Hours after it was discovered that the controversial statue of British hero Horatio Nelson had been defaced, efforts were under way to clean off the paint that had been splashed over it.
However, while workers from commercial cleaning company Pammard Services were today trying to wash off the evidence, nothing could erase the deep feelings that Barbadians have about the placement of the 204-year-old statue which stands imposingly at Heroes Square.
City commuters were surprised this morning to discover that the statue, which was erected in 1813, was covered in yellow and blue spray paint and other graffiti.
Whoever defaced it also left a sign at the base of the statue stating: “Lord Nelson will Fall. This racist white supremacist who would rather die than see black persons free, stands proudly in our nation’s capital. Nelson must go! Fear not Barbadians have spoken, politicians have failed us.”
Independent senator John Watson pounced on this message during debate on the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 in the Upper House, describing it as a sign of hatred for Nelson, who led forces that defended British interests in the Caribbean during slavery.
“It was despicable. We should never condone those sorts of things in Barbados,” Watson said.
The symbolic use of yellow and blue paint on the eve of Barbados’ 51st anniversary of independence did not go unnoticed by Watson, a strong advocate for black enfranchisement.
Describing the act as “extremely shocking”, he said “it was not done in any respect for Barbados in blue and gold.
“It was done as mischievousness against Lord Nelson . . . . I wanted to go to the person or persons who did that and to let them know that the use of that gold paint and blue paint does not represent the behaviour of Barbadians.”
“I do not hide my feelings or my wish to see a better deal for black people in Barbados. But my belief in black enfranchisement and the upliftment of black people has absolutely nothing to do with the hate of anybody, with prejudice, with the dislike of any other race,” Watson stressed.
A number of people with whom Barbados TODAY spoke felt defacing the statue was ill advised at best, even if they did not like the fact that it continued to occupy space in an area named in honour of Barbadian heroes, none of whom enjoys a similar privilege.
Pammard Services employee Jerard Augustine, who was among those cleaning the Nelson figure, condemned the act of vandalism, while insisting that Nelson is part of Barbados’ past.
“Defacing Nelson doesn’t mean anything. He is part of our history. Our ancestors sell us to them, so it’s like we are forgetting who we are, and this is not the time for that. For them to deface him because he bought slaves is crazy. He is part of Barbados, and if not for the ancestors we wouldn’t be here. So let us respect Nelson for who he was,” Augustine told Barbados TODAY, while adding that Government should consider erecting statues of the country’s heroes to “show Barbadians that this is history”.
It also did not escape him that the defacement took place on the eve of independence, and he felt “the person [was] trying to speak out”.
A similar observation was made by a woman who requested anonymity, but who told Barbados TODAY while she did not endorse defacing the statue, both the note left by whoever was responsible and the timing were spot on.
“I am not a fan of defacing, it is against the law to vandalize. But the sign that was there I am in full agreement with it.
“I think the person timed it perfectly. Fifty-one years we are a nation and certain things of the past we need to let go. If he [Nelson statue] is representing what happened before the 51 years we can take him down.”
Philip Clarke also said it was wrong to deface the statue, but said it should have been taken down a long time ago, while Wendell C Smith could not be bothered, although he too, disagreed with the defacement.
“I know Professor Beckles is saying it should go and I guess he is speaking from a historic point of view, but as far as I am concerned to me it is neither here nor there,” Clarke said in reference to a two-part commentary by vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies Sir Hilary Beckles calling for the statue to be taken down.
“There is a certain way to deal with things. You have the pen and you have your voice but defacing, no. There is a more civil way to deal with these things,” Clarke stressed.
In his article, Sir Hilary said the continued presence of the statue constituted “the subjugation of democratic parliamentary power to descendant white elites” and was “a persistent violent imposition upon the mind of every right-thinking democratic citizen”.
He also criticized academics such as Sir Henry Fraser and Dr Karl Watson, whom he said have confronted the society “under the guise of cultural artifact” but have refused to state if they would wish to live in a state with a monument of a Nazi warlord had they been Jewish.
He also took aim at both major political parties for failing to remove the statue during their tenures in office.
“The assumption is growing, I have been informed, that the Government might rather citizens, in an act of moral civil disobedience, to take matters in their own hands, and remove the offending obstacle to democracy. This has been the case in the United States and South Africa,” Sir Hilary wrote.