Statues of the Past: Should Colonial Icons be Removed? (RELS 348)

British imperialism in Africa has had both positive and negative affects on the African landscape. The British improved sanitation and education in the colony by building hospitals and schools. However, these advancements do not justify the atrocities that occurred with the colonial movement. Now the statues of past colonial figures, like Cecil John Rhodes, are the center of debate. In Wandile Goozen Kasibe’s article “No middle ground on genocidal Rhodes,” Cape Times, 17 March 2015 he states that the result of this debate can only go one of two ways. In his opinion “…either the statue comes down to be relocated to Rhodes Cottage in Muizenberg or UCT risks being revealed as the last fortress of academic colonialism and racism that privileges white power at the expense of human progress and the country’s constitutional demand”.

Cecil John Rhode’s statue is viewed as a constant reminder of the genocide of African people during the British colonial movement in South Africa. Originally, Black Africans were treated with respect as a whole, while the original missionaries from poorer backgrounds trekked through the African backdrop. As more intellectual travelers coming out of Oxford travelled to the colony, a sense of superiority spread. The religious motion that Blacks do not believe in a higher god, and therefore do not have souls, also contributed to the general racism. Rhodes “saw it as his God given task to expand the Empire, not only for the good of that Empire, but, as he believed, for the good of all peoples over whom she would rule” (URL 1). He believed that “We must adopt a system of despotism in our relations with the barbarians of South Africa”. Now, students at UCT chant “Rhodes Must Fall!” and “Down Rhodes, Down!”

Should the statue of Rhode be taken down? Kasibe quotes Edward Said’s observation that “appeals to the past are among the commonest of strategies in interpretations of the present. What animates such appeals is not only disagreement about what happened in the past and what the past was, but uncertainty about whether the past is really past”. He believes that the only way the University of Cape Town (UCT) can move forward is to remove these symbols that continue to subject students to “psychological colonialism”. I find this mindset to be counter productive. If one strives to forget the crimes of the past, I believe this will not help similar tragedies from reoccurring in the future. It is through the evaluation of history that we can learn from such events and grow. Whether the statue is there or not, it is the willingness to transform and the understanding of events that will make the difference. Here is where the issue lies. Kasibe points out that there is an unwillingness to transform the culture at UCT from a council of mainly whites to a lack of full-time South African Woman professors. The curriculum as well has a bias towards the Global North. I believe that the removal of this statue will do little to decolonize the university if the mindset does not change along with it.

#uwreligions

AM

(URL 1): “Cecil John Rhodes”, South African History Online, (http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/cecil-john-rhodes)

For Further Reading:

Helen Bamford “Should colonial history be removed?” Cape Argus, 26 March 2015 (http://www.iol.co.za/capeargus/should-colonial-history-be-removed-1.1837206#.VRhtkDTF_pA)

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