APARTHEID and colonialism is enough of a trauma on its own to warrant serious attention. There is ample data about the earlier ages of slavery to keep scholars busy for centuries.
That many student activists have gone over to the ‘dark side’ as it were, turning from rationalists and scientists advocating change, to blinkered reactionaries building ivory towers out of urban myths and legend, is disturbing to say the least.
In the process objective facts, empirical evidence and scientific inquiry are discarded in favour of subjective raw emotion.
All understandable in terms of human nature, but not in terms of science.
The resulting revisionism tells us a lot about the general state of public opinion in the country. Tragically, it is easier to attack the legacy of Mandela now that he is dead, than when he was alive. And more so, the dead white men who came before him. In order to counter the reductionism, over-generalisation and tendency towards iconoclasm surrounding the movement and its followers, I present an incomplete and by no means definitive critique.
Some hard points to consider in any rational debate on the subject:
The evil of the hour, Cecil John Rhodes wasn’t a contemporary of the civil rights icon Nelson Mandela, unlike Mandela who was a giant of the 20th century, Rhodes stood firmly in the 19th century. Despite this, Mandela chose to co-opt the legacy of Rhodes, but only because he considered it to be in the nation’s own interest, the result is the Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship.
Undoubtedly Rhodes was an obnoxious racist, but turning him into Adolf Hitler is pure revisionism. Making Rhodes responsible for “the genocide of 60 million people” would make the man ten times worse than Adolf Hitler, which is utter irresponsible nonsense, the population in South Africa in 1905 was a little over 5 million (5,175,463) compared to 52 million today. The whole of the African continent had some 120 million people during this period, did Rhodes kill half the people living on the continent, no? Did he even try, there is no record of any policy from this period resembling the Final Solution, but since he undoubtedly collaborated with King Leopold II of Belgium, you are certainly entitled to disagree.
The earlier epochs of C18th and C19th colonialism are indeed important in understanding the dynamics of modern South Africa (and especially economic inequality), but these periods ceased to have any political relevance the minute we embarked upon the creation of a Republic, the more so when we achieved democracy in 1994. Calls to replace South Africa, and every other African state with a giant super-state, are reductionist and can only come about by means of federalism, based upon statute.
No, Rhodes wasn’t responsible for Jim Crow laws in South Africa. Women didn’t have the full vote in many parts of the British Empire until 1928. Like many political men of his time, Rhodes supported a qualified franchise. The Cape Qualified Franchise restricted voting by property ownership but not explicitly by race. To put this in perspective, women only gained the right to vote in Saudi Arabia in 2015.
Yes Rhodes needs to be condemned for being a male chauvinist, an utter hypocrite and a land-grabber who took away land from the very same people to which he was offering a qualified vote on the basis of land ownership. But no South Africa was never Rhodesia, look at my next point.
Afrikaner Nationalism, not British Colonialism, is responsible for apartheid, in which black persons were disenfranchised, de-emancipated and de-nationalised under successive National Party administrations of DF Malan, HF Verwoerd, BJ Vorster and PW Botha.
The story of modern South Africa is thus a story of the heroic repatriation and return of citizenship and the achievement of the black suffrage. The defeat of a racist system known as apartheid. The creation of a black majority rule government. The enactment of a Bill of Rights. The journey towards a non-racial state. It is an epic battle between right and wrong, not black and white. The same way as the civil rights movement in the USA, birthed persons of the stature of Martin Luther King, our struggle gave the world Steven Bantu Biko and Nelson Mandela. Focusing exclusively on Rhodes, as any revisionist movement would, crudely negates this history.
Recent critique of the RMF movement outside of the country
For author Harry Mount in the Telegraph: “It’s time to say No to our pampered student emperors. The Rhodes statue row can be blamed on a generation raised to believe that their feelings are all that matter.”
For Siobhan Fenton in the Independent: “The real enemies of free speech aren’t the #RhodesMustFall campaigners – they’re the privileged students who oppose them.”
Will Hutton writing in The Guardian, says: “Cecil Rhodes was a racist, but you can’t readily expunge him from history.”
Trevor Phillips, the black former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has lambasted the campaign to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes from an Oxford college
Author Andrew Anthony, writing in The Guardian says: “Universities are meant to be guardians of debate and challenging ideas. Yet as campuses become ‘safe spaces’, the right of students not to be offended is taking priority, and voices are being silenced.”