There’s been a lot of debate and general noise involving my alma mater, the University of Cape Town (UCT), over the past two weeks concerning whether a statue of Cecil John Rhodes should remain in prominent view (despite his pillaging, plundering past as a coloniser) or whether it should be taken down to acknowledge the error of his legacy.
For the five years I was at UCT I honestly remember paying that particular statue very little attention. The times it did catch my eye usually occurred because one of the male residences’ decided to paint it a different colour as a prank or when I would use it as a meeting spot with friends, after lectures, before heading down to Lower Campus.
I have no recollection whatsoever of gazing up at it and thinking “Cecil, you little shit”. If anything, I was quite unmoved by its entire existence. Granted, I was in my early 20’s and my priorities at that time didn’t include being a social activist or cultivating a level of black consciousness – that came a little bit later in life.
However, in light of recent developments calling for the statue to be taken down I find myself in two minds about the whole ordeal..
My argument in support of #RhodesMustFall
I’ve never understood how or why post-independent South Africa didn’t do a more thorough job eliminating the evidence and remnants that speak to a past that encouraged the oppression and belittling of an entire race of its indigenous people. It wasn’t good enough that South Africa only got a new flag, and a black government/political part ruling. In my humble opinion, they should have gone the full hog and:
- Renamed the entire country: After all, South Africa is literally a location – Mzansi sounds so much better.
- Renamed all street names that commemorated the architects and preservers of apartheid: Jan Smuts and Louis Botha anyone?
- Pulled down all the statues of pro-apartheid individuals and sent them to Orania, as one person I was chatting with this past weekend cheekily suggested.
My point is that this should be done as soon as the ink was drying on the Independence Declaration Certificate (or whatever the equivalent was then). This would have sent a clear message that all attitudes and sentiments that supported the belief that apartheid or colonisation was something to be proud of, applauded or immortalised had it very wrong. In short, Rhodes’ statue should have been taken down 20 years ago, so better late than never.
Additional Points to Ponder:
- Are visual reminders the best way to preserve the memory of an individual – whether they are the heroes or villains of our history?
- Is taking a statue down enough? Does more need to be done to eradicate or discredit the living memories of these villains of our history?
- Could the narration of the Red & Blue City Bus Tours in Cape Town not focus on Cecil John Rhodes?! Seriously, there’s history and then there’s the incessant promotion of one rather unpopular man #RantOver.
My argument against #RhodesMustFall
There are plenty of social issues and inconsistencies that plague my alma mater like, the high rate of academic exclusion of black South African students, the dubious racial allocation of students to specific residence’s and the ever increasing costs of tuition. Honestly, it would make more sense to me to get answers and solutions to any one of these issues before the thought of having Cecil John Rhodes’ statue taken down would have had time to cross my mind. I wish the other more serious tertiary concerns got as much airplay as this #RhodesMustFall issue has received.
Then I think to myself, “There’s a reason why Rhodes has a statue up there. He’s the one who pledged that dubiously acquired land, in his will, to be used for a tertiary institution. He’s the reason UCT exists and that must mean something, right?” Does Rhodes being a strong patron of Education within Southern Africa diminish his shady, sinister and oppressive exploits as a coloniser of South Africa? No, it doesn’t. But does it mean we must forget that he made this generous contribution either? No, it does not. If it’s already taken people a whole +20 years (post-Apartheid) to take it down, having it stay up there is neither going to improve upon Cecil John Rhodes’ greatly diminished reputational capital.
I would almost go as far as to say that leaving his statue up there could serve as a timely reminder to everyone who sees it that no matter how much good you may have done, it will never eclipse the fact that your actions denied millions of people basic human rights and dignity.
Taking the statue down won’t change his or our history. Keeping the statue up will encourage some scintillating discourse (like so) regarding one man’s corrosive involvement within our collective histories, here in Southern Africa.
Additional Points to Ponder:
- Seriously though UCT, can we address those other key social issues that are rife within your hallowed halls like chop-chop?
- Errrr, how much exactly would it cost to take that statue down? I would love to know the answer to that.
I would love to hear YOUR views, opinions and/or arguments
say your peace in the comments.