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Statues and monuments as stories

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In many countries across the world, statues and monuments are a people’s way of writing public statements of identity. Statues and monuments tell stories that are central to the history of the people in particular places. The Statue of Liberty in the US is an example. It is noticeable and outstanding due to its presence.

The Statue of Liberty is described as “a colossal neoclassical sculpture.” It is situated on Liberty Island in the New York Harbor in the United States. Standing 305 feet (93 metres) high including its pedestal, it represents a woman holding a torch in her raised right hand and a tablet bearing the adoption date of the Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776) in her left.

It is on record that the Statue of Liberty, designed by Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), was a gift from France as a symbol of American freedom, and has watched over the New York Harbor since its dedication on October 28, 1886.

The statue was presented to the US, taken apart, shipped across the Atlantic Ocean in crates, and rebuilt in the US.

Orature says it all started at dinner one night near Paris in 1865. A group of Frenchmen were discussing their dictator-like emperor and the democratic government of the US.

They decided to build a monument to American freedom — and perhaps even strengthen French demands for democracy in their own country. At that dinner was the sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi. He imagined a statue of a woman holding a torch burning with the light of freedom.

The tall statue was the tallest structure in the US at that time. A plaque at the pedestal’s entrance is inscribed with a sonnet, “The New Colossus” (1883) by Emma Lazarus. It was written to help raise money for the pedestal, and it reads:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The Statue of Liberty is one of the most instantly recognisable statues in the world, often viewed as a symbol of both New York City and the United States. An elevator carries visitors to the observation deck in the pedestal, which may also be reached by stairway, and a spiral staircase leads to an observation platform in the figure’s crown.

Some of the tallest statues in Africa are the 9 metres-tall bronze statue of the late former South African president and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the African Renaissance Monument which stands on top of one of the twin hills of Collines des Mamelles outside Dakar, Senegal, the Egyptian Sphinx of Giza or just the Sphinx, is a 20.21 metres-tall limestone statue of a reclining sphinx.

The Colossi of Memnon in Egypt are two massive stone statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III and the Moremi Statue of Liberty located in Ile Ife, Osun State, Nigeria.

The 9 metres-tall bronze statue of the late former South African president and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela was erected at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, in recognition of the statesman’s extraordinary life and impact on the world.

The statue was unveiled on the Day of Reconciliation on December 16, 2013 by president Jacob Zuma bringing the official mourning period of ten days to a close, after Mandela died on December 5.

It is made of bronze and weighs approximately 3.5 tonnes. From fingertip to fingertip, it measures 8-metres.

In his speech during the unveiling, Zuma is quoted as saying: “You will notice that in all the statues that have been made of Madiba, he is raising his fist and at times stretching it. That derives from the slogan of the ANC. This one is different from many. He is stretching out his hands. He is embracing the whole nation. You shouldn’t say this is not Madiba because we know him with his one [raised] hand…”

About the statue, someone was to write in December 2021: “Tourists take this monument for granted, as something that has always stood here. However, the Mandela monument has been standing on this place for only nine years. Previously, there was a monument to the hero of the Second Anglo-Boer War, the pre-war Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa Barry Herzog. He was as much a symbolic figure for Afrikaners as Mandela is now for the black majority. Replacing Herzog with Mandela was a symbolic assertion of power….”

But rather critically, somebody else writes: “Mandela opens his arms vaguely resembling the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. Not by size, by posture. From an artistic point of view, the statue is not of particular interest. Frankly speaking, not a masterpiece… Mandela opens his arms vaguely resembling the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. Not by size, by posture. From an artistic point of view, the statue is not of particular interest. Frankly speaking, not a masterpiece…”

The statue was cast in 147 pieces at four different foundries before being assembled in Cape Town, where the engineering work had been done by the Knight brothers at Sculpture Casting Services Foundry.

Mandela statues can be found in over 24 places around the world, if not more from Cape Town to Cuba, Washington to Ramallah in Palestine, South Africa to Brazil, and elsewhere.

The African Renaissance Monument, which stands on top of one of the twin hills of Collines des Mamelles, outside Dakar, Senegal, is said to be the tallest statue in Africa! It stands tall at 49 metres while others say it is actually 52 metres. Completed in 2010, it is the sculpture in which a man, woman and child stands as a symbol of defiance and future prosperity.

Built overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in the Ouakam suburb, the statue was designed by the Senegalese architect Pierre Goudiaby after an idea presented by president Abdoulaye Wade and built by Mansudae Overseas Projects, a company from North Korea.

The project was launched by the then Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade who considered it part of Senegal’s prestige projects, aimed at providing monuments to herald a new era of African Renaissance. It shows a family drawn up towards the sky, the man carrying a child on his biceps and holding his wife by the waist, described as “an Africa emerging from the bowels of the earth, leaving obscurantism to go towards the light.”

On April 3, 2010 the African Renaissance Monument was unveiled in Dakar in front of 19 African heads of state, including the President of Malawi and the African Union, Bingu wa Mutharika, Jean Ping of the African Union Commission and the Presidents of Benin, Cape Verde, Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania and Zimbabwe, as well as representatives from North Korea, and Jesse Jackson and musician Akon, both from the United States, all of whom were given a tour.

President Wade said, “It brings to life our common destiny. Africa has arrived in the 21st century standing tall and more ready than ever to take its destiny into its hands”.
President Bingu of Malawi was quoted saying, “This monument does not belong to Senegal. It belongs to the African people wherever we are.”

In Zimbabwe, the Statue of Mbuya Nehanda is a bronze monument of a Zimbabwean Shona spirit medium and heroine of the 1896-1897 First Chimurenga war against British colonists. The monument is erected at the intersection of Samora Machel Avenue and Julias Nyerere Way in Harare’s central business district.

The 3-metre high statue crafting was guided by a photograph of Mbuya Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana that was supplied by the National Archives of Zimbabwe. It was crafted by David Mutasa, a bronze casting artist at Nyati Gallery; construction of the site was carried out by Zimbabwe CRSG Construction.

Construction began in June 2020 and during construction, portions of Harare CBD roads including Samora Machel Avenue between Leopold Takawira Street and First Street and Julius Nyerere Way between Sam Nujoma Street and Kwame Nkurumah Avenue were temporarily closed.

Construction was scheduled to be completed by August 2020 but took longer than expected. In December 2020, Zimbabwe President, Emmerson Mnangagwa ordered the statue to be re-crafted after public criticism of the statue’s structure, which did not depict how the only known photo of Mbuya Nehanda looked like, after the statue’s images went viral on social media during the president’s visit to Nyati Gallery.

Charwe, in full Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana, (born 1862?—died April 27, 1898), one of the major spiritual leaders of African resistance to white rule during the late 19th century in what is now Zimbabwe. She was considered to be a medium of Nehanda, a female Shona mhondoro (powerful and revered ancestral spirit).

Charwe was born among the Shona people, one of Zimbabwe’s major ethnic groups. She is believed to have become a Nehanda medium during the 1880s; she acquired the mhondoro’s name as a title and was subsequently known as Nehanda Charwe.

A defining characteristic of the Chimurenga was its great reliance on African religion, with mhondoro playing a critical role. Nehanda Charwe, along with the mediums of two other mhondoro—Mukwati in Matabeleland but especially Kagubi in western Mashonaland—found herself organizing and directing her people’s resistance to foreign assaults.

Statues have been produced in many cultures from pre-history to the present; the oldest-known statue dating to about 30,000 years ago. Statues represent many different people and animals, real and mythical. Many statues are placed in public places as public art.

It is claimed that the world’s tallest statue, Statue of Unity, is 182 metres (597 ft) tall and is located near the Narmada Dam in Gujarat, India. It is often considered that monuments have a spiritual character and iconic value, in the sense that they offer a space for the formation or discovery of meaning.

However, statues have received a fair share of criticism from certain sectors. They are often seen as a waste of resources as their enactment usually involves huge sums of money and consume a lot of time and attention.

They are often seen as objects that demonstrate the domineering nature of those in power at any given time.

Some African societies also view statues as outside their culture, approaching idolatry.

Regardless, statues still represent the enduring founding values of the people who take time to make and erect them in public places.

Memory Chirere

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Insight

The Joker Returns: Conclusion

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Last week I was talking about how jokes, or humour generally, can help get one through the most desperate situations (although it’s like taking a paracetamol for a headache; a much, much stronger resort is faith). I used the example of how Polish Jews, trapped and dying in the Warsaw ghetto, used humour to get them through day by day.

A similar, though less nightmarish, situation obtains in today’s Nigeria. Conditions there are less hellish than those of the Warsaw ghetto, but still pretty awful. There are massive redundancies, so millions of people are jobless. Inflation is at about 30% and the cost of living is sky-rocketing, with the most basic foodstuffs often unavailable. There is the breakdown of basic social services.

And endemic violence, with widespread armed robbery (to travel by road from one city to another you take your life in your hands) and the frequent kidnapping for ransom of schoolchildren and teachers. In a recent issue of the Punch newspaper (Lagos) Taiwo Obindo, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Jos, writes of the effects of economic hardship and insecurity on his people’s mental health.

He concludes: “We should see the funny side of things. We can use humour to handle some things. Don’t take things to heart; laugh it off.”

Professor Obindo doesn’t, regrettably, give examples of the humour he prescribes, but I remember two from a period when things were less grim. Power-cuts happened all the time — a big problem if you’re trying to work at night and can’t afford a generator.

And so the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was universally referred to as Never Expect Power Always. And second, for inter-city travel there was a company called Luxurious Buses. Believe me, the average Lesotho kombi is a great deal more luxurious (I can’t remember ever having to sit on the floor of one of those).

And because of the dreadful state of Nigerian roads and the frequent fatal crashes, Luxurious Buses were referred to as Luxurious Hearses.

Lesotho’s newspaper thepost, for which I slave away tirelessly, doesn’t use humour very much. But there is Muckraker. I’ve always wondered whether Muckraker is the pen-name of a single person or a group who alternate writing the column.

Whatever, I’d love to have a drink with him / her/ them and chew things over. I like the ironic pen-name of the author(s). Traditionally speaking, a muckraker is a gossip, someone who scrabbles around for titbits (usually sexual) on the personal life of a celebrity — not exactly a noble thing to do.

But thepost’s Muckraker exposes big problems, deep demerits, conducted by those who should know and do better — problems that the powerful would like to be swept under the carpet, and the intention of Muckraker’s exposure is corrective.

And I always join in the closing exasperated “Ichuuuu!” (as I do this rather loudly, my housemates probably think I’m going bonkers).

Finally I want to mention television satire. The Brits are renowned for this, an achievement dating back to the early 1960s and the weekly satirical programme “TW3” (That Was The Week That Was). More recently we have had “Mock the Week”, though, despite its popularity, the BBC has cancelled this.

The cancellation wasn’t for political reasons. For decades the UK has been encumbered with a foul Conservative government, though this year’s election may be won by Labour (not such very good news, as the Labour leadership is only pseudo-socialist). “Mock the Week” was pretty even-handed in deriding politicians; the BBC’s problem was, I imagine, with the programme’s frequent obscenity.

As an example of their political jokes, I quote a discussion on the less than inspiring leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. One member of the panel said: “Labour may well have a huge lead in the polls at present, but the day before election day Starmer will destroy it by doing something like accidentally infecting David Attenborough with chicken-pox.”

And a favourite, basically non-political interchange on “Mock the Week” had to do with our former monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Whatever one thinks about the British monarchy as an institution, the Queen was much loved, but the following interchange between two panellists (A and B) was fun:

A: Is the Queen’s nickname really Lilibet?
B: Yes, it is.
A: I thought her nickname was Her Majesty.
B: That’s her gang name.

OK, dear readers, that’s enough humour from me for a while. Next week I’m turning dead serious — and more than a little controversial — responding to a recent Insight piece by Mokhosi Mohapi titled “A reversal of our traditions and culture.” To be forewarned is to be prepared.

Chris Dunton

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Insight

Reading, writing and the art of reflection

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There is a close thread that runs through what you reflect on, what you read and what sticks in your mind. It’s almost a cyclic process with regards to how all these processes unfold. Today, in this installment we focus on the thread between reading, reflection and writing.

This appears a bit cumbersome to explain. But let’s simplify it. Let’s begin with a beautiful poem which encompasses what we have so far spoken about. Here we are! The poem is penned by “Tachibama Akemi.” It goes:

It is a pleasure
When, rising in the morning,
I go outside and
Find that a flower has blossomed
That was not there yesterday.

Seemingly, the poem is simple. But, on close analysis, it reflects very deep reflection and thoughtfulness.

The persona, in an existential fashion, reflects all about the purpose and meaning of life and his place in the overall matrix of life.

The persona carefully reflects on nature. This is what makes all this poem rustic and romantic.

The persona thinks deeply about the blossoming flowers and how the process of the growth of flowers appears almost inadvertently.

It is a poem about change, healing, the lapse of time and the changes or vissiccitudes in the life of a person are reflected creatively through imagery and poetry. We all go through that, isn’t it? We all react and respond to love, truth and beauty.

So far everything appears very interesting. Let’s just put to the fore some good and appealing thoughts. Let’s enlarge on reading, writing and reflection.

Kindly keep in mind that thoughts must be captured, told, expressed and shared through the magical power of the written word.

As a person, obviously through keeping entries in a journal, there is no doubt that you have toyed about thoughts and ideas and experiences you wish you could put across.

Here is an example you can peek from Anthony. Anthony likes writing. He tells us that in his spare time he likes exploring a lot. And, more often than not he tells us,

“I stop, and think, and then when I find something, I just keep on writing.”

So crisp, but how beautiful. Notice something interesting here; you need to stop, to take life effortlessly and ponderously, as it were; observe, be attentive to your environment; formulate thought patterns and then write.

To some extent, this article builds on our previous experiences when we spoke at length about the reading process.

But how can you do it? It’s not pretty much different. I can help you from my previous life as a teacher of English Languge.

The most important skill you must cultivate is that of listening, close listening. Look at how people and events mingle.

What makes both of you happy; enjoy it. I am sure you still keep that journal in which you enter very beautiful entries. Reflect about Maseru, the so-called affluent city. So majestic!

How can you picture it in writing!

I am glad you learnt to reflect deep and write. Thank you very much. Kindly learn and perfect the craft of observing, reflecting and writing. Learn that connection. Let’s meet for another class.

Vuso Mhlanga

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Insight

The Joker Returns: Part One

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Don’t be put off by the title, esteemed readers; what follows has nothing to do with the Batman films. As you will be happily (or unhappily) aware, I am a big fan of jokes. There’s a common understanding that a joke is ruined if you have to explain it, and this is true, but some jokes do need a bit of background explanation. Anyway. I like jokes and I like thinking about how they work.

Many of my favourite jokes have to do with language and the way we use it. For example: “I just bought myself a thesaurus. I similar it very much.”

Other jokes have to do with human behaviour and here it is important, out of respect for others, to avoid jokes that perpetuate stereotypical ideas about gender, race, nationality, and so on. I’m afraid the following joke does depend upon a stereotype (I’ll come back to that), but here goes, after a bit of background information.

In Lesotho you have an insect called a praying mantis — stick-like, bright green, and with great bulging eyes. They are rather lovable, despite the off-putting fact that the female practices insect cannibalism; after mating, she consumes the male. So, now you’ve had your zoological primer, here goes.

Two praying mantises are getting up close and personal. The female says to the male: “before we have sex and I bite your head off, could you help me put up some shelves?”

Apologies to female readers, because, as I said, that joke perpetuates a gender stereotype, namely, that women are good with a vacuum cleaner or a dustpan and brush, but hopeless with a hammer and nails.

There are many jokes that are, as it were, much more serious than that. As I rattled on about in a couple of earlier columns, many of these are satirical — jokes that are designed to point a finger at human folly or even wickedness. In another column, titled “Should we laugh?”, I explored the question “is there any subject that should be kept out of the range of humour?”

Well, apparently not, if we take on board the following account of the Warsaw ghetto.

Historical preface first.

The Warsaw ghetto represents one of the worst atrocities in modern history. In November 1940 the genocidal Nazis rounded up all the Jews in Poland’s capital and herded them into a small sector of the city, which they euphemistically, cynically, dubbed the “Jewish Residential District in Warsaw.”

Here nearly half a million Jews were in effect imprisoned, barely subsisting on tiny food rations. An estimated quarter of a million were sent off to the death camps. An uprising against the Nazi captors was brutally crushed. Around 100 000 died of starvation or disease.

Not much to laugh about there, you might say. But then consider the following, which I’ve taken from the New York Review of Books of February 29th this year:

“In the Warsaw Ghetto in October 1941 Mary Berg, then a teenager, wrote in her diary about the improbable persistence of laughter in that hellish place: ‘Every day at the Art Café on Leszno Street one can hear songs and satire on the police, the ambulance service, the rickshaws, and even the Gestapo, [on the latter] in a veiled fashion. The typhoid epidemic itself is the subject of jokes. It is laughter through tears, but it is laughter. This is not our only weapon in the ghetto — our people laugh at death and at the Nazi decrees. Humour is the only thing the Nazis cannot understand.’”

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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