Free State divided over calls for removal of colonial statues in Bloemfontein

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Residents of Bloemfontein have expressed mixed views regarding the removal of colonial and apartheid statues in the Free State capital. The Mangaung Metro says it has already started an inclusive process of renaming the streets and places.

The debate is raging over the presence of colonial and apartheid era statues like that of Christiaan Rudolf de Wet.

Some view de Wet’s statue at the Free State Legislature as a concern. De Wet is an Anglo-Boer war hero.

Not far away from the Fourth Raadsaal, as the Free State Legislature is known, lies an imposing figure of Sir Johannes Henricus Brand. Brand was the fourth state president of the erstwhile Orange Free State.

The street in which his statue is located has been named after him. The Brand Street is also the home to the iconic Supreme Court of Appeal.

Residents are not in agreement about the future of some of these statues and renaming of places.

“I’m not concerned about it because statues are something about the past. They must remove everything and there can be no statues,” one resident said.

“We must not concern people apartheid is dead. Street names, statues old buildings, its dead things,” another resident said.

“It doesn’t feel right with apartheid statues and streets should have the names of people we know.”

The Mangaung Metro has already changed street names and buildings and renamed them after struggle icons such as Raymond Mhlaba, Charlotte Maxeke, OR Tambo and Bram Fischer.

Mangaung Metro spokesperson, Qondile Khedama, says they will continue to engage with the public.

“The process of changing names has long started just after 1994, because ours was to mitigate. Remember we cannot erase History but can mitigate. So what we did was to ensure that we engage communities and universities so that the new dispensation is well represented. This statues, as much as they represent oppression, have to be relocated somewhere, but at the same time we need to write the history of liberation.”

Historians say statues and heritage sites in a public place can serve an important educational purpose.

Anthropologist from the University of the Free State, Motsaathebe Serekoane, says even if history is painful it must be preserved.

“History cannot be erased. Monuments are protected by national heritage law. It is important that when people come to Bloemfontein they need to know its history.”

Meanwhile, the University of the Free State says the removal of the Marthinus Steyn statue is imminent. Steyn was the sixth state president of the Orange Free State. The statue’s planned removal is due to student protests.


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