My Life in Africa

Rhodes Must Fall: A Blessing In Disguise?


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Rhodes Must Fall

I think what’s happening with the #RhodesMustFall movement at UCT is a blessing in disguise. Or is it? I think one thing’s for sure, it’s reminding us all that we need to actively question everything around us much more. I admit, I never questioned the statue. Of the 3 years I studied at UCT, I must have looked at it a handful of times. I know I can say the same for all of my friends, as well as on behalf of the student residence I was head of in 2007-2008, Graca Machel Hall. I say this because I never received any complaints to myself or my committee from one of the 382 students at the residence who were always encouraged to voice their opinions or disconcertments about the university to their elected student leadership body. I also sat on the Student Representative Council for the year I was head student. I never once heard of or received a complaint about the presence of the statue. I certainly was unaware of the enormous angst, hatred, violence, resentment + aggression that the statue now seems to yield (and, apparently, always did).

You can call me ignorant, but that doesn’t make me an evil human being. My ignorance of its potential insult to black students definitely does not mean I endorse the imperialism Cecil John Rhodes believed in. I don’t think anyone in a position of authority at UCT ever intended to harm, insult or actively outrage students attending the university by letting the statue stand. I repeat that while I was studying, I passed this piece a thousand times + it never crossed my mind. For me it was part of South Africa’s history, not its present. But the matter has brought a lot to my attention, specifically that I should have probably thought about it more deeply. If you sat me down now + asked what I think about Cecil John Rhodes, I can say without hesitancy I’m astounded the statue stood so long! Another testimony to the fact that people just simply didn’t think. Even reporter for EyeWitness News, Vumani Nkize, admits the statue of Paul Kruger in Pretoria serves as more of a background for photographs rather than an historical monument in the eyes of citizens. Does it mean we’re terrible citizens? No, it just means we’re not all so politically charged.

Researching Cecil John Rhodes + his role in our history, I found this extract from website sahistory.org:

One of Rhodes’ guiding principles throughout his life, that underpinned almost all of his actions, was his firm belief that the Englishman was the greatest human specimen in the world and that his rule would be a benefit to all.

I think we can all say that nobody wants to see the Apartheid situation happen again, ever. And I do think this movement touches on the greater issue at hand; that we’re all responsible for the reality we allow around us. In order to make sure that reality is one that sits well with us, we need to switch our brains on + take more of an interest in the world we’re living in. What do you believe in? What makes your blood boil? What are you allowing to be said, to stand as a monument, to be done to others around you that you don’t agree with? What are you doing to stop it? Take a moment + get involved where you can in causes you believe in.

I applaud the students who have rallied together for a cause they believe in. Now that it’s been brought to my attention, I’m definitely of the opinion that Rhodes must fall. I’m just sorry about the aggressive manner in which its being done. Does it have to be this extreme? If we’re ever going to transform + move forward as a country into a responsible, collaborative, peaceful future, I don’t think it should be this violent. Looking at some of the videos of their Facebook page, I’m worried the crime statistics in Cape Town could go up. It seems the statue’s significance has reignited the flame of racism, which will have repurcussions. Whenever you provoke people so emotionally, you stir passions which could be as destructive as they are helpful. The video below demonstrates my point. It’s a pity its been reduced to all this. Even if black students feel the institution is racist because it doesn’t employ enough black professors + doesn’t offer courses in African languages, I would love to have seen a more creative + peaceful way to address this issue.

Want other opinions? See below

I have no ties whatsoever with UCT. Nor do I identify with Rhodes or his deeds in any way. What I have is an astonishingly keen interest in history. I regard myself as widely read. And the statue of Rhodes binds us with the past, it regales us with anecdotes. Well, it used to. It’ll be gone soon.

– News24 user

Why do we, as a society at large, have to break down what we don’t identify with? Why do we have to destroy? What separates us from the ISIS hoodlums who vandalise museum pieces in northern Africa?

– News24 user

Khoi leaders in Port Elizabeth have joined the Rhodes Must Fall Campaign and are demanding the removal of the imposing marble statue of Queen Victoria in front of the City’s Main Library

– The Sowetan Live

I have read many of the passionate, strongly worded opinion pieces from those demanding the statue come down and I agree with them, to a point. It’s clear that this is about the larger issue of transformation at our tertiary institutions, evinced by how the protests have spread to other universities. But I struggle to see how taking the statue down will represent anything but the smallest of symbols in that larger fight.

– Verashni Pillay, Mail & Guardian

Rhodes Must Fall Rhodes Must Fall Rhodes Must Fall

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