What should South Africa do with its monuments to apartheid?

Yvonne Mhilauli was only 22 years old when she was sent to jail for holding a white man’s hand. – We were ill treated here, black Africans were tortured. So life here was hell. Her old prison is now a museum that celebrates the new South Africa and offers warnings to never return to that past. When young people now walk past this jail and they come and they use it as a museum, what do you want them to take away from this? – I want them to take something like: this place was a place of torture for our parents and our grandparents. Now it’s a beacon of hope in South Africa. Since the end of apartheid South Africans have worked hard. to give buildings such as this prison new meaning. But monuments celebrating now controversial leaders are proving harder to reclaim. As many countries grapple with how to memorialize a difficult past, challenges here in South Africa offer lessons for the rest of the world. I’m Lynsey Chutel. This is Quartz. Subscribe to our channel. As a South African I am still trying to figure out along with everyone else, how to deal with the past. We must acknowledge the violence and oppression of apartheid. without being overwhelmed by retribution. And that means living side by side with buildings and monuments that can still illicit pride or pain. For the so-called born free generation, those born after the end of apartheid, some monuments left standing. no longer represents South Africa and should be destroyed. At Cape Town University a statue of the British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes, triggered an international protest movement called Rhodes Must Fall. The statue was removed in 2015 and now other monuments are being protected against potential vandalism. The monument to Paul Kruger, the president of South Africa during the Civil War at the turn of the 20th century, still stands, despite calls for its removal as a symbol of apartheid. We ask those in the square what they thought of the statue. – I don’t mind the monument. We know these guys…they were bad for us. But we all forget. We want to work together build South Africa. – It’s very important for the people to know the history. In Zulu, they put it like this:. Indlela i buzwa kwa ba phambili. We are trying to say – everything that you see, you have to ask your elders. That’s why we need the history here. This desire to keep history visible in everyday life has led some monuments to be added to it rather than destroyed. The Voortreker monument was opened in 1949, just months after apartheid became policy. It was built to honor the history of the Afrikaner people in South Africa. Different people come up to this monument and see entirely different things, some people’s pain is another group’s heritage and that’s why the Freedom Park memorial not far from here. is so important, because the two monuments are kind of in a national dialogue with each other, telling a different perspective of the same difficult history. For some white South Africans this is a memorial to the pioneering spirit of their forefathers. For other South Africans, it’s a reminder of stolen land, enslavement and oppression. Across the hill is Freedom Park built in 2004 specifically to fill in the blanks of history and form something of a conversation with the old Voortreker monument. But some symbols are proving harder to reclaim. Once the proud banner of the apartheid government, the old South African flag has now been seized by the far right at protests to bring attention to the murder of white farmers, and by white supremacists. Now the Nelson Mandela Foundation has approached South Africa’s Equality Court to have the flag declared as hate speech. – Why is the Mandela Foundation pursuing the issue around the flag. and taking it all the way to the Equality Court? – If you want to fly a flag that represents a crime against humanity and insult fellow South Africans, then you need to be held accountable for that. – The Mandela Foundation named AfriForum as one of its respondents in its petition. AfriForum describes itself as a civil rights organization. Their activism has mainly focused on white Afrikaans South Africans. Afriforum has denounced the waving of the old flag, but they say they’re defending it as a matter of freedom of speech. – Where does freedom of speech end and where does hate speech begin? It turns out there’s not broad consensus on what the answer. to this question is, but we have to find out soon. – We should acknowledge that the flag causes offence to people but the mere causing of offence doesn’t justify that it should be banned and, or declared hate speech. – Freedom of expression – very important, freedom of speech – fundamental. But there are limits to that freedom and it’s about negotiating where those limits are to be drawn. – When we start considering people’s feelings or emotions, in terms of determining whether something is hate speech, we find ourselves on a very slippery slope. The issues are far too deep to resolve in a single court case and they’re bigger than South Africa. This is about writing history, from all sides, which will influence how we look to the future. – Is the solution then not to focus on symbols, but rather focus on repairing society? – Symbols matter, symbols are powerful, and so they have to be addressed as well. What we really need to focus on now is the difficult memory work. We need to be finding more imaginative ways to create spaces that are safe enough for the stories of violation, stories of betrayal, the stories that are deeply painful, to come to the surface, to find a place in public discourse. And arguably that’s where people find healing. No monument is neutral, but their messages can change. Looking back is painful, but it also offers a lesson. And this is one South Africa still learning from. And the rest of the world could too.

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