Government has gone cold on sculptor Danie de Jager’s “beacon of freedom” monument to liberation, freezing his hopes that his “special” relationship with President Nelson Mandela would see his 23m-high fist reach for the sky.
Last week’s exclusive report in the Mail & Guardian on plans to build a gigantic monument modelled on Mandela’s hand at a cost of R50- million sparked a national and international debate on the project’s merits.
Despite government’s vehement assurances that it was not funding the project, artists, museum curators and businessmen questioned the co-operation between President Nelson Mandela’s office, an artist best known for his statues of apartheid leaders, and businessmen who had profited from apartheid.
At a meeting on Wednesday with the committee heading the project, the government pulverized De Jager’s hopes of beginning work on the monument soon, shifting responsibility for a final decision on the project to the Department of Arts and Culture.
The government was represented by Ahmed Kathrada, Fink Haysom and Professor Jakes Gerwel of the president’s office, Minister of Mineral and Energy Affairs Pik Botha and Dr Wally Serote, chair of the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Arts, Culture, Science and Technology.
They once again stressed the need for transparency, public participation and consultation in the formulation of a monument commemorating South Africa’s liberation and suggested the portfolio committee take charge of the process.
The government decided the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology should invite other proposals for a monument from the public, artists and other experts, and consider De Jager’s proposal on its own merits once others were collected.
The meeting agreed with the president’s proposal that an issue of such national importance would best be handled by the Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture. “The committee can conduct public hearings on the need for such a monument, what representative structures may be set up to supervise the process and the contribution various artists may make,” said presidential spokesman Joel Netshitenzhe.
Sandy Prosalendis, project director of the District Six Museum, which records forced removals in the Cape, said when the Mail & Guardian revealed details of the liberation monument planned by De Jager last week, her initial response was that it was an early April Fool’s joke.
“I would have loved the kind of access he has to the president, I wouldn’t have had to do half of my fundraising work,” Prosalendis said. “I would never have had to lobby the Department of Arts and Culture for months to try to get state assistance.
“It is so unfair that De Jager did not have to go through the proper channels and had immediate access to the president. It shows a marked lack of democracy.”
The District Six Museum, which has attracted thousands of visitors, including dignitaries visiting South Africa, gets most of its financial assistance from foreign funders, Prosalendis said. South African business has made minimal contributions.
Prosalendis said the District Six Museum was concerned about the scale of the proposed monument, and the fact that it did not give people involved in the struggle for liberation an opportunity to write their own history or decide on an appropriate memorial.
“We have so many creative people, black and white, who have produced stunning work recording the struggle for liberation,” she said.
The District Six Museum would welcome an opportunity to discuss the monument with its planners, as the struggle against forced removals was an integral part of the struggle for liberation, Prosalendis said.