Minister Nathi Mthethwa on the ongoing international debate around Imperialist and Colonial Statues and Symbols around the World

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15 Jun 2020

Pretoria: The Ministry of Sport, Arts and Culture joins all South Africans in condemning the brutal murder of a black American George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer.

The resultant Black Lives Matter campaign is calling for the removal of statues, memorials and all iconography including place names that commemorate historical figures who promoted and condoned slavery, racism and imperialism.

In South Africa, government in partnership with the civil society is responsible for the transformation of the heritage landscape in line with the values of the constitution. Such values promote redress of past imbalances (characterised by the predominance of colonial and apartheid statues, memorials and monuments) and the inclusion of the historically marginalised icons and symbols of the large section of the South African populace. As much as the pace of such transformation has not been as fast as one would have imagined, we have done this through the establishment and installation of new commemorative symbols through consultative processes with the affected stakeholders. We have graded and declared new heritage sites as part of the affirmation of those sites that were marginalised in the past. In some instances, we have removed statues that evoke our colonial and apartheid past.

These included the removal of:

  • Verwoerd statues at Parliament in Cape Town and at the Free State provincial legislature.
  • A large bust of B.J. Vorster was removed in 1997 from the Johannesburg police headquarters when the building was renamed. The bust was placed in the SA Police Museum.
  • An imposing bust of C.R. Swart in 2000 from the Durban police headquarters.
  • A heavy bust of Strijdom in 2003 which had collapsed was taken by the Tshwane administration and handed over to the Voortrekker Monument Foundation, who placed it in the grounds of the Strijdom House museum at Modimolle.
  • An imposing bust of Paul Kruger from the entrance of the Kruger Park removed and taken to a less imposing and prominent position.


The Department is the custodian of Outcome 14 Social Cohesion and Nation Building and it is our responsibility to ensure that we have a socially cohesive nation that is non-racial, non-sexist, non-creedal as well as non-tribal amongst other things.

Therefore we subscribe to the view that suggests that statues, monuments, symbols and names that are not aligned to these values should not occupy public spaces. However, such changes must be done through consultation as prescribed by our legislations.

In changing these names or removing offensive symbols the relevant legislative provisions and procedures must be followed.

The Department of Sport, Arts and Culture through the SAGNC is working towards the eradication of all offensive names with the relevant local and national departments as soon as information is brought to its attention with motivation for the removal of such a name.

The process for changing offensive place names in accordance with the South African Geographical Names Act 118 of 1998 is as follows:

  • The resident/s of the suburb or town or village write to the Municipality in their area.
  • The Municipality and Provincial Geographical Names Committee then hold consultations with the residents to establish that the residents of the area and other concerned parties are agreeable to a name change and to also look at the suggested names.
  • Once the consultation has been done at a local level then the name is taken to the Provincial Geographical Names Committee where the Committee ensures that all proof of consultation is documented including the advertising of the consultation meetings, agenda attendance registers and minutes and that the application form is duly completed.
  • Once it passes the Provincial Geographical Names Committee, it goes to the National Council called the South African Geographical Names Council (SAGNC)
  • They will ensure that the proof of consultation is attached with the duly completed application form. The SAGNC gives recommendation to the Minister once they are satisfied that the process was followed to the letter.
  • The Minister then takes a decision after having assessed the recommendation of the SAGNC. The approved or rejected name is then made public through the Government Gazette.


Similarly the National Heritage Resources Act, Act 25 of 1999 provides that no person may alter or demolish any structure or part of a structure which is older than 60 years without a permit issued by the relevant provincial heritage resources authority. The Act further provides that public monuments and memorials must, without the need to publish a notice to this effect, be protected in the same manner as places which are entered in a heritage register. The process for applying for the required permit is:

  • Application to the relevant Provincial heritage resources authority
  • Before amendment or withdrawal of a declaration of a place as a heritage site the heritage resources authority must notify the owner, mortgage holder and all conservation bodies which have registered their interest in the geographical area in which the proposed heritage site is situated, and give them at least 60 days to make submissions regarding the proposed declaration, amendment or withdrawal, and in the case of the owner, to propose conditions under which the action will be acceptable.
  • All submissions must be considered by the heritage resources authority before a final decision is made.

The Ministry calls on South African protesters not to vandalize statues but to follow procedures when they wish to remove statues. As we champion changes, these should be effected within the existing legislative frameworks so that we minimize if not eliminate tensions that could be antithetical to our national project of nation building and social cohesion.

Media Enquiries:

Masechaba Khumalo: Spokesperson (Minister),  Tel: 066 380 7408 | Email:

Mr Mickey Modisane: Chief Director Marketing and Communications (Sport) Tel: 082 992 0101 | Email:

Ms Zimasa Velaphi: Chief Director Marketing and Communications (Arts and Culture)  Tel: 072 172 8925 | Email:  

Issued by: The Department of Sport, Arts & Culture