The statue of former president Marthinus Theunis Steyn has been removed from the University of the Free State (UFS) main campus.
University spokesman Lacea Loader confirmed on Sunday that the university had begun dismantling the statue in front of the main campus building over the weekend.
This is after the Free State Provincial Heritage Resource Agency (VPEHA) issued a permit to the UFS earlier this month to dismantle and temporarily store the statue before it can be moved to the War Museum in Bloemfontein.
The terms of the permit stipulate that the university had to draw up a conservation management plan that undertakes to relocate the statue with an indication of the relevant team appointed to dismantle and temporarily store the statue before it will be reassembled at the museum. The plan also had to indicate the heritage architect involved who was appointed to oversee the process. The wishes of MT Steyn’s family also had to be taken into consideration throughout.
According to the university, the process is almost complete and the final arrangements are now being made to erect the statue at the War Museum.
“We are finalizing an agreement with the War Museum for the relocation of the statue. The agreement protects the university as well as the museum. It is not a contract or condition for moving the statue, as it forms part of the provisions of the permit, ”Prof. Francis Petersen, rector and vice-chancellor of the UFS, explained in a statement.
Petersen confirmed that the agreement should be concluded in the coming week, after which the statue could be moved to the museum. The statue is stored until then.
According to Petersen, the permits committee thanked the UFS for the way in which the process was completed in accordance with best heritage practices. “There is no precedent for such a process under current South African legislation and I welcome the way it has been finalized.
“We will now continue to transform the site in front of the main building into a symbolic, inclusive public space that promotes nation-building and social cohesion,” Petersen said.
It has been previously reported that the UFS announced in November 2018 that the university’s board approved the relocation of the MT Steyn statue.
However, AfriForum and several other conservation institutions, including the Bloemfontein Cultural Association, the Christian Higher Education Association in Bloemfontein and the Reformed Faith League, have objected because they believe the statue should remain on the Kovsie campus.
The VPEHA Appeals Committee then ruled in August 2019 that the statue would remain at the UFS.
However, Petersen commissioned a special task team to submit an urgent request to the provincial MEC of sport, arts and culture to appoint a tribunal to refer the university’s appeal to which the MEC gave her approval.
Steyn was the president of the previously independent Orange Free State from 1896 to 1902. Several buildings and streets across the entire Rosestad were named after Steyn.