Chief executive of the NHC Sonwabo Mancotywa told a summit in Pretoria that he hoped the heated deliberations on the monuments would bring tangible results.
“The level of anger and depth of ill-feeling that the recent furore over statues and memorials has revealed took many people by surprise. We are an angry society,” said Mancotywa.
“One of the more troubling aspects has been shocking displays of intolerance and racism, especially on social media sites. The level of polarization in South Africa should be a source of concern to all of us.”
Mancotywa was addressing the city of Tshwane’s public dialogue on monuments and heritage estate landscape.
Another panelist, Dr Mcebisi Ndletyana of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection said the debate should have maintained momentum since 1994.
“We pretended that we had no past. In fact, we harped on reconciliation and the narrative of that was ‘let’s forget the past and let’s not redress,” said Ndletyana.
“It was a romantic notion of reconciliation. That aborted conversation, the path that we chose not to travel is now coming back to haunt us. People are re-opening the debate about the unjustness of the past.”
He said the resumption of the debate on apartheid and its monuments was sparked by “the persistence of symbolisms of the ugly past”.
“We need to define statues for what they are, instead of pretending to be ignorant. Statues are an embodiment of a social or political order. They represent a political order of the time,” said Ndletyana.
“That is why apartheid and imperial statues are not of any other person or some Boer somewhere. They are of iconic apartheid leaders who represented the order of the time.”
He questioned why the democratic South Africa would maintain the “painful reminders” while striving towards a reconciled future.
Several statues, including that of Paul Kruger, have been vandalised in Pretoria. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has repeatedly protested at the statue, calling for its immediate removal.
Deputy chairperson for Gauteng’s Provincial Heritage Resources Authority Dr Susan Bouillon said statue vandals were breaking the law.