The University of Cape Town (UCT) is investigating the “defacing” of Cecil Rhodes’ statue by black students who poured sewage over it during a protest on Monday, possibly to charge the students with contravening the university’s protest policy. But how else could the students protest, where they face such entrenched and systemic lack of privilege?
Rhodes, who died on 26 March 1902, is today associated more with Oxford scholarships than with the black mass killings he committed. It was Rhodes who originated the land grabs to which Zimbabwe’s current miseries can ultimately be traced. It was Rhodes who told the House of Assemblies in 1887 in Cape Town that “the native is to be treated as a child and denied the (Cape) franchise. We must adopt a system of despotism in our (whites’) relations with the barbarians of South Africa”. Rhodes’ attitude towards Africa and its people was bluntly racist; in his own words he “prefer(ed) land to niggers.” Moreover, Rhodes is linked with the Jameson Raid, an illegal attempt to annex Transvaal territory then held by the Boers, a primary cause of the South African War in 1899-1902. He is clearly an enemy of black people.
The university’s attitude, in media reports so far, ignores the fact that Rhodes is responsible for countless black mass killings, connived his way to wealth through lawlessness by exploiting South Africa’s diamond and gold deposits, and used his bloody wealth to fund the invasion of East Africa to seize almost a million square miles of land from black people.
UCT’s communication manager and media liaison, Patricia Lucas, is reported to have confirmed the incident, and said that the protesters did not follow “procedures in place to allow students to hold peaceful and safe protests on issues that concern them”, and by failing to inform the university “violated the law”.
UCT is a university with only 48 black academics out of a total of 1,405, and not a single black South African woman full professor. The expectation that black students and blacks in general must be good and decent about institutional racism, colonial symbolism and the celebration of black genocide within the context of white intellectual, socio-economic domination, involves the submissive acceptance of self-humiliating obedience to white values, attitudes, rules and regulations, even when they are manifestly biased against blacks. It is simply white privilege and arrogance.
Rhodes’ statue is not the only statue that celebrates racist colonialists. There is Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, named after Lieutenant-Colonel John Graham; Rhodes University, and the very precincts of our democratic Parliament, where there are statues of Queen Elizabeth and Louis Botha, which stare to mock the raging landlessness and hopelessness of blacks daily. The EFF in Parliament, of course, raised its objections about the presence of colonial monuments, which obviously divide the nation, and proposed their removal, to which the ANC and the DA were opposed. In fact, the DA is naming Cape Town’s busiest road after a racist who was education minister in 1976, when unarmed and defenseless black school children were shot in their back by white police. It’s like asking white Jews to accept a monument of Adolf Hitler in Tel Aviv because he promoted respect for women, children and strong family values, with the total disregard of the history of human tragedy for the Jews.
The reaction to the defacing of Rhodes’ statue is a reflection of South Africa’s white supremacist values under the stewardship of a black government, to pacify black rage into humble compliance with white demands, even when such demands are offensive, humiliating and unjust. UCT, a white university, wants black students to submit to white domination without complaint, or that their complaint be processed within the defined legal channels, processed and reduced within a white dominated system, when 47% of whites in South Africa already think Apartheid was “not that bad”.
Like the 1994 reconciliation project without justice, in the name of national unity and the “rainbow nation”, whites expect all blacks to suppress or passively restrict our demands, to renounce or greatly reduce our active, self-determined pursuit of self-determination, for rejecting colonialism in all its manifestation.
Finally, whiteness requires blacks’ silence in our justified and valid demand for the removal of all commemorations of those who oppressed and exploited us, and defenselessly permit whites to abuse us and to be ready to indiscriminately be compassionate to others, including our enemies, like Rhodes. The bravery of the black students to publicly challenge white arrogance and the institutional racist colonial symbolism is truly inspiring necessary anger to sharpen the contradictions in the university and perhaps in South African societies. DM
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Social Justice activist and researcher in the EFF Parliamentary caucus, Tokelo writes in his personal capacity Former Deputy President of the Student Representative Council (SRC) at Wits University. BA in Politics and International Relations from Wits University (2011). BA with honors in Journalism and Media from Wits University (2012). Master of Arts candidate in Political Sciences at Wits University. Twitter: @tokelonhlapo
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