Antiquities, Monuments, Statues, Heritage Sites and Colonial Legacy versus Divergent Cultures, Philosophies, Ethnic Nationalism and Religious Beliefs
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR, 5 Apr 2021
A Global Dilemma between Preservation of the Past and the Destruction of Human History
1 Apr 2021 – The ancient world had the pleasure of recoding and admiring the Seven Wonders of the World at the time. The amazing works of art and architecture known as the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World serve as a testament to the ingenuity, imagination and sheer hard work of which human beings are capable. They are also, however, reminders of the human capacity for disagreement, destruction and, possibly, embellishment. As soon as ancient writers compiled a list of “seven wonders,” it became fodder for debate over which achievements deserved inclusion. The original list comes from a work by Philo of Byzantium written in 225 B.C. called “On the Seven Wonders”. Ultimately, human hands joined with natural forces to destroy all but one of these wonders.
Furthermore, it is possible that at least one of the wonders might not have existed at all. Still, all seven continue to inspire and be celebrated as the remarkable products of the creativity and skill of Earth’s early civilizations.
The Seven Wonders of the World or the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (simply known as Seven Wonders) is a list of remarkable constructions of classical antiquity given by various authors in guidebooks or poems popular among ancient Hellenic tourists. Although the list, in its current form, did not stabilise until the Renaissance, the first such lists of seven wonders date from the 2nd to 1st century BC. The original list inspired innumerable versions through the ages, often listing seven entries.
Of the original Seven Wonders, only one, the Great Pyramid of Giza, oldest of the ancient wonders—remains relatively intact. The other sites are listed as follows: – The Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis and the Statue of Zeus were all destroyed. The location and ultimate fate of the Hanging Gardens are unknown, and there is speculation that they may not have existed at all.
Today, as in ancient times, the world is enthralled by these structures, which millions of tourist visit each year, even to see the remnants of these once glorious mega structures, albeit some are in ruins, and only supposed remains could be seen. It is also interesting to note, as reported, that Napoleon Bonaparte used the face of the Sphinx sitting besides the great Pyramid of Giza for cannon target practice by his troops. This opinion has been refuted by Al-Maqrizi. In the 14th and 15th centuries, he lived in Egypt as a historian working for the ruling Mamluks. He wrote about the nose of the sphinx being missing several hundred years before Napoleon or any of his men were even born.
There are illustrations of the Sphinx depicting it with its nose missing from the 1750s, about a decade before Napoleon was born. More likely, the nose was purposely destroyed by a Sufi Muslim in the 15th century to protest idolatry as it is contravening the doctrines of Islamic religion. Part of the Sphinx’s royal cobra emblem from its headdress and sacred beard have also broken off, the latter of which is now displayed in the British Museum, and should be rightfully returned to its country of origin, by the Empire.
In 2007, authorities learned that the local water table under the statue was rising due to sewage being dumped in a nearby canal. The moisture ultimately spread through the porous limestone of the structure, causing the rock to crumble and break away in large flakes in some cases. Authorities installed pumps close to the Great Sphinx, diverting the groundwater and saving the relic from further destruction. Therefore, the only remaining wonder of the ancient world, the Sphinx, is being slowly destroyed either by human destruction, be it Napoleon or the Mamluks, pollution, or by nature, a time will eventually come when all will be left of this enormous man-made sculpture will be sand. This will be of no use, whatsoever, to the future generations. as millennia of ancient history will be lost, forever.
Let us next examine the wonders of the new world and the impact they would have as part of our legacy of history if there were lost due to destruction in wars, or degeneration caused by man-made environmental pollution. There are presently, the following entities as wonders of the modern world. In 1994, the American Society of Civil Engineers compiled a list of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. This was done to pay tribute to the 20th century’s greatest civil engineering achievements. These are listed as: – the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building, the CNN Tower, the Channel Tunnel, the Itaipu Dam, Delta works, and the Panama Canal. These may not be aesthetically beautiful but are engineering marvels based on functionality and will be admired by the present generation as well as the future world, if not destroyed in the interim by various forces.
In 2001 an initiative was started by the Swiss corporation New 7 Wonders Foundation to choose the New 7 Wonders of the World from a selection of 200 existing monuments through online votes. The Great Pyramid of Giza, the only remaining of the Seven Ancient Wonders, was not one of the winners announced in 2007 but was added as an honorary candidate. While these lists, which are numerous, may be generated and amended due to political pressure, the important point is that one of the listed sites, the Taj Mahal, in Agra, Delhi where the Red Fort is located in the old Delhi, this marble, worldwide favourite structure is being affected by regional pollution from the multitude of industries ever sprouting in the surrounding areas.
This is causing the original, pristine white marble of the structure to turn yellow, with resultant degeneration of the dome of the monument to love and dedication built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, in remembrance of his wife Mumtaz, who demised during childbirth. This mausoleum runs the risk of eventually collapsing if the restoration attempts by the Indian Government are not successful, again lost to future generations. Noting the gravity of the problem, the Supreme Court of India instructed the government to maintain the restoration of the Taj Mahal, on an ongoing basis, or demolish it in a most drastic order. The once, gleaming Taj Mahal faces several threats, most of them manmade. In another article, the BBC reports that an insect called Chironomus calligraphus has invaded the monument, leaving patches of green-black frass in many parts of the structure.
While the bug is native to the Yamuna River, which flows past the Taj Mahal, its population has exploded in recent years due to pollution of the waterway. “Fifty-two drains are pouring waste directly into the river and just behind the monument. Yamuna has become so stagnant that fish, which earlier kept insect populations in check are dying. This allows the pests to proliferate in the river,” environmental activist tells the BBC. The bug faeces can be scrubbed away, but frequent scrubbing of the marble is labor intensive and dulls its shine.
Industrial pollution is also taking its toll. Nearby oil refineries, other factories and a 200 year old wood burning crematorium have caused the marble to start turning yellow. Though the government has closed dozens of nearby factories, the move has not had an effect on the yellowing of the Taj Mahal. While conservators use a special type of mud plastered to the walls to pull out the pollutants every few years, the pollution stains keep returning.
The threat to demolish the iconic landmark is certainly a blank threat, but one the federal government is not planning to call. Today, Dipak K. Dasha and Vishwa Mohan of The Times of India report that the government is preparing to file an affidavit with the court including a 100 year plan for the Taj Mahal in response to the Supreme Court’s admonishment. The plan includes closing down more industries near the Taj, cleaning up and preventing pollution discharge into the Yamuna, establishing a green mass transit system in Agra, improving the area’s sewage treatment plants and establishing a rubber dam to maintain the flow of water in the river, which can help in conservation efforts.
“We’ll take all possible measures on a war footing in a time bound manner to conserve the Taj Mahal and protect it from all kinds of pollution, be it air or water,” water resources minister Nitin Gadkari tells The Times. “We are sad over the Supreme Court’s observations. We, perhaps, couldn’t tell the court as to what all we have already done and what all we have been doing. We’ll inform the court all this in our affidavit.”
Any investment to preserve the Taj Mahal is probably worth it. The nation’s top tourist attraction draws up to 70,000 visitors per day, and all the dollars that go along with that. Of course, tourism is a double-edged sword, too: All that foot traffic is impacting the foundations of the aging structure and the touch of oily human hands and moist breath is discoloring the interior. That’s why earlier this year the Archaeological Survey of India proposed capping the number of Indian visitors to the site at 40,000 per day. In March 2020, the Survey implemented a 3-hour limit to visits, also an attempt to maintain crowd control.
To summarise, there are five reported factors causing the degradation of the Taj Mahal. These factors are Bacterial Faeces, Air Pollution and Mud Packs, A Shopping Mall construction project which was abandoned amid widespread protests, rightfully so, Open Funeral Pyres and last but not the least are Bomb threats from Militant Groups wanting to blow up the monument, which is a high possibility, noting the religious factionalism in the country.
Referring to natural, progressive destruction of UNESCO Heritage Sites or by individual groups based on a religious or nationalistic fervour, the complete brick by brick demolition of the Babri Mosque which stood at the Ram Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya, India by Hindus, is a much talked about legacy site. The same action was preceded at the very site, by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s destruction of a Hindu temple, reported built at the site of the birthplace of Lord Rama, who is stated to be the seventh avatar of the Hindu deity Lord Vishnu, by Muslims. This act indicates how sectionalism is responsible for the destruction of heritage sites, often thousands of years old.
Another example of such destruction are the Buddhas of Bamiyan. These were two 6th century, monumental statues of Gautama Buddha, carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamiyan valley of central Afghanistan, 130 kilometres, northwest of Kabul, at an elevation of 2,500 metres. Carbon dating of the structural components of the Buddhas has determined that the smaller 38 metres, “Eastern Buddha” was built around 570 AD and the larger 55 metres “Western Buddha” was built around 618 AD. These monumental statues, a rich reminder of the history of the region were destroyed by the then Taliban Government because they were considered unIslamic by the regime.
Similarly, there are numerous other sites on “The List of World Heritage in Danger” compiled by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) through the World Heritage Committee according to Article 11.4 of the World Heritage Convention. which was established in 1972 to designate and manage World Heritage Sites. Entries in the list are threatened World Heritage Sites for the conservation of which major operations are required and for which “assistance has been requested” The list is intended to increase international awareness of the threats and to encourage counteractive measures. Threats to a site can be either proven imminent threats or potential dangers which could have adverse effects on a site. Of particular concern is that some of these listed sites are located in “no go” conflict zones, such as the old city of Allepo, and Bosra, the stage for the intense Syrian Civil War.
These areas are currently held by the government. Bombings continue threatening these sites. Another example is the rich archaeological heritage of Palmyra. Under French Mandatory rule in 1932, the inhabitants were moved into the new village of Tadmur, this is presently called Tadmor and the ancient site became available for excavations. During the Syrian Civil War in 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) destroyed large parts of the ancient city, which was recaptured by the Syrian Army on 2 March 2017. Palmyra is an ancient Semitic city in present-day Homs Governorate, Syria. Archaeological finds here date back to the Neolithic period, and documents first mention the city in the early second millennium BC. Palmyra changed hands on several occasions between different empires before becoming a subject of the Roman Empire in the first century AD. In the Syrian Civil War, Palmyra was captured by the notoriously, iconoclastic Islamic State terrorist organization (ISIS), causing purposeful, total destruction of important archaeological legacies from the past. Presently, the Palmyra monuments and buildings are beyond restoration.
In some countries, the government is so impoverished, that there are no funds available for restorative works, as in Shahrisabz, formerly known as Kesh or Kish (“heart-pleasing”) and tentatively identified with the ancient Nautaca, Shahrisabz is one of Central Asia’s most ancient cities. It was founded more than 2,700 years ago and formed a part of the Achaemenid Empire or Persia from the 6th to 4th centuries BC. Throughout this period Kesh remained an important urban center of Sogdiana, a major province within the Empire. Documents from the late Achaemenid period speak of the renovation of the city’s walls Its name was officially changed to Shahrisabz in the modern era. Destruction of buildings in its medieval neighbourhood and continuing urban development has endangered the historical buildings, statues and monuments.
The other cause for acrimony and civil unrest, often leading to violent protests globally, is the presence of officially installed statues, as a stark reminder of the oppressor, slave traders and exploitative colonialist, all of whom have been immortalized by having giant or life size statues made and placed at strategic points in major cities across the globe for posterity to remember. These statues glorify the individuals, who directed their exploitation against an oppressed people, they subjugated, as part of their colonial occupation. Incidentally, in Zanzibar, Tanzania, a Slavery Memorial Monument at Stone Town’s slave market, is a stark reminder monument to slaves, as they were housed in cellars before being auctioned and shipped across to different parts of the world, by colonialists.
Objection against colonial era physical reminders led to an initial unrest which began in Cape Town, South Africa in 2020, when student activists expressed distaste to the presence of a statue of Sir Cecil John Rhodes placed at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Rhodes entered the Cape Parliament at the age of 27 in 1881 and in 1890, he subsequently became the Prime Minister. During his tenure, Rhodes used his political power to steal land from black Africans through the Glen Grey Act, while also supporting the wealth requirement for voting, under the Franchise and Ballot Act, effectively barring black people from taking part in elections. After overseeing the formation of Rhodesia during the early 1890s, he was forced to resign in 1896 after the disastrous Jameson Raid, an unauthorised attack on Paul Kruger’s South African Republic (or Transvaal). Rhodes’s career never recovered; his heart was weak and after years of poor health he died in 1902.
The statue of Cecil Rhodes was erected at Company’s Garden in Cape Town in 1908. It features a full body replica of Rhodes wearing a three-piece suit, standing with his left hand raised and pointing north. It has been compared to the Jan van Riebeek statue, which faces south and asserts a different sense of occupation. On 15th July 2020, a criminal case was opened after the statue of Cecil Rhodes was found beheaded, at a monument on the slopes of Table Mountain. A damaged bust of Cecil John Rhodes, a controversial figure in the history of South Africa, was seen after the statue had been vandalised and had the head removed in Cape Town, South Africa. South Africa’s University of Cape Town has removed a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes that had become the focus of protests. It was smeared with excrement. Cape Town university voted for removal of colonial statue. The monument, taken down in front of cheering protesters, will be stored for “safe keeping”, UCT’s council said. Students have been campaigning for the removal of the statue of this 19th Century figure, unveiled in 1934, over a protracted period of time.
Recently, the governors of the Oxford University college also voted to remove the statue of the colonialist. Cecil John Rhodes. Campaigners have called for the statue to be taken down, saying it was a symbol of imperialism and racism.
Other monuments to colonial era leaders have also been the target of protests in South Africa. The campaign has triggered a backlash. On one occasion crowds of white South Africans rallied at statues of Paul Kruger in Pretoria, and Jan van Riebeeck in Cape Town, saying they were part of their heritage and should not be targeted.
The growing global support for the Black Lives Matter movement originating in the United States, has seen a number of Confederate and colonial statues removed in the US, UK, Belgium and New Zealand. Some of these monuments have been the subject of years-long efforts for their removal. There is now a renewed call for removal of these reminders of oppressors, while the legal case for the murdered George Floyd is in progress, presently.
The evidence presented in this case on 01st April 2021, in court, clearly shows that Mr George Floyd died while he was being kneeled upon his neck by former police officer, Mr Derek Chauvin. The famous, mural painting of George Floyd Memorial, in Minneapolis is now used worldwide in support of Black Lives Matter. In addition, a George Floyd mural was even painted far afield on the Separation Wall in Palestine, expressing Palestinian solidarity with the cause of African Americans.
Following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25th May at the hands of a police officer, Derek Chauvin, ethnic nationalism has gained momentum, globally. In South Africa, a Cape Town lobby group, the Black People’s National Crisis Committee used Youth Day which is a national holiday in South Africa, celebrated on June 16th. This was previously known as Soweto Day. Youth Day marks the start of the Soweto riots on this day in 1976. which to demand colonial statues be removed, starting with the Louis Botha statue at the main entrance of Parliament, where they staged a picket.
As South Africa commemorated the June 16, 1976 youth uprisings, which saw pupils taking to the streets to oppose the enforcement of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction by the apartheid regime, the crisis committee, comprising mostly young people, said the removal of colonial monuments was long overdue.
In United States, city authorities in Memphis, a city steeped in civil rights history, removed two statues of Confederate leaders, hours after the downtown parkland where they stood, was sold to a private group.
Several U.S. cities have in recent months dismantled monuments to Confederate leaders, which have become focal points for a robust national debate over race and politics. The removal of the statutes of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest comes three months before Memphis marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination there of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Confederate General Forrest was a slave trader and a Ku Klux Klan leader, as the First Grand Wizard
This City Council, voted unanimously to sell the two parks and crews began working right away to remove a statue of Forrest. At the second park, a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was later taken down.
Selling the parks to a third party was a way to get around the Tennessee Historical Commission, which had previously denied the city’s petition to take the statues down. The Sons of Confederate Veterans received the statues of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest from a Tennessee nonprofit group almost two years after being removed from public parks in Memphis.
New Orleans also removed last of four statues linked to pro-slavery era. Crews also used a crane to lift a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee off its pedestal as the city removed the last of four monuments, its leaders see as racially offensive. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (2010-2018), speaking to an audience that included civil rights leaders, city officials and activists, said that the statues celebrated “the lost cause of the Confederacy.” He called them “symbols of white supremacy” and a part of a movement “to rewrite history, to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity”, with reference to enslavement of people of African origin in the United States.
As I write this, Chile has decided to remove statues in Santiago, today. Chilean officials removed the embattled statue of a military hero from one of the capital’s main plazas. The statue of Gen. Manuel Baquedano, a hero of the country’s 19th century war against Peru and Bolivia, fell victim to antigovernment protests that have repeatedly targeted buildings and monuments in Santiago since 2019. The bronze, 4-ton statue was repeatedly scratched, burned, painted and covered with protest flags. Protesters several times tried unsuccessfully to topple it. Colonel Eduardo Villalón, director of the Army’s cultural department, said it would undergo restoration which was expected to last about a year. The Army had repeatedly sought to remove the statue from Plaza Italia, a central focus of Chilean protest movements. The National Monuments Commission finally accepted that petition after protesters last week burned tires beneath the statue and others tried to cut it down with saws.
In Bristol, United Kingdom, a centuries old statue of a slave trader was removed by protesters and thrown into the river. during a Black Lives Matter protest. Videos which have been widely shared on social media, protesters can be seen cheering as the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century slave trader, was torn down. Edward Colston was born to a wealthy merchant family in Bristol in 1636 and died in 1721. In 1680 he became a member of the Royal African Company which at the time had a monopoly on the England and West African slave trade. By 1689 he had risen to become the firm’s deputy governor and is believed to have transported around 84,000 African men, women and children as slaves. Slaves bought in West Africa were branded with the company initials RAC and packed on to ships for a six to eight weeks voyage to the Americas. Some 10,000 poor people, orphans or criminals were also shipped out from Bristol, as bonded labour. His bronze statue had been in the city centre since 1895 but was seen as a symbol of his slave trading past and locals had been calling for it to be removed.
Police have since launched an investigation into the sinking of Colston’s statue, which Home Secretary Ms Priti Patel called “utterly disgraceful.” She told MPs: “It is not for mobs to tear down statues and cause criminal damage in our streets.” The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson of United Kingdom, added that those who harmed police or property would face “the full force of the law”. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was the “wrong” way to take it down, but admitted the statue “should have been taken down a long, long time ago.”
Another area of great contestation is the eponymous naming of buildings, streets, centres and other public places, based on names of oppressors, colonialist, army generals and slavers in a particular country. This is prevalent in South Africa, post 1994 and removal of the apartheid government. Translated from the Afrikaans meaning ‘apartness’, apartheid was the ideology supported by the National Party government and was introduced in South Africa in 1948. These structures are now being renamed in commemoration of liberation protagonists, against apartheid. Presently, the major city of Port Elizabeth is being renamed Gqeberha, amid nationwide protests, this time against the renaming in the Xhosa the predominant language of the province of Eastern Cape in South Africa.
In conclusion, the conflict is about disregarding history, as it happened and removing the stark reminders of the major colonial role players for future generations, leaving nothing to refer to or reflect about in terms of their abhorrent conduct in the past, either supporting and preserving the colonial heritage or destroying it forever. Can one imagine if the Palace of Versailles in Paris was destroyed by the revolutionists or Kremlin by the Bolsheviks, or the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, gutted by the African National Congress when it gained power in 1994, from the Nationalist apartheid government in South Africa.
The words: “My own view on this is that hiding our history is not the route to enlightenment,” Professor Louise Richardson of Oxford university told the BBC. “We need to understand this history and understand the context in which it was made and why it was that people believed then as they did,” she said. “This university has been around for 900 years. For 800 of those years the people who ran the university didn’t think women were worthy of an education. Should we denounce those people? “Personally, no, I think they were wrong, but they have to be judged by the context of their time,” said Professor Richardson, the first female Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University has called on students to be open minded and engage with “objectionable” ideas. In the speech Mrs. Richardson said: “‘How do we ensure that they appreciate the value of engaging with ideas they find objectionable, trying through reason to change another’s mind, while always being open to changing their own? “How do we ensure that our students understand the true nature of freedom of inquiry and expression?” She also said: “In an increasingly complex world the best may not be those who look and sound like ourselves.”
While the jury is out there, my personal opinion is that historically, the remnants of colonial era effigies, name plaques, cities and street names, as well as airports, harbours and other public places should be retained, as an educational exercise to remember the individuals whose names we have glorified in order to remember their atrocities and oppression, not to commit the same mistakes which our oppressors made in the past to be repeated in the future.
It is to be noted, that “His Master’s Voice” logo of a dog, Nipper listening to the gramophone, should be remembered for the entertainment value and not the subtle, subjugator propaganda it conveyed to its colonies from Britain in the early 1900’s. This, logo was used when the Empire controlled its colonies and the subjects were reminded that even in their entertainment, they must listen to their “Master”, Britain, who may be far away, from where they, the subjects, were.
The bottom line is that the oppressed must not transform themselves into the oppressors, with regime changes in a country. This philosophy was espoused by the first democratically elected President Nelson Mandela of South Africa in 1994, in a bloodless transformation of power from the previous oppressive white minority government.
 Petzet (Ed.), Michael (2009). The Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan. Safeguarding the remains (PDF). ICOMOS. pp. 18–19.
 Eastern Buddha: 549 AD – 579 AD (1 σ range, 68.2% probability) 544 AD – 595 AD (2 σ range, 95.4% probability). Western Buddha: 605 AD – 633 AD (1 σ range, 68.2%) 591 AD – 644 AD (2 σ range, 95.4% probability). in Blänsdorf, Catharina (2015). “Dating of the Buddha Statues – AMS 14C Dating of Organic Materials”.
Prof. Hoosen Vawda, BSc, MBChB (Natal), ATLS, ACLS (NZ), PhD (Wits):
-Community Health and Indigent Programme Services–Social Outreach, Medical Programme (Not for Profit Organisation)
-Lifestyle Change Management – PR: 1501305, MP: 0193801
Tags: Colonialism, History, Imperialism, Nelson Mandela, Neocolonialism, South Africa
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 Apr 2021.
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