Rhodes Must Fall: Debunking the dark side

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.”

Student politics, time for a serious appraisal?

​THE events of the past weeks have shown that campus revolt, risks spilling over into bloodshed. Violence begets violence. In a country where the wounds of apartheid and the scars of the past conflict run deep, where the reality looms of yet another civil war, the agenda-driven Rhodes Must Fall campaign and the bucket list of demands surrounding the student movement, needs to be debated, not on its own terms, but by the standards set by the broader community.

As a banned student involved in the campus revolts of 1987, much of which remained unreported by the press, (since journalists faced security legislation as well as bars on reporting imposed by the Minister of Justice under apartheid), I can only comment here on what appear to be copycat acts of arson. Ours was most certainly a justifiable uprising, against an illegitimate regime, can one really say the exact same of today’s would-be heroes, already lauded by the press for following in our footsteps?

The main difference between my generation and the students of the current decade, is that we were making art while setting fire to the apartheid state. Instead of removing statues we sought to remove apartheid statutes. Tearing down legal acts, not effigies. Removing edicts not icons. The campus violence of the past week in which artworks were burnt at UCT, science centres set ablaze at NWU, and other campuses, is thus dangerously reminiscent of similar actions by fascist movements around the globe.

For most of my life, I’ve had to walk past the statue of the Dutch Reformed Church minister Andrew Murray, the Martin Luther-like character outside Die Groote Kerk in Adderley Street. Luther was a flaming Anti-Semite whose writing advocated the burning of Synagogues and the excoriation of Jews, in a racist ideology which prefigured Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the events of Kristallnacht and Nuremberg. The same ideology formed the basis for the NGK which only repudiated the heresy of apartheid in 1982.

Although the subject of an ongoing dispute involving the Church, I don’t see any point in removing the statue, but must admit to harbouring similar thoughts to those incendiary members of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign.

Burning artwork and erasing history doesn’t solve anything.

Destroying libraries and science centres creates the impression that those doing the torching are nothing less than reactionaries, opposed to modernity.

As Mandela himself said: “It is easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build.”

Instead of debating the issues, would-be protesters and non-aligned students alike, are now wading in and coming to blows. The latest round of unrest has seen violence flare up at TUKS and UFS over language policy. Every campus in South Africa has become involved.

The sheer physicality of the incidents is troubling and certainly the very opposite of academic freedom.

It troubles me that many of the demands of ‘Rhodes Must Fall’  and the broader student movement are seen as a foregone conclusion. In particular the so-called campaign of decolonisation which seems to me to have all the elements of a lustration and ritual bloodletting, instead of creating a foundation and genuine attempt at nation-building.

Calls for the creation of an African University to counter-balance the ivy-league European institutions which grace our nation, are a start, but first we need to put a stop to the violence.

If student politics is undermining national unity, is it time for mom and pop to get involved? Unless the country is able to grapple with the problematic raised by students, we risk repeating history, the result may not be palatable, a nullification of the freedom struggle and its replacement by open rebellion, that has nothing to do with democracy, and everything to do with the political game-plan of those who wish to bypass the legislature, hoping to install themselves in a bloody uprising.

Lets take a look at some of the critique of the RMF movement inside South Africa:

Robert Morrell of UCT writes “In the case of campus violence, most explanations sound as though they have been made up after the event. There is no evidence of careful consideration, or discussion, never mind any thought for the consequences of the course of action taken.

Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar writing in The Daily Maverick says: “I have heard words such as “anti-black” and “oppressive” multiple times during my short stint on this campus. The difficulty of transient populations of students is that they alone must struggle against this system.”

Former Deputy President of the Student Representative Council (SRC) at Wits University writes: “F*** white people’ is an appropriate expression of black pain… But those who accuse the student of racism miss the point.

From reading the above, it is clear that South Africa isn’t really debating any of the issues. The events of the past days and weeks have simply been allowed to run their course, as the country fixates on the presidency of beleaguered ANC leader Jacob Zuma, and an economic crisis of our own making.

SEE: Rhodes Must Fall: Are they fascists?