July 14, 2020

London saves Churchill’s statue from vandals; was Hamilton council hasty?

The local authorities in London have encased the iconic statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, London to protect it from vandalism ahead of protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd – and some people are asking if Hamilton City Council could have done something differently here.

The life-size statue of the UK’s leader and wartime prime minister who led the country to victory in World War II, was encased in a large, dull gray wooden box in the early hours of today (Friday, UK time) resembling, what The Washington Post termed as a “shipping container or an upright coffin.”

Statues of Nelson Mandela and the Cenotaph War Memorial in London have also been similarly protected in boxes while steps are being taken to protect other key statues and monument at risk.

The Greater London Authority has not said when these boxes will be removed, but the statue(s) may find a permanent place later in a museum.

There are, however, people who question some parts of Churchill’s legacy and accuse him of being racist despite his achievements.

in 1937, for instance, he referred to British imperialism as …” stronger race, a higher-grade race, or, at any rate, a more worldly wise race…” who took over “primitive races.” He is also reportedly, once said: “I hate Indians…they are beastly people with a beastly religion.” 

(L) Capt. Hamilton’s statue being removed; (R) workers covering Churchill statue in London to protect

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, however, defended Churchill. He tweeted it was “absurd and shameful” that the statue should be under attack and said that the protests have been “hijacked by extremists.”

“We cannot try to edit or censor our past…we cannot pretend to have a different history,” he says.

Boris Johnson's tweet

The taking down of Captain John Hamilton’s bronze statue by the Hamilton City Council yesterday to pre-empt desecration and at request of Waikato-Tainui, has started a debate here. Did the Council take a hasty decision or could have taken action differently to protect the person’s legacy from whom the city got its name?

New Zealand First Leader, Winston Peters has called the removal of statues a “wave of idiocy”.

His comments voice his unhappiness, and sentiments echo that of Borris Johnson.

“A self-confident country would never succumb to obliterating symbols of their history, whether it be good or bad or simply gone out of fashion,” he said.

Churchill’s statue (inset) covered in a wooden case to protect

“Why do some woke New Zealanders feel the need to mimic mindless actions imported from overseas?” Peters rightly asks.

AUT Professor and Historian, Paul Moon is also of the view that removal of colonial monuments wouldn’t correct anything. “If you think removing a statue – somehow amputating a visual representation of the past is going to change anything – you’re very much mistaken,” he reportedly told radio broadcaster, Mike Hosking.

Waikato University’s Associate Professor of Māori and Indigenous Studies, Tom Roa, was also against removal of colonial statues. He reportedly told The Project  last week “Our future should be more informed of their past so that it is our history,” 

Some local residents see the Council’s action as having set a precedent and fear more historical figures may bite dust in days ahead.

One angry Hamilton resident wrote on social media …”you do not judge the actions of the past by the standards of today. Yet our (Hamilton) Council is willing to deny, change and whitewash history”, and says “this rubbish has got to stop.”

Another resident to whom NewsViews spoke felt the Council should not have succumbed to pressures, and initiating a dialogue would have been a better option.

Drawing parallel to the steps taken by the London Mayor to encase Churchill’s statue to protect it, they said “Why couldn’t our Council do such a thing? Why authorities could not undertake protection of the monument that was unceremoniously hitched-up by crane and taken away on a truck?”

Maori Party and other activists, on the other hand, have welcomed the action and have been calling for an inquiry into the statues and names from New Zealand’s colonial era, and want these gone. Some local residents have also welcomed the action and wondered why it came late in coming.

Supporters want all colonial and racial symbols to be taken down.

Anu Kaloti of Migrant Workers Association was more vocal in her reaction: “There are a few more statues around Westminster/parliament that symbolise colonisation and slavery – they should all be removed and stored in a museum of horrors so that the human race can always remember to be not like them”, she says.

No doubt this removal of controversial Captain Hamilton’s statue – who ‘never set foot in the city’, heralds the signal of what lies ahead. Ere long, don’t be surprised if the city’s name Hamilton paves way to ‘Kirikiriroa’ in days ahead as demanded by Waikato-Tainui.

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Also Read: www.newsviews.co.nz/blm-reaches-nz-capt-hamiltons-statue-to-be-removed/