/ 25 July 2023

Fikile Mbalula: Mandela statues an embarrassment to the ANC

All eyes on Mbalula press conference
ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula

Days after President Cyril Ramaphosa unveiled another set of statues in honour of Nelson Mandela, ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula has criticised the move as a waste of resources.

Mbalula told a media briefing on Tuesday at the ANC’s local government interventions workshop that Mandela would be “turning in his grave” over the statues.

“Statues are built but at the detriment of local municipalities where you find Mandela’s name is used. Mandiba himself would be turning in his grave where his name is misused and millions of rands are spent on statues,” said Mbalula, who has lately been on the warpath,  calling out ANC leaders who he says are failing to execute their duties in government.

Mbalula has this week found himself in hot water with Ramaphosa after he said Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan needed to fix the troubled state Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa or face the chop. 

Mbalula was taken to task by the ANC’s number one, forcing him to release a statement, which has been perceived as an apology. 

He also raised the ire of his comrades in the ANC when he criticised premiers, singling out Gauteng’s Panyaza Lesufi as the only one doing his job properly. 

On Tuesday, Mbalula criticised ANC councillors for erecting and commissioning statues of Mandela, saying this was an “embarrassment” to the party. 

“I’m not going to be at Luthuli House explaining statues of Mandela. Everyday, Mandela statues at municipalities. These statues are expensive. Why do you prioritise Mandela statues?” he told journalists.

“Every council when they run out of ideas they produce a statue. It cannot be that under the ANC we have 100 statues and that is our account and we must be reminded by social media and our critics that we are doing something wrong.

“We can’t, we must stop ourselves, we are in charge. The buck stops with us. This is what this workshop is helping us to do, to say stop shooting ourselves in the foot. Do what is right with the little that we have.”

Mbalula said ANC municipalities had failed to profile their good work and instead councils were known for infighting. He suggested that they should rather honour Mandela’s legacy by preserving his heritage.  

“Kids must be learning about Madiba’s long walk to freedom in libraries, not on statues,” he said, adding that action would be taken against municipalities spending money “recklessly” on things that did not align with the ANC’s conscience. 

“Our economy is in recovery, we need to spend well. Every cent allocated must be spent well and there should be no rollovers. Statues are built but at the detriment of local municipalities where you find Mandela’s name is used. The ANC in 2023 cannot be explaining statues. Even when you look at the statues it is not respectable.It doesn’t look like Mandela,” Mbalula added. 

Ramaphosa was criticised for the statues unveiled last week on what would have been Mandela’s birthday. Mthatha residents said they needed services and not another statue. 

The statues at the Nelson Mandela Museum’s Bhunga Building in Mthatha and the Qunu Youth and Heritage Centre were part of the festivities for International Nelson Mandela Day, celebrated on July 18 annually. This year would have been Mandela’s 105th birthday. 

Lindokuhle Baloyi, who is from the Eastern Cape but works as a librarian in Alexandra township in Johannesburg, earlier told the Mail & Guardian that Eastern Cape was a poverty stricken province and the money invested in the statutes should rather have been used for development.

“Yes, Tata [Mandela] should always be celebrated for his contribution to the struggle but I think doing other things like building bridges, schools and roads in the Eastern Cape would have made sense,” he said.

Baloyi said there were already countless images, statues and buildings paying homage to the country’s first democratically elected president. “Tata loved children, why not do something that aligns with that to honour him?”

A teacher at the Milton Mbekela Senior Secondary School in Qunu, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “We do not have enough resources in our schools; no books and food for our learners. Mandela believed in education, so why not invest in that? What will a statue do for us?”