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Rhodes statue in Cape Town
Photograph: Felix Lipov /

Cape Town might create a ‘statue graveyard’ for colonial monuments

As the global debate over statues continues, the city is considering moving all its contentious memorials to a single site

Huw Oliver
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Huw Oliver

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests that shook the world last month, monuments of contentious historical figures have been the focus of several high-profile demonstrations.

All over the world, long-controversial statues have been vandalised and toppled by protesters. Just last week, a statue of a former slave trader in the UK was even (very briefly) replaced with one of a demonstrator. And right now, city authorities across the globe are considering what to do with other prominent sculptures whose thorny legacy could attract further protests.

Should controversial statues simply be removed? Placed in a museum? Contextualised with new plaques? Or should they all be moved to a single memorial site?

That conversation now has a new focus in Cape Town, where a bust of Cecil Rhodes – the architect of racial segregation across southern Africa – was recently defaced. The statue of the nineteenth-century colonialist just above the University of Cape Town had its head removed last Monday, according to Table Mountain National Park.

Rhodes has been a controversial figure in South Africa for decades, and #RhodesMustFall campaigners have recently renewed calls for South Africa’s culture minister to have all sculptures of the imperialist taken to a museum.

Now the city says it is considering moving all its colonial-era statues and busts to a single outdoor site. Marian Nieuwoudt, a member for spatial planning on the city’s mayoral committee, told Independent Online: ‘We are looking at ways we can preserve these statues in the city. One of the discussions we are having concerns removing the statues and putting them in a memorial park.’

Such a site could become South Africa’s answer to Budapest’s Memento Park, where many of the city’s Soviet-era memorials were preserved after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Nieuwoudt said each statue should be looked at on a case-by-case basis, but it was possible they could all one day be moved to a single outdoor space. A submission for the project will be sent to the council within the next fortnight. So watch this space for what could be a new chapter in the great problematic statue debate.

Meanwhile, New York’s Central Park is due to get its first-ever statues of women this year.

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