A furore erupted in Durban some months ago when a passing ANC member did a double take at Andries Botha’s life size elephant sculptures sitting almost complete on the side of the road near Warwick Triangle. Now, if this namless ANC comrade’s surprise were due to the scale and majesty of the sculptures, it would be completely in keeping with the reaction of city populations all over the world who have been amazed to discover elephants strolling on their sidewalks and beaches. All have been full of praise for the technical mastery and artistic talent inherent in the sculptures fashioned entirely from waste.

Alas, not our intrepid ANC elder; he saw these marvellous artworks as a “symbol of the IFP.” Oh-Oh. Now, despite the fact that South Africa is a multi-party democracy and the IFP has every right to exist (this is not ancient Rome where the Christians had to adopt the ubiquitous fish symbol as the cross was too recognisable) and the IFP could, in theory commission someone like Botha to create these statues. That, however, is not at all what happened, despite the immediate suspicion of a subtle, insidious anti-ANC campaign to win the hearts of KZN voters with a couple of steel and stone ellies, the city’s decision to hire Botha to erect the statues was simply in recognition of the fact that this world-class artist calls Durban home and cities all over the world, including Amsterdam, Paris and New York yet Durban cannot boast a significant public work by Botha.

As a result of the faceless complainant’s concerns and completely ignoring the valid reasons why the sculptures were commissioned in the first place, work on the statutes was halted and the city began to “investigate.” Today, the drama continues as newspapers report that the R 1.5 million rands’ worth of sculptures will be demolished and replaced with a “Big 5 installation” which Botha could choose to be involved in. Botha, however, creates elephants an would not be prepared to become involved in any other sculptures. His suggestion was that an extra elephant be added to alleviate the obvious (to some) associations with the IFP logo. This does not seem to be enough for the insecure ruling party and the Sunday Times today reports that the sculptures are to be demolished, seeing the R1.5 million paid for them disappear as well.

In a second incident involving Botha’s public artworks, the R3 million statue of King Shaka at King Shaka Internatinal Airport has been removed after King Goodwill Zwelithini complained that Shaka should be depicted as is conventional – with his shield – instead of caught in a contemplative moment surrounded by Nguni cattle. So, again, we have a complaint and down goes the statue and the money paid for it.  

King Shaka statue

This whole saga begs the question: if politicians wish to be prescriptive about exactly how artworks turn out, surely they would be better off commissioning competent artists who can be  told exactly what to create, rather than asking a world-renowned artistic great like Botha to do what all true artists do best: create images which are thought-provoking and unusual.  

Join the “Save the Durban Elephants” facebook group for more information.