Cecil John Rhodes, the ultimate colonialist, imperialist, capitalist, elitist; to some, the ultimate white, has triggered a revolution at the southern tip of Africa a hundred years after his death.
He deserves a monument for all that.
“We do not seek to live like the white man. We seek to be free,” said University of Cape Town SRC president Ramabina Mahapa, addressing UCT’s black caucus, assembled to discuss the issue. He added that integration over the 21 years of democracy had benefited [only] whites and the assimilated black.
|Hi! Cecil John Rhodes in the Company Gardens, Cape Town|
The removal of Rhodes’s statue from the campus was only the start of a revolution, he said. “We want UCT to transform and we will transform it ourselves – if need be.” Also in his corner was Dr Shose Kessi, a senior lecturer in the psychology department, who said students should go beyond the statue and demand decolonisation and the Africanisation of the institution.
Dr Hendrik Verwoerd has a lot to answer for. You might recall that he was all for “decolonising” black South Africans – in fact, freeing them from the colonial structure of the South African state; giving them “Bantu” education (and, for the smart ones, “bush” colleges); having them live “in their own way” in their “own areas”. The only difference between then and now, it seems, is the definition of exactly what constitutes “their own area”.
The ultimate irony is, of course, that the revolutionaries who rushed the UCT authorities into removing Rhodes’s monster statue from its extraordinarily dominant position on the campus, are themselves all, one way or another, monuments to British colonialism, imperialism, capitalism and elitism. The whole bang shoot. They read and write; they speak English, wear trousers, shirts, even jackets and ties, attend UCT driven by their own ambition; wish one day to be rich and influential, even powerful. Masters of science, psychology, medicine and technology.
I have not an ounce of Anglo-Saxon blood in my veins, yet I am for the same reasons, a product of British colonialism, imperialism etc, etc. At the same time, as inevitably, I am a product of Africa.
What we clearly all have yet to learn is to own our shared history, with all it’s upsetting, fascinating and inspiring baggage. We must learn to own and understand European colonialism (the form of colonialism most relevant to us); the racial and ethnic wars of our past that ultimately brought us all together (they are our shared history); and the heroes and villains, victors and victims of each.
Those who have reached university should at least be expected to understand that an institution like UCT, and an urban environment such as ours, with highways, high-rise buildings and industrial enterprises, could not have been brought about without some form of capitalism, be it the state or private variety; capital that was ultimately derived from the often-brutal exploitation of labour and the natural environment. And that the process is almost invariably driven by ruthless and unpleasantly self-opinionated people like Rhodes or Stalin.
Learning to own all that can be – is – hugely stressful. We are all entitled to have our occasional moments of doubt and rage. But that lurking racist impulse is, make no mistake, deadly. For God’s sake, read our own history. Rhodes’s statue is an image of pompous pride and is best consigned to a more discreet site. But dismounting Dick King? Smearing Gandhi? Paul Kruger (Rhodes’s great enemy)?
Is it accidental that this is all happening at a time of widespread, violent xenophobia? I think not.
A last observation: Dr Iqbal Survé surfed the wave at that black caucus meeting to settle a score or two: UCT, he said, was a racist institution whose leadership would remove “a statue or two” but not tackle fundamental issues. “They will pay lip service as they often do to real change, so if you want transformation, you must change the power structures." ["Iqbal for Vice Chancellor!" I hear you shout.]
The clincher: "The very people who used to enforce apartheid legislature at UCT are in charge of the administration today,” Survé added.
Which happens to be neither fair nor true. So let’s play dirty then: What Survé – recently retired from all his positions at UCT – did not say, is that he owes most of his wealth to that notoriously corrupt (see noses120; 121) white (let’s not say the word) capitalist German company, Siemens; which profited hugely from its decades-long close relationship with the apartheid regime. What qualities, one wonders, did that company see in Survé when they chose him as their BEE ticket to the latest show in town?
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