British Imperial Monuments in South Africa
The Horse Memorial (1905): Shows a British Soldier feeding a horse. Up to much controversy because British soldiers killed many South Africans.
Queen Victoria Monument (1903): Stands in front of the public library in Port Elizabeth. Also subject to controversy since Queen Victoria’s reign was during the British Empire.
History of Queen Victoria
During Queen Victoria’s reign, South Africa was a colony of the British Empire. Though most history states how much the Queen cared for her empire and was a great woman throughout her reign, but opinions differ in the citizens of Port Elizabeth.
Queen Victoria wasn’t solely responsible for all of the horrible things that happened to the South Africans, but she was in a position of great power during these times.
History of British Imperialism in South Africa
In the early 18th century the British took the Cape Colony from the Dutch. In protest, the Zulu Empire is founded and is ready to fight the British. Many British people are moving into the Cape Colony because they are rich in resources such as diamonds and gold. Since so many English speakers had come to South Africa as miners, they made up much of the population. But there was conflict on whether or not these white English speakers could vote. There were specific voting rules in South Africa that these people had not met yet. For this reason Cecil Rhodes led an invasion.
The Dutch were not happy by this equality that the British were trying to make, so they founded their own colony called the Transvaal. The people who lived there called themselves the Boers and when they refused the annexation from the British, that is when the Boer wars began. During these wars concentration camps were built as a strategy to end the war and approximately 48,000 people died.
South Africans faced a lot of hardships, the British defeated their Zulu army who were only fighting for their freedom from this British colony. The South Africans were being stripped of their rights, and in 1913 the Land Act was proposed to make it so all black people in South Africa, except for those in the Cape Colony, were not allowed to purchase or own any land.
Economic Freedom Fighters
The Economic Freedom Fighters were responsible for the vandalization of the Horse Memorial. It is not known who vandalized the Queen Victoria Monument.
Economic Freedom Fighters are a progressive and anti-imperialist movement that define themselves as “a radical, leftist, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movement with an internationalist outlook anchored by popular grassroots formations and struggles”
Godrich Gardee, a member of the EFF, justifies the actions done to the Horse Memorial because, “You cannot every day be subjected to the mind of the warmonger.”
The video clip above also shows the differing opinions along with the ones of the EFF
Differing Opinions on the Vandalism
Some citizens believe that there was no need for this act of vandalism to occur. Though to some people these monuments may be offensive, others believe that they were put in that place for a reason.
The Director of Communications, Roland Williams weighed in on the issue: ”
We live in a democracy and all government decisions and actions are based on the will of the people, indeed there are structures, processes and systems through which this will can be easily and readily expressed. There is absolutely no need for anyone to act outside of the democratic structures of governance that we have in place”
Alternatives for the Monuments
There is an official petition in Port Elizabeth for the Queen Victoria monument to be moved into a museum.
The petition also wants to replace the monument with a monument of Chief Dawid Stuurman who fought for equality for the South Africans during the British Empire.
Stuurman is a figure that the citizens of Port Elizabeth can look up to as fighting for their people and not killing them and somebody who really embodies the culture of the citizens.
These debates between whether the statues should stay or go are a good example of the importance of public history. Though this argument may never be solved, we must look at the importance of the public history scholarship. Since public history is history that is all accessible to the public, shouldn’t they be subject to knowing the whole story? A lot of these statues that were erected in the early 20th century do not have any context of why they are being honored, some of them don’t even have a plaque. If they were moved into a museum then the public history is more accessible because it is an opportunity to read about these artifacts and their context in history.
These monuments tell us a lot about the past and there is also a lot of history behind them. These monuments show the Imperial history that once dominated the colony of South Africa. As a statue standing on its own with no context, there is not much public history that the public can know. If a person had no idea about the history of South Africa they would just look at the statues without a second thought. But the truth is that many citizens are offended because of all the hardships and their perspectives are a very important part of public history because the history is what really happened at that includes what happened to everyone involved.
Though these monuments may be removed in the future, the past will never be erased. This will always be a part of the history of South Africa.
This debate on the monuments is very important in the field of public history. Many people have so many differing opinions on these historical objects. When these monuments were erected, it was for the British Empire. Though all of these things happened against the will of these South Africans, it still is a part of their history. So when looking at the monuments, different people will have different feelings about them.
Connections to Public History in Other Countries
Similar issues have been going on in the United States and many other countries controlled by the British Empire.
Many of these issues involve glorifying a figure who was known for being involved with slaves or killing Africans. Removing these statues would be a big step in society because of the racism they uphold.
In the United States in Charlottesville, Virginia there was a white supremacist rally protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument. This is becoming a huge controversy all around the world.
Now people who were not given a voice in history are now stepping into the light and letting their opinion be known.
Obviously it hasn’t gotten to this horrible extent in Port Elizabeth but hopefully it will be resolved in a more peaceful way.
In conclusion, there are many differing opinions on this issue. It is hard for people to agree on something if they all have a different perspective of history.
Many issues people have faced in the past are finally being heard. Though this debate could go either way, it is important for people to dialogue with each other about these problems.
1. Briggs, Lord. “Victoria’s Empire.” British Heritage 22.4 (2001): 26. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 22 Oct. 2017.
2. “Calls for Queen Victoria’s Statue in Port Elizabeth to Be Relocated.” R News. N.p., 1 Apr. 2015. Web.
3. “British Imperialism and the Afrikaners.” South Africa – British Imperialism and the Afrikaners, US Library of Congress, countrystudies.us/south-africa/16.htm.
4. David, Saul. “Victoria the Warrior Queen.” BBC History Magazine. N.p., May 2007. Web.
5. “EFF: Economic Freedom Fighters.” EFF: Economic Freedom Fighters. N.p., n.d. Web.
6. Isaacs, Lauren. “Statue of Queen Victoria Vandalized in PE.” Eyewitness News. N.p., 10 Apr. 2015. Web.
7. News24. N.p., 10 Apr. 2015. Web.
8. Pretorius, Professor Fransjohan. “History – The Boer Wars.” BBC, BBC, 29 Mar. 2011, www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/boer_wars_01.shtml.
9. “South Africa Profile – Timeline.” BBC News, BBC, 9 Aug. 2017, www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-14094918.
10. Spies, Derrick. “EFF Damages PE Horse Memorial.” News24. N.p., 7 Apr. 2015. Web.
11. Stead, William T. “What Kind of a Sovereign Is Queen Victoria?” Empire Online. N.p., 1900. Web.