In case you are not aware, something rather interesting has been happening in South Africa over the last couple of weeks. And as my blog title suggests, it’s about statues. Missed it? Let me quickly bring you up to speed.
About a month ago now, a student at the University of Cape Town (UCT) staged a political protest against the lack of racial transformation at the university. His location of protest? The statue of Cecil John Rhodes located on the university’s campus grounds. His weapon of choice? Faeces! Yep, good old fashioned human poo. His plan was to cause extreme offense and confront the situation head on. It worked. Frustrated at the lack of transformation at UCT, many other students joined the protest (without emptying the bowels though) and “#RhodesMustFall” was born.
But it didn’t end there. As the news made its way around the country, a nationwide conversation around colonial statues began. More and more people, led by the rabble rousing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) political party, began calling for colonial statues to be removed. But as with most things in South Africa, the racial undertones made their way to the surface. The “pro-statue camps” and the “anti-statue camps” fast became the “white camps” and the “black camps” respectively.
The general (note, I said “general” not “absolute”) feeling among South Africans is this: white people feel the statues are a part of history so they must stay, while black people feel they are a part of an oppressive history so they must fall.
As for me? Well, I’m of the “statues must fall camp” and here’s why:
- These colonial statues celebrate/commemorate people who were not pro-equality. Whatever the argument, people like Cecil John Rhodes and Paul Kruger did not believe in the equality of all irrespective of race. They were pro-white. Why must a statue of such an individual be exhibited in the public space of a country trying to transform from a racially oppressive past?
- Some people are saying things like employment, education, healthcare, etc. are way more important than statues; that we must ignore statues and attend to those issues first. But just because AIDS is more deadly than the common cold, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat your cold.
- Why is it an issue when black people are offended by something? I mean, you don’t see statues of Nazis in Israel do you? Why not? Because they are offensive to Jews. And everyone understands and respects that. But when black people say they are offended by something, we belittle their feelings. “It’s no big deal”, “it’s the past”, “there are more important things”. No!!! This is important too!!!
- I’ve seen a lot of white commentators saying these colonial figures did a lot of good in the country, like building roads, rail, etc. Hitler did most things out of love for his country…are there any statues of him in Germany? Why not?
- Finally there’s those that say rather than removing colonial statues, statues of struggle heroes must be built next to the colonial statues. But that’s totally missing the point. The colonial statues represent a people that fought for white supremacy and domination. The struggle against colonisation and apartheid was not about black domination, it was about equality across all races. So you cannot equate Cecil John Rhodes (or his statue) to Nelson Mandela (or his statue).
Ultimately, I think it’s almost impossible for white South Africans to understand Black South Africans’ pain as far as apartheid is concerned. I mean, I personally don’t even fully appreciate it so I can’t imagine most white South Africans will ever really get it…and most don’t want to anyway. Hence the ever increasing racial tensions in the country.
As for the Rhodes statue at UCT, well, the University’s council met yesterday and unanimously decided the statue must be removed…which is happening this very minute as I type this. #RhodesHasFallen is born. The question now is….”will the same fate befall the myriad of colonial statues dotted around the country?” I ‘EFFen’ hope so!