The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has denied accusations that the vandalisation of colonial- and apartheid-era statues in public spaces by party members was merely an attempt to garner votes ahead of the 2016 municipal elections.
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, EFF secretary general Godrich Gardee said the party had been accused of seeking attention every time it raised issues relating to transformation, corruption and economic freedom.
He said the EFF stood accused of seeking attention when it questioned President Jacob Zuma about public spending on his Nkandla homestead. Gardee said that when the EFF told South Africans to occupy land “owned by foreigners living in the United Kingdom and Europe, who have never even been to South Africa, we are accused of seeking attention.
“And now we are accused of politicising the removal of colonial statues because the 2016 [municipal] elections are around the corner. Yet nothing is said when the ANC gives food packets to pensioners and gives away title deeds to RDPs [RDP houses],” said Gardee.
‘Louis Botha is not our hero’
He told the M&G that EFF leader Julius Malema first mentioned the removal of colonial statues in his June 2014 response to Zuma’s State of the Nation address. Malema had accused parliamentarians and the ANC of preserving General Louis Botha’s statue at Parliament.
“Louis Botha is not our hero and cannot be a hero of a democratic South Africa … The statue of Botha outside this Parliament must go down, because it represents nothing of what a democratic South Africa stands for,” he said.
Malema said Botha was a colonial warmonger who fought for black and indigenous people to be excluded from running their own country and affairs. This was why the EFF had joined students in vandalising statues, Gardee said. He said the ANC had not taken the issue of transformation seriously.
But ANC communications head Keith Khoza disagreed. He told the M&G that the ANC supported the removal of such statues but that the process required public engagement and support.
“We are saying the statues must be removed, but we must also discuss where we take them so that they continue to be a reflection of our history. We are saying if you take a statue to a museum, there must be a narrative that accompanies the statue. We support it [the removal of pre-democracy statues], but it must be done properly,” said Khoza.
‘We can’t forget our history’
He pointed out that the ANC had changed street names in a way that neither polarised nor disregarded minorities in South African society. Khoza said transformation was taking place on a daily basis, and that the ANC had headed the call for the removal of apartheid- and colonial-era statues.
“If you go to any society, they preserve their history. It might not be in the public eye but kept in museums, removed from the public eye. If you look at the Holocaust, photographs that show what happened there have been preserved. And accompanying the photographs are narratives of how humanity suffered. We can’t forget our history, but we need to accelerate the process of engagement,” said Khoza.
Gardee said the attitude of the ANC was too accommodating. He said the statues were not hidden in museums but were in public spaces, and therefore traumatic reminders to black Africans of how they were disenfranchised and oppressed.
“Do you know who Hitler is? Do you know where Tel Aviv is? Have you seen a statue of Hitler in Tel Aviv? Do you think Israel will allow for such a statue to be erected and call it a part of their history?” asked Gardee.
Political analyst Tinyiko Maluleke said the issue of the removal of apartheid- and colonial-era statues would go beyond the 2016 municipal elections. He said the slow pace of transformation underpinned the anger that was being directed at the statues.
“This is not about the statue of a dead man, but the colonial statues have become a vehicle to carry out conversations South Africa has postponed. The treatment of labourers, the treatment of miners, the fact that education institutions have not transformed are all the cause of this. It has been 20 years and people are still landless and they have been waiting for transformation long enough,” said Maluleke.
He said the issue of transformation was already a political one and could therefore not be politicised. It related to economic factors such as resources, land and human capital. “We cannot accuse anyone of politicising it,” he said.