News | Opinion
Given the worldwide protests about “Black Lives Matter” and the attendant attacks on symbols of the era of colonialism and slavery, it was perhaps to be expected that someone would, at some stage, make a statement by defacing the statue of Paul Kruger in Church Square in Pretoria.
In daubing the statue with blood-red paint and writing the word “killer”, the unknown protesters were trying to strike at a part of white, Afrikaans history, seen as the font of all evil in South Africa. Yet, the historical reality is that, in leading his country, the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, against Imperial England, he was fighting the first real anti-colonial war in Africa.
Another reality also possibly ignored by the defacers was that, if you put “blood” on the hands of Paul Kruger, then you should do the same to the statues of Zulu King Shaka, whose impis slaughtered tens of thousands.
So, history can be a highly subjective topic – not to mention a highly emotive one.
In many ways, the current global turmoil over racial injustice might be an opportunity to press the “reset” button and look at where we came from with a dispassionate eye.
That past hurt many people and, to them, concrete reminders of that past, including statues and place names, serve only to keep old wounds open.
On the other hand, we should not toss our history into the rubbish bin. We can still learn lessons, both positive and negative, from it.
Perhaps we should gather up all those old statues and consign them to a museum.
If we all accept that the past is, indeed, a completely different country, then we can move forward to some semblance of national unity and a common identity.
We owe it to our children and grandchildren to leave them a place where they won’t have to deface statues.
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