I spotted this outside the National Gallery on my way to the office this morning. It’s a nice little Heritage Day gift. Interestingly enough, this is not the first time this statue has been defaced, and oddly enough, for an almost exact opposite reason. Please feel free to correct me if my history is a little wrong here, but as far as I recall this statue of Jan Smuts in the Company Gardens, was erected in 1964 and was made by British sculptor Sydney Harpley. Now, no doubt Oubaas was a stuffy colonial hard-nosed bastard who thought of Africans as children and invented the term Apartheid, but he has a strange legacy of segregation at home and liberalism abroad. This rather abstract sculpture by a foreign sculptor caused a huge scandal, partly because of it’s rather avant-garde (for South Africa at the time and probably even now) nature, and partly because it reflects a more liberal Smuts than was regarded appropriate. Even the president at the time BJ Vorster was pretty snide about the sculpture. In a speech to the kids of UOFS, that hotbed of liberal thought and tolerance, in 1967 he said:
“But I say the whole world is in search of a solution to the colour problem. And let me say at once, if a man comes to me with the solution, and he can give me the assurance that he has found the solution, I shall not only accept it, but I shall raise a monument in his honour, and I shall not commission Mr.Harpley to make it.” (from here)
Essentially, Harpley’s vision was at odds with what was accepted at that time. Smuts who had laboured on the ‘colour problem’ had been holistically denigrated by this representation of him. This resulted in the defacing of the statue, I think with the words “Fuck off,” but I can’t remember, and eventually ended in the commissioning of a new Smuts statue on the corner of Adderley and Wale, guarding the Slave Lodge. The second statue is a more sober and majestic representation, better suiting the needs of the Apartheid government.
Either the graffiti artist is very smart and is playing on this piece of history, rejecting the mind-set behind the original defacing, or perhaps should have tagged the more visible and more offensive statue outside the Slave Lodge.
Either way, it does bring home the politicised nature of heritage, and the unquestionable power behind how and who we choose to represent in public.
Later, after my coffee, I stumbled across these in Church Square. Next to the statue of Onze Jan (Jan Hofmeyer, whose son Jan Hofmeyer, was Smuts Minister of Finance, and against party lines a staunch opponent of segregation), these granite blocks were unveiled yesterday, for, you guessed it, Heritage Day. They’re a memorial to the slaves on whose backs Cape Town was built. Produced by Wilma Cruise and Gavin Younge, they’re banded with catch words that reflect the horror of slavery. Their gravestone gravity however, was a little ruined by their remarkable resemblance to Stern’s or American Swiss’ gift boxes. With this ring do I thee wed. I know, it’s a pretty kak metaphor, considering the bizarre intertwining of slavery, power and sexuality in this country. Sorry.