The Steyn statue will no longer occupy pride of place at the centre of the UFS campus. After an intense process UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, announced that the statue would be moved. He made the announcement after the Council of UFS approved the relocation of the statue of President MT Steyn to a site off campus during its quarterly meeting. Council furthermore requested that the relocation must be done in complete cooperation with the family of President MT Steyn.

The decision of the Council follows a recommendation made by the Special Task Team, facilitated process on review of statue’s position, in a report to Petersen.

The Special Task Team was appointed earlier this year by Prof Petersen to develop and implement a framework on engaging with a process to review the position of the statue in front of the Main Building on the Bloemfontein Campus. The team considered four options during the review process:

(i) retention of the statue in its current position;
(ii) reinterpretation of the statue and the space around it;
(iii) relocation of the statue on campus;
(iv) and the relocation of the statue to a site off campus.

The review process commenced in April 2018 and was concluded with a two-month public participation process from 9 July to 9 September 2018.

Discussions regarding the repositioning of the MT Steyn statue date as far back as
2003, and it was again raised during a University Assembly on 28 April 2015. In January 2018, the university’s Integrated Transformation Plan (ITP) work stream dealing with ‘Names, Symbols and Spaces’ embarked on a process of reviewing how space and symbolic representation facilitates or hinders social inclusion in a diverse community. The MT Steyn statue was identified as a priority to be dealt with within the mandate of the work stream.

After a student engagement on 8 March 2018, the student community, through the Student Representative Council (SRC), once again asked for the MT Steyn statue to be removed. Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, acknowledged the urgency of the matter and appointed the Special Task Team to review the position of the statue. The Special Task Team was sufficiently representative of the campus communities, as well as adequately skilled and equipped, and acted with the necessary diligence, commitment, and objectivity in completing the report.

The team did not work in isolation. It consulted widely with various stakeholders (including the family of MT Steyn), gathered qualitative data, and appointed an independent heritage consultant to conduct a Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA), which included the two month-long public participation process that was extensively reported on in the media.

Speaking to members of the media Petersen said that the relocation of the statue to a site off campus will best serve the university’s vision for the future. “This includes ensuring that the UFS is a place where everyone feels welcome, where diversity is encouraged and celebrated, where concepts such as decolonialisation are challenged in an academic and realistic way, and where integration is accomplished in a holistic manner – as reflected in the ITP,” he said.

Photo by Werner Fitzgerald Smith.