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Durban Kultcha : Kultcha / Feature

The Great Elephant Debacle: A Hijacked Species





Pictures by Kevin Goss-Ross


Stupidity plummeted to new lows in Durban this week (with Sunday newspaper headlines that even satirists like Haibo might have been hard pressed to come up with) with the report that acclaimed artist and sculptor Andries Botha's R1.5 million life-size elephant sculptures, made of recycled wood, metal and rubber, were ordered to be removed from a Durban free-way island, after passing ANC megalomaniacs found them reminiscent of the (shock horror) same unwieldy mammals gracing the IFP logo.

Let's get one thing straight. With three sculptures, costing as much as this and weighing over six tons each, this was no trivial commission. This was no beaded chandelier or beach-front curio that city-managers commissioned to dangle in their reception areas.

Predictably, Durban City-Manager Mike Sutcliff (currently enjoying the more wintry climes of Vancouver, Canada, where he is attending the opening of the Winter Olympics) issued his usual diss to Durbanites for "over dramatising" the situation and claiming that Botha's Elephants were not passed through the correct procedures and committees before going ahead.
At the cost of R1.5 million, one would imagine (but hardly hope) that city leaders and planners had pontificated long and hard enough before blowing tax payer's money on an art work that is now in danger of being reduced to a pile of rubble because it has irked certain "elephant-sized" insecurities within the ANC.

The Elephant it seems is no longer allowed to be considered just an Elephant. No longer can we see it as a quintessential African symbol of power, freedom and grace. Rather the ANC would like us to believe that the Elephant© was created exclusively by and for the Inkatha Freedom Party, conceived, not by some higher power, but rather by a loopy illustrator armed with copious amounts of Ganja and a pencil.

The irony, of course, is that had the "cry-babies" who raised the great elephant-conspiracy- alarm shut their traps, few might have ever made the association.

A large majority of citizens would have simply viewed the works as a herd of life-sized elephants grazing in the inner-city as opposed to creatures sent to torment the ANC by towering over their SUV's as they make their way to work each morning.

By drawing such attention to these elephants, party members have politicised and compromised a benign (not to mention bloody expensive) art work and severely humiliated themselves in the process. They have robbed Botha's Ellies of their innocence and the city of Durban of yet another beautifying landmark.

All this means, is that in the unlikely event of the sculptures been allowed to stay, they will now offer easy prey to vigilante vandals (urban poachers) who might make it their mission to desecrate them.

Should we expend our energies and activism on marching and ranting to save these sculptures when their real-life counter parts are in far more urgent need of our support and finances? Reward each absurd city decision with the flux and futility of our outrage? One certainly grows weary of keeping abreast with the weekly antics of Mr Sutcliffe and his circus of clowns.

The whole ordeal reminds me of an event that took place in down-town Durban a few years back. A sculpture of a Zulu hero was commissioned and installed on the opposite end of the park, where a sequestered colonial statue had previously stood for decades.

The unveiling of the statue was a comic debacle of sorts. Before the cement could settle on the podium, politicians were drawing "embarrassing" attention to the fact that the Zulu hero remained slightly shorter than that of the colonial statue on the opposite end of the park.

A few hundred thousand rand later and the said hero was removed and reinstalled on a far more prodigious pedestal so as to symbolically re-correct it's juxtaposition against colonial oppressor.

While this is perhaps far more justifiable than the elephant saga, what never fails to amaze me is how much cost, time and energy so often surrounds these cement and bronze tokens when far more pressing immediate concerns should be receiving the cities undivided attentions (and finances).  

These are, let's be perfectly honest, largely historic tokens that your average pedestrian sees as nothing more than passing pigeon shitting pads.  

I would like to suggest we resolve to leave all animals out of our political wrangles. Next time anyone decides to start a political party, please opt for hands: in clenched fists or exultant palms.

Go ahead, pepper your party flags with crucifix, sickle, star and limb but leave the long suffering brutes and beasts of the natural world out of it.

You really have to pity the creatures of this planet. Going about their day to day, trying to survive the next drought or lurking predator, doing everything in their limited powers to skip the endangered list and before they know it they find themselves appropriated and often reviled as the mascot to some nefarious political party or sports corporation!

Let's resist turning "All things bright and beautiful" into ideological knob keirres to clock each other over the kops (heads) with.

Let's put a stop to the perversion (maybe pour our energies instead into the preservation) of our flora and fauna so that in the not so distant future our children's children may have the pleasure of ambling in the African wilderness and not have to be reminded at every possible animal/plant sighting of bungling bureaucrats, bozos and bullies.





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