The transformation of Pretoria’s heritage landscape

Mbali Mkhithi

The Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, gave feedback on the ministerial task team’s investigation into the transformation of the country’s heritage landscape. According to this feedback, Pretoria is to keep its name and the statue of Paul Kruger on Church Square. The response is a result of the national consultative meeting that was convened by the minister in 2015 following the #RhodesMustFall protests ignited by UCT students, where students destroyed statues of colonial figures which led to a wider movement to decolonise education. The process initiated by Mthethwa in 2015 was a reaction to the controversy surrounding statues in public spaces and the national debate over the transformation of the heritage landscape in order to foster a new national identity.

At the time of this movement and controversy, the statue of Paul Kruger on Church Square was fenced off as it was also under threat of being vandalised since it was considered to be a colonial and apartheid-era monument. The chairperson of the South African Geographic Names Council, Johnny Mohlala, told Pretoria News that the brass statue of Kruger and his burghers would remain as part of the redevelopment of Church Square and will be joined by Kgosi Mampuru II, whom the Pretoria central prison was named after. Pretoria residents should expect to see, as part of the plan, new statues in conversation. Among the resolutions taken by the ministerial task team was the need to create national consciousness and civic awareness using shared symbols such as the flag and national anthem, while offensive names and other "symbols of hate" should be removed. Where such symbols reflected separate histories, an idea was birthed to create public spaces where they may be retained but grouped with others to offer a narrative of our shared history. This compromise can be seen in Pretoria, where streets such as Hans Strijdom and Voortrekker have been renamed to Solomon Mahlangu and Steve Biko respectively. Pretoria also has Steve Biko Hospital and Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University and new monuments such as Freedom Park and the Living Women’s Monument.

A Political Sciences lecture at UP, Dr Mabutho Shangase said, “Going back to historical symbols, most of them are very divisive because primarily as Africans and other disadvantaged groups we were not in power, so these previous symbols were created by the regime that was in power at the time or regimes that [came] even before the apartheid regime. Now, they exemplify the hegemony of those cultures.”

When asked if there were enough historically inclusive symbols, statues and monuments within UP, he said “I don’t think there are because they are historical they reflect the perspective [of the] group that was dominant and that was responsible for the construction of the university itself. I think they are embedded within that history.”


Photo: Elmarie Kruger

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