AfriForum opposes the announcement by Nathi Mthethewa, Minister of Arts and Culture, that government would be opening so-called theme parks to house monuments, symbols and statues of the past. According to the SABC, the Minister announced during a sitting of the National Assembly that “offensive symbols” of the past would be moved to such spaces to be preserved there.
According to Alana Bailey, AfriForum’s Head of Cultural Affairs, any relocation of heritage landmarks is already a problematic solution for sensitivities that communities have about the past. The relocation of these to specific spaces is even more unacceptable, because statues and monuments exhibited in spaces other than those for which they were designed will lose their meaning and can be used to portray people one-sidedly, or can even be targeted. This may lead to dangerous polarisation in the country.
“The park’s management, the context in which these heritage landmarks are exhibited and the maintenance of these can all contribute to destroying mutual recognition and respect between communities. Just as communities must allow each other space to celebrate their respective past contributions, space must also be allowed for their heritage landmarks,” Bailey says.
“When symbols offend one specific group, the solution is not to relocate these symbols, because this means that there is only space for a single ideological narrative. Heritage must be exhibited as objectively and as widely as possible in public areas – therefore, a variety of interpretations must be offered to residents of and visitors to the country. Relocating landmarks to one central point creates the danger that only the park management’s interpretation thereof is exhibited. It would also be difficult for people for whom it has special significance to visit these landmarks. Moreover, taxpayer money will be used for unnecessary appointments and maintenance at a time when the conservation of heritage already faces a lack of funding. Because specific landmarks will disappear from public view, it may create a false perception that only certain communities contributed to the development of the country, or that its history only comprises untainted victims and repulsive perpetrators.”
Bailey adds that the relocation of so-called offensive symbols to parks will not even guarantee the preservation or maintenance of these symbols. “On the contrary, when vandals want to damage it, the concentration of these symbols makes it easier for them to do so.”
As we celebrate Heritage Month, AfriForum encourages communities to treasure their heritage landmarks and contribute to their maintenance and creating awareness for their significance.