more likely to be hired as managers whilst we can only hope to be hired as cleaners, Gardners or security guards.

    How do we “forget the past” when it’s presence is tying us to its brick, mortar and bronze?

Leave a Reply