For now, Steyn stays
A lone statue of MT Steyn, president of the Free State republic during the South African War, stands in front of Jonathan Jansen’s office at the University of the Free State (UFS).
When he invited staff to ‘talk” about whether it should be moved, ‘shrunk” or perhaps be joined by one of King Moshoeshoe, his inbox bulged.
Steyn’s descendants remain prominent members of Bloemfontein society and are all alumni of the university.
This year a fifth-generation Steyn, Colin junior, registered as a first year LLB student at the UFS.
Jansen, who is the vice-chancellor, recently wrote in his weekly letter to staff in which he raises issues affecting the university, that there were differing opinions about the statue. growing number of people felt that it should be moved—some described it an architectural flop that obstructed the view of the building while others felt that the statue represented a one-sided history of the Free State and the country.
There was also a feeling that it could be smaller and that a similar statue of the Basotho leader Moshoeshoe should be erected—the two could be ‘in conversation” to reflect the conciliatory approach of the university, Jansen wrote.
But black and white students and members of staff who spoke to Higher Learning said it should stay. One staff member, who did not want to be named, said Jansen should focus his attention on substantive issues.
‘The university was hurt badly by the Reitz [race] debacle. Once this damage has been repaired, the prof can start meddling with issues such as statues and the names of buildings.”
Another staff member did not mind adding a statue of Moshoeshoe as long as Steyn remained. ‘The [Steyn] statue has been there for years. It is unnecessary to remove it now. Such a move would be dangerous and divide staff and students along racial and cultural lines.”
Colin Steyn, director of public prosecution in the Free State and a great-grandson of MT Steyn, said the debate was unnecessary and illconsidered. He said the reason a statue of General De Wet was not removed in the city in 1995 was because he was a local freedom fighter who fought British imperialism.
‘The same applies to my great-grandfather. He had nothing to do with apartheid. Ahead of negotiations about unification in 1908 and 1909 he emphasised fundamental rights for black people because he was a jurist,” Steyn said.
He said Moshoeshoe was not a South African and did not live in Bloemfontein. Also, the statue was protected by law because it was a national monument.”
UFS spokesperson Lacea Loader said no decision had been taken about the statue. Jansen had simply posed a question to the university community.
‘His letter is not a decision-making forum. ‘He merely tests the waters among staff. He debates,” she said.
Pieter Steyn is not a relative of the general’s descendents