Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Durban’s white elephants left to rot

For the past two years, Durban artist Andries Botha’s incomplete elephant sculptures have stood abandoned in Warwick Junction, Durban. Despite Botha’s requests that the artworks be protected while their fate is decided, the artist reported to the Sunday Tribune the sculptures have been vandalised and damaged. He has now taken legal action against the municipality.

The unfinished public artworks, which were commissioned by the Durban City Council at a cost of R1.5-million, have been covered by shade cloth and plastic since February 2010, when Botha and his assistants were ordered to stop work when an ANC councillor complained the artwork resembled the Inkatha Freedom Party logo.

At the time, Botha explained to the Mail & Guardian the elephants, part of a series that has become renowned around the world, represented man’s relationship with nature, and were a symbol of Botha’s Human Elephant Foundation, an organisation founded in partnership with South Africa’s acclaimed conservationist Dr Ian Player.

Globetrotting elephants

Watch our slideshow of Botha’s elephant pieces from around the world.

Watch the slideshow

Head of international and government relations in the Durban municipality, Eric Apelgren, had been impressed by the series, which has been shown in Europe and the United States, and suggested that the artist produce similar sculptures for his hometown.

On Apelgren’s recommendation, Botha made a presentation to various committees, and was asked to create the public art work that would be placed at the new Warwick Avenue interchange, an area undergoing significant revamping in preparation for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

According to Botha, vagrants occupied the area and the works have been vandalised since he was ordered off the premises. “They should present some protection to the site,” he told the M&G soon after work was halted.

In a letter sent to the municipality on the weekend, Botha’s lawyer details the state of the artworks

“The rear elephant has been completely dismantled and destroyed. The centre elephant has been severely vandalised with a major part of its right side removed. In addition to this, the tusks and ears have also been removed. The front elephant is also badly damaged. A major part of its trunk, ears and tusks have been removed. Damage is already visible on other parts of its torso as well.”

He goes on to suggest that the municipality, and Apelgren in particular, failed to deliver on their promises that the work would be protected, and that the artist would hire a private security guard and claim back the costs, as well as claim for damages to the artworks.

Botha is allegedly still owed over R250 000 for his work.

The municipality was not available for comment at the time of this being published.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Lisa Van Wyk
Lisa van Wyk is the arts editor, which somehow justifies her looking at pretty pictures all day, reading cool art and culture blogs and having the messiest desk in the office. She likes people who share her passion for art, music, food, wine, travel and all things Turkish. She can't ride a bike, but she can read ancient languages and totally understands the offside rule.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

‘Exciting’ ramp-up for Covid jabs

As more vaccines arrive in the country, South Africa could administer 420 000 doses a day

Mokgoro was party to talks of his resignation

The North West premier has defied the interim provincial committee’s decision

More top stories

‘Exciting’ ramp-up for Covid jabs

As more vaccines arrive in the country, South Africa could administer 420 000 doses a day

Mokgoro was party to talks of his resignation

The North West premier has defied the interim provincial committee’s decision

Richard Calland: Cyril’s wicked cabinet conundrum

Three weeks ago, a second term for the president seemed a safe bet, but the insurgency has thrown the puzzle pieces in the air

ConCourt finds that protection of LGBT+ rights was intrinsic to...

The court also found that the term hurtful should be excised from the Equality Act in that it did not meet the justification threshold in the Constitution and gave Parliament 24 months to do so

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…