Soweto mall forced to remove statue of slain June 16 hero

A June 16 commemoration statue of Hector Pieterson has been removed from the Maponya Mall “in response to the demands of the Makhubu family”.

The statue was removed in October.

Some members of the Makhubu family and others, including about 100 members of the Economic Freedom Fighters, marched to the Hector Pieterson Museum and the mall on June 16 2014. They demanded “accountability of profits, revenue and other funds received from the 1990s to the present date from the unauthorised name use [of Mbuyisa Makhubu].”

They also called for Makhubu’s name and images to be removed from the museum walls and archives.

The statue, based on Sam Nzima’s iconic photograph of the June 16 uprisings, depicts Makhubu holding a dying Pieterson, running alongside is Pieterson’s inconsolable sister Antoinette Sithole. Its origins are disputed, but a representative for the mall said it was donated by the Soweto Heritage Trust.

The photograph became the symbol of the uprisings. Makhubu was harassed by the apartheid police and fled the country a month later – first to Botswana and then to Nigeria.

Last year, it emerged that a South African bearing a resemblance to Makhubu was in a Canadian jail for immigration charges and had been detained for nearly 10 years. The department of arts and culture initiated efforts to repatriate the man. Canadian authorities said the man refused to co-operate, and his DNA results were subsequently pronounced inconclusive by the department. The Makhubu family is still convinced the man is their flesh and blood, and want him returned to the country.

EFF sticking their noses
In a statement to the Mail & Guardian, Rendani Phaswana, a centre manager at Redefine Properties, which owns the mall, said: “Maponya Mall has been the custodian of the statue, owned by the Soweto Heritage Trust, since 2007. Maponya Mall gained no financial benefit from displaying the statue on behalf of the Soweto Heritage Trust. We have now removed the statue, and will return it to its rightful owner shortly … ”

The removal of the statue can, in part, be attributed to an intensifying family feud over the management of the family’s legacy. The feud has pitted Makhubu’s elder sister Ntsiki against her younger brother Raul.

Family spokesperson Mandla Nyaqela said: “The EFF heard about this march on Jozi FM when we were announcing it. So they decided to come in their own regalia and all that. Because this was clearly a family march, we didn’t have a problem with their presence.

“But now I see them hijacking an internal family issue. They are sticking their noses where they don’t belong.”

Nyaqela has since fallen out with Raul but has been embraced by Ntsiki. Ntsiki was against the removal of the statue, a stance which was at odds with Raul.

Interviewed by the Mail & Guardian on June 16, she said: “The statue and so on do not belong to us, they belong to South Africa … Mbuyisa is our brother, but he is a national hero. So his statue stands.”

Interviewed this week by the M&G, she explained that after the march, she met the mall’s management to discuss how they could benefit from the statue’s presence.

“They’d allowed us to have a stall around the statue, selling his postcards and other paraphernalia.

“We’d spoken about an event on his birthday where we’d explain Mbuyisa’s legacy to passersby because people don’t know who Mbuyisa was and that he was, in fact, an activist. He wasn’t just passing by and happened upon Hector Pieterson. He was in the youth chapter of the Black Consciousness Movement. He was a member of Nayo [National Youth Organisation].”

Justice has been done
Raul, who was ill and was represented by EFF members, approached the mall with a set of demands of his own, leading in part to the statue’s removal.

Asked whether the party was happy about the statue’s removal, Mpho Mabuza, of the EFF’s Ward 40 branch command team, said they were “not happy as such, but we’re glad that justice has been done”.

“They’ve been profiteering from the use of Makhubu’s image and likeness. So I feel this is an admission of guilt.”

Asked how the mall benefited, Mabuza said the statue formed part of the tourism narrative used to

perpetuate the myth of South Africa’s freedom to outsiders. “Maponya Mall was opened in 2007 and when it opened, that statue was there,” he says.

Asked whether the party had taken sides in a family feud, Mabuza said they were guided by the demands laid out in the family’s memorandum handed to the mall on June 16.

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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