What should be done about the 1820 Settler's Monument

By Kerry Lanaghan

A statue commemorating the setler's of 1820 shows a British colonial family. Photo by Henning Naude

The 1820 Settler’s National Monument was opened in 1974. The intention of the monument is to show respect and honour towards the British Settlers for their contribution to South Africa. But, in order to achieve the goal of decoloniality, should we really celebrate the coloniser’s so-called contribution to South Africa?

In the town of Makhanda, there are changes which have been made in order to work towards the decolonisation of the town. The most notable change would be the conversion of the town’s previous name “Grahamstown'' to the name “Makhanda”. This contribution was largely influential, it was a step forward towards decoloniality. Although, it is important to understand that there are many more changes that need to occur in order to decolonise the town, and the country as a whole. Would the decolonising of the 1820 Settler’s National Monument be the next big step forward?

Students at USKAR (University Still Known as Rhodes) provided diverse responses about the Monument and whether or not it should be removed. After asking a number of students at USKAR for their opinions on the Monument, the majority of students have stated that they believe the Monument should not be entirely removed. Lois Felix, a second year student at USKAR stated, “I don’t think the Monument celebrates colonialism, it helps bring awareness to the issue of colonialism and its impact on the town.” Kabelo Motshabi had a similar opinion on the Monument. Kabelo said, “Without colonial buildings, we would not be so aware of the issue of colonisation.” Many other students have emphasised the fact that the British settlers came to the country and made a contribution. And whether it was a positive contribution or not, this contribution is still important to acknowledge. The Settler’s Monument has impacted South Africa, and it may be important to make alterations to the building which signify the influence that colonialism has had on the town of Makhanda, and the country as a whole. But, it is commonly believed that there would be no benefit whatsoever if the Monument was completely demolished.

Built in 1974, the 1820 Settler's National Monument overlooks Makhanda. Photo by Henning Naude

By eradicating the building and its existence, there may be further issues which could arise. Many students do not view the Monument as a colonial building anymore. It is now known as the place where the National Arts Festival happens, where students go when entering USKAR and when graduating from the university. Many students use the Monument as a place to overlook Makhanda and socialise with their friends.

Although, this does not mean that every student at USKAR views the Monument simply as a place to socialise. There are students at USKAR who strongly believe that the Monument primarily signifies colonialism and imperialism. Sinalo Jako, a second year student, stated, “No alterations could actually change what the Monument stands for, it is what it is.” Sinalo believes that demolishing the Monument is the only way that it can be decolonised. She believes that there are no benefits that come with the existence of the Monument. “The Monument was built to commemorate the British settlers, the existence of the building does not show how these Settlers exploited black people,” Sinalo continued. Sinalo’s opinion is different to many of the opinions that other students at USKAR provided. Although, she has made considerable points in her opinions. The Monument does not stand for the negative influences of colonialism, and it does not signify any information regarding the exploitation of black people.

The 1820 Settler’s Monument was in fact built to honour the British Settlers, as well as their contributions made to the country. But, the contributions that the British settlers had made were purely for the benefit of white people. There is no positive impact made for black people by the British settlers. For Sinalo and many other black students at USKAR, the existence of the Monument is frustrating and upsetting. Sinalo believes that the link between USKAR and the Monument will cause students to continue being psychologically colonised until a new venue for graduation is found. Sinalo asserted, “The monument should not be a place for celebration, it should not be a place at all.”

Thus, there are a number of diverse opinions and feelings towards the idea of eradicating the 1820 Settler’s Monument. It is important to acknowledge just how problematic the Monument is to many students. Whether the Monument is eradicated or not, some sort of change needs to be made in order for Makhanda to take a step forward in the process of decolonisation.

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