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Monday Feb 20, 2012

Vandals destroy Durban artworks

More than R1 million in Durban ratepayers' money has effectively been thrown away after one of Andries Botha's elephant sculptures at Warwick Junction has been completely destroyed and the other two have been damaged, one of them almost beyond repair.

Andries Botha looks at the remains of his elephants.

The Sunday Tribune has established that vandals, presumably to sell the wire frames of the elephants for scrap metal, have hacked at the sculptures.

One elephant has been reduced to a pile of rubble and the wire is nowhere to be found on the site. Another elephant has a massive hole in its side, and a chunk of wire is missing. The third has had its ears and tusks removed, and there is damage to the frame.

The elephants were to be constructed as part of city beautification for the World Cup at a cost of R1.5 million, but late ANC ethekwini regional chairman John Mchunu reportedly stormed onto the site and halted construction, saying the elephants were a symbol of the IFP.

There is still R250 000 owed to Botha for the sculptures, and he's also claimed stand-down pay of R4 500 a day from when construction was halted two years ago.

Given the destruction of the artwork this week, Botha and his legal counsel have written to the municipality ordering them to protect the site.

Toby Orford said in the letter, which was handed to the municipality yesterday, that if the city failed to respond to the request, he would consider making an urgent application to the High Court.

"(Botha) is seeking an urgent undertaking that the sculptures will not be further removed, damaged or destroyed," the letter said, adding he wanted confirmation that effective steps had been taken to secure the sculptures from further damage.

Eric Apelgren, the ethekwini Municipality Head of International and Government Relations who was given the letter by Botha, said: "I have requested Metro Police to get the surveillance and monitoring footage of the site to ensure the perpetrators are apprehended. We are going to make sure that there is no further degradation."

Yesterday Botha said he was distraught when he saw what had happened. On Friday evening, he said, he had been driving past the sculptures on the N3. "I was shocked to see a man literally inside the elephant hauling out rocks," he said. He contacted city officials immediately and was told by Apelgren that the police were being contacted.

"For about an hour-and-ahalf or two hours (on Friday), no police arrived.

"It's like when you arrive home and someone has got into your inner sanctum. There is a sense your personal space has been invaded. I was shattered and dismayed.

"But it is not unexpected. There had been a gradual degradation of the site and of the elephants.

"I would have thought, given the legal action, the city would have simply guarded the site while the matter was in legal suspension. That's the least I would have expected," he said.

Botha said the degradation of the artwork was more than just about three elephants.

"Every sophisticated constitution has embraced the arts as a measure of people's rights to express their views... but when that gets censored because someone doesn't agree with it, you look into the abyss we've already been in," he said.

Ironically, Botha has been asked to take an elephant to the Unesco World Earth Summit in Brazil later this year and another has also been requested for a presentation of SA arts at The Hague.

"We've got three elephants being destroyed here in Durban, while two other are being regaled across the world," he said.

There are three CCTV cameras that monitor the area, but according to ethekwini head of Disaster Management and Emergency Control, Vincent Ngubane, none had picked up the vandalism.

Cameras nine and 11 focus on the areas near the sculptures, while camera four is almost directly above the elephants. But this camera isn't working.

Attempts to get comment from Mayor James Nxumalo were unsuccessful.

Sunday Tribune


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