The offensive and non-representative statue of Kurt von Francois in Windhoek must fall.
For some time, people in cities all over the world have been on fire about their statues and memorials. All through recorded history, statues of people who no longer resonate with those in power were removed, smashed or desecrated. Change and upheaval usually mean that things are no longer seen in the same light.
People who are living in an era, have the right to decide what monuments and statues should continue standing. The people living during the time when these statues were erected had the right to do so. Likewise, the people who must continue to live with that statue after those times have changed, have the right to make another choice.
Kurt von Francois does not represent Namibia. His crimes and supposed contributions can be argued by historians, politicians and activists. The sociological points remain. Times have changed and the majority who must live with his visage now do not wish to do so. Why then, should he remain in a prominent place as if he is a valued personage for the majority of Namibians? He does not have that role in the hearts and minds of the people today and his statue should not remain.
The city council must move the statue of Kurt, a white supremacist, to the Alte Feste where it can be viewed in context for tourists, school learners. Indeed there is a lesson that such a statue can still teach. Von Francois’ statue is a memorial to what must never happen again to indigenous people. Never again shall whites or colonialists subjugate, enslave, exploit and repress anyone on the basis of the colour of their skin. The “great white hunter” is dead.
A statue is not history. We have no patience for people who insist that removing a statue or memorial changes or denies history. We disagree. Statues and memorials are symbols of what was valued by those from yesteryear who paid to erect it. Those who paid to erect it had wealth, control and political power in their time; it is not the case now. Long dead people of more than a hundred years ago have no power to decide what statues we should hold in high regard in a free and independent Namibia.
While there are no funds available now for a replacement statue, Namibians should begin considering what monument could replace Kurt. It should be one that represents the nation in the 21st century. Of course, another community in 2120 may well decide to remove that one. There is nothing wrong with this. Values shift with time as those of us having this debate now pass on. Other heroes will emerge and they should take the place of those we respect today.
Street names were changed after independence. These names may well shift again in 50 or 70 years as new heroes capture the hearts and minds of the majority of the population in that future time.
We respect the push back from Kurt’s descendants desperate to defend their ancestor and add value to their last name. But, satisfying the needs of one family cannot overrule the reality that the values of the majority.
Those who live in Windhoek and live with that statue are no longer in sync with that statue. The values of those erecting a statue to Kurt are inconsistent with our values today. The glorification of anyone who fought to maintain white supremacy is inconsistent with Namibia in the 21st century.
The statue is repulsive to those who recognize that colonialism in Kurt’s day was one of the most destructive forces let loose upon the earth and its indigenous peoples. We must step up the fight for human rights, not memorialise practitioners of repression. Socially conscious tourists and international guests see that statue as a strange homage to white supremacy in an independent African country. Its presence in a place of prominence baffles them.
The homage to Kurt says that colonial white power still has a value in Namibia. That message is unacceptable. Remove it and reset the message.
Moving Kurt to the Alte Feste along with every other colonial era memorial or statue must be done. He no longer represents what Namibian stands for and putting him in a museum for study is a reasonable compromise. The City of Windhoek must move with alacrity. It is time to say goodbye to Kurt.