Preserve and respect heritage

IN recent years there has been a lot of angst about monuments in South Africa, particularly those erected in the colonial and apartheid eras.

Statues have been defaced with paint and splattered with faeces, broken and toppled, set on fire, or removed by the authorities to avoid such a fate as well as placate protestors.

Such was the case with the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town.

Often politically-driven, sometimes the object of rage and vandalism offers the faintest reason for offence. Such was the case with the Horse Memorial in Port Elizabeth, dedicated to the horses killed during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. It was broken and partially toppled under cover of darkness by members of the EFF two years ago.

There have also been incidents where bronze statues were pillaged by scrap metal thieves. The original bronze plaques around the Toposcope in Bathurst were apparently stolen for this purpose. But when plastic ones were made to replace the missing bronze plaques, each one commemorating an 1820 Settler family and the direction in which they dispersed, these too were ripped off.

Sometimes the vandalism appears to be for no other reason than hooligans getting their jollies from destroying something. Cemeteries are a favourite target.

Two years ago vandals struck at the old Settler Methodist Church cemetery on the East Bank, toppling tombstones and shattering stone and glass vases.

Among the headstones damaged was that of Port Alfred’s first black mayor, Eric Jauka, which fuelled a rumour that the vandalism was racially or politically motivated. But a walk through the graveyard revealed the destruction was rampant and indiscriminate, with about 20 graves in the older, “Settler” section of the cemetery having been vandalised as well as 28 graves in the newer section of the cemetery in which mainly black people are buried.

This week we were shown yet another example of vandalism – of two monuments in Nemato, one in a prominent position at the entrance to the township and one in more humble circumstances deeper in Ward 8. The older one, to honour forefathers, is especially in bad condition, which may be a combination of vandalism and neglect.

It is not known how long the monuments have been in a state of disrepair, but one resident cared enough to bring it to TotT’s attention.

We hope the municipality has the means and will to restore and safeguard these monuments, as well as other local monuments which reflect the diversity of our shared history and culture.

– Jon Houzet

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