Rhodes hasn't fallen, his legacy stands

CREATE A BRIGHTER ERA: Black students are urged to rise above demand for the fall of statues and use their intellectualism to contribute to the regeneration of Africa as prescribed by ANC founder Pixley ka Isaka Seme in 1906 Photo: Getty Images
CREATE A BRIGHTER ERA: Black students are urged to rise above demand for the fall of statues and use their intellectualism to contribute to the regeneration of Africa as prescribed by ANC founder Pixley ka Isaka Seme in 1906 Photo: Getty Images

Cecil John Rhodes has fallen. Really?

The University of Cape Town is arguably the largest statue of Cecil John Rhodes on display, whether the students like it or not.

They have succeeded in having an image of him removed. What cannot be erased though is that the land on which the university was built was designated by Rhodes.

It is true that he annexed black people's land through trickery and other dodgy means. But he decreed that part of it must host a university.

We don't know if the university would have been built without his influence. Maybe the destruction of the university or its evacuation from Rhodes's designated area could save the students from his haunting ghost.

Whether that is advisable and feasible is another matter. Given the obvious enthusiasm of the students, one would be surprised if there is no pending petition to the university senate and council to relocate the university or to destroy it or leave it as a museum where Rhodes' ghost can roam.

Even if such a crazy and simplistic mission were to be accomplished, you cannot wish away the pride of the thousands of students, black and white, who graduated there over the years. They are products in part of his legacy.

The same can be said of Rhodes University. There is no point changing the name, as suggested by some students, because they cannot wish away his contribution towards its establishment.

To do so would be intellectually dishonest in an academic environment. Anyway, Rhodes University will remain a statue of Rhodes regardless of whether it is named after him or not.

Another statue of Rhodes is the original railway network he established to link southern Africa and to transport minerals to the harbours for exports.

Our continued reliance on exporting raw minerals - the big earner of foreign exchange - is in a way an honour to Rhodes.

The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship that sponsors students to study at Oxford University, Rhodes's alma mater, is also indicative of the difficult task of eliminating Rhodes from sight and enduring influence.

Black and white students are receiving the best education in one of the top universities in the world under a scholarship established in accordance with the dictates of his will after he died.

Even if it is renamed, we all know that without the decree in his will it would not exist. By any other name or form it will still be of Rhodes's making.

There is the unambiguously despicable side of Rhodes that needs no physical statue to confirm: the peanuts paid to black miners today. Most die poor after years of toiling while stockholders in the mining companies make a killing (pun intended).

Marikana is a tribute to Rhodes. During his time as a rapacious mining magnate he did all he could to apply the most oppressive laws to ensure supplies of cheap, often unpaid, black labour.

Black miners were often killed if they rebelled. When his wishes were not gaining traction in the colonial parliament he would stand for election to execute his legislative interests directly.

A monopoly capitalist of note, Rhodes resented competition and gobbled up potential competitors to establish his mining companies. In the diamond sector De Beers was formed. In gold, it was Gold Fields, the first South African company to list in London. The continued over-concentration of the economy in the hands of a few companies is a legacy of Rhodes.

 

The war he instigated between the English and the Afrikaners left the latter bitter, torn and almost hopeless. The role of blacks in that war has not been acknowledged.

The Afrikaners would later unleash their bitterness on innocent black people under the brutal system of apartheid. Ironically, they borrowed a lot from Rhodes, thus honouring a man they hated.

We must not forget that Afrikaners regarded themselves as victims of British colonialism. (Paul Kruger, whose statue in Tshwane is under siege from misguided populists, was Rhodes's nemesis).

The continued existence of the apartheid legacy under a democratic government led by blacks is in a way an honour to Rhodes.

So what is to be done to exorcise this seemingly unshakeable, powerful and complex ghost of Rhodes that haunts us?

Opposition to Rhodes is not in itself a solution. It is what we propose as an alternative that matters. The UCT students are better placed to rapidly acquire knowledge, conduct research and recommend alternative development models for a prosperous and humane South Africa.

Pixley ka Isaka Seme, the highly educated founder of the ANC, once suggested the regeneration of Africa as a way forward.

While waxing lyrical about scientific discoveries that had brought foreign nations into one civilised world, he remarked in a lecture at Columbia University: "The regeneration of Africa means that a new and unique civilisation is soon to be added to the world..." This unique civilisation would be humane and eternal.

What is the contribution of the black UCT students to this unique civilisation?

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