I am surprised it didn’t happen earlier. Perhaps Nelson Mandela’s reconciliatory message delayed the inevitable. The statues were bound to fall at some point. Any time there is a historical transformation where a repressive regime is brought down and subsequently replaced by a democratic dispensation, statues are bound to fall. They must fall. Remember what happened in Iraq and Libya. Statues fell. When repressive regimes take over they transform landscapes and spaces they occupy. The architecture changes. They erect statues of themselves and those of their heroes. Such statues may be of individuals who had committed the most disgusting heinous crimes against the repressed and colonised persons. The oppressor’s statues are of those he venerates. They are cultural and mental symbols of his conquest. They are de facto cultural maps. They are a statement of his claim.
Statues are high and mighty. They are erected in public spaces for public admiration. They are not placed in the basement below people’s feet. They are put in prominent spaces for celebration and admiration. People look up to statues – both symbolically and in their every day walk. Societies erect statues of their heroes and legends and not of their villains and the despised. Statues of villains and history’s despots are brought tumbling down. South Africa has a already replaced their flag, national anthem and coat of of arms from the apartheid one to the post apartheid ones. This is cathartic for a society and creates closure. It was therefore inevitable for the statues to come tumbling down. Africans need to bring statues of their oppressors down as an important stage in societal healing. In their spaces they must erect statues of their own people. We need statues of Kgama, Bathoeñ, Seepapitso, Sechele and a thousand others more. This will contribute towards self affirmation and social pride. Let the oppressors’ statues find space in our photographs in our history books and museums. Let the statues be removed and be stored in our museums as a painful reminder of a painful past. But let them find no space in our streets and our gardens. Let none of us look up to them for they deserve none of our admiration and veneration. Let the streets and rooftops of our buildings be cleansed of statues of all persons that plundered our land.
Let us not stop there. Let us rename our cities and streets to reflect who we are as a people. Let us rename our buildings and institutions to celebrate our finest people and qualities. In Botswana we have been at the forefront of this process where we have named our schools after our own heroes such as Kgari Sechele, Bathoeñ, Molefhi, Mookami, Kgamane, and others. Our streets also bear the names of those we respect and hold in high regard. This process must proceed, not randomly but systematically, until the inhabitants of this space don’t feel like outsiders in their own land. There will inevitably be debates and contestation around the process. But the process must proceed for communities to completely heal of their painful open wounds.