OPINION: Rhodes must fall: Revolution or an act of weakness?

The #RhodesMustFall campaign has resulted in a decision by the Senate of the University of Cape Town (UCT) to move the statue of Cecil John Rhodes.

For the past few weeks the national news has been up in a storm with the Rhodes saga. It all started at the University of Cape Town (UCT) where students threw human excrement at a statue of Cecil John Rhodes. The outrage then spread to Rhodes University where students demanded that the name of the institution be changed. Most recently, students from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN) have defaced the King George V statue, splashing it with paint.
Students have justified these undignified acts by calling the statues “symbols of colonialism and white supremacy”.

With over 20 years of democracy, black people are still suffering from the mental repercussions of apartheid, or what I refer to as a ‘victim mentality’. If the black population was fully emancipated, it would not be resorting to such undignified measures (throwing faeces) in order to be heard.

If the black population was fully emancipated, it would not be resorting to such undignified measures (throwing faeces) in order to be heard.

University of Free State (UFS) Rector Jonathan Jansen posed a significant article in his analysis of the movements: “Who cleans up the mess once the media cameras are turned off and the triumphal students return to their air-freshened accommodation on or off campus? It is black workers, perhaps even the parents of students. None of this humiliation matters to the students. They made their point and got their airtime. Who cares about the cleaners?”

“A sense of weakness and lack of education”

Personally, I do not think that the removal of the statue will change anything; it will not even change the history. The very act of removing the statue will only display a sense of weakness and lack of education. Instead of focusing on the negatives of Rhodes, why don’t we acknowledge the high value he put on education? Rhodes University was named after him, after the Rhodes Trust donated 50,000 British pounds in De Beers shares to build the institution in 1904. While Rhodes may be a symbol of white supremacy, he also embodies the value of education and civilization. I believe his statue was erected there for the education values he had. Removing the statue will not only be a futile attempt at resolving the race issue in South Africa, but it will also fuel it.

Mugabe on Rhodes

The changing of the name of the Rhodes University might also be problematic because already there is no unanimity with whose name it should be changed to. The changing of names is also an expensive procedure. Instead of thousands of rands being spent on name-changing, perhaps more money could be invested in transformation campaigns. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from the president of our neighboring country, Zimbabwe. Over the years, people have threatened to dig up the body of Cecil Rhodes who is buried in that country. But Robert Mugabe has argued that Rhodes’ legacy was a significant part of history.

Does the end justify the means?

With all these movements going on, I ask myself, is this a much-awaited revolution on the race issues that are still faced in this country? Will the removal of the statue bring about ‘change’ or ‘transformation’ as they call it? Will this be a case of ‘the end justifies the means’?

Before one starts a riot, a hashtag, before one throws faeces at a statue, one must ask themselves the following questions: Do you know enough history of that person? Do you understand why the person’s statue was erected there? And most importantly, are you aware of the positive contributions of that person to the institution?

Steve Biko once said in a speech: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

Until we emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, colonial symbols will forever threaten our existence and freedom.