Rhodes must fall and Hani must rise

2015-04-17 15:46

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The events leading up to the removal of the Cecil John Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town have reignited and elevated the discourse on transformation in South Africa.

Great praise is owed to the student movement for this bold and radical action. This social action has sparked a call for greater change through campaigning for the removal of a statue that symbolised an unjust and inhumane apartheid regime. The progressive student movement at UCT has not only catalysed transformation in institutions of higher learning but in our society as a whole.

Universities such as UCT and Stellenbosch University remain predominantly white, Eurocentric and untransformed and bear very little resemblance to the surrounding communities or to the national outlook of the country.

The removal of the Rhodes statue as a symbol of colonialism, segregation and racism can only translate into a bigger debate around systemic racism in institutions of higher learning.

Admission policies, fee structures, curriculum transformation and the overall classroom experience must be addressed if we are to see the real transformation on campuses across the country.

As the debate relating to this change takes precedence, it is important to unpack what constitutes meaningful and sustainable transformation in the context of post-apartheid South Africa that institutionalised race and class divisions.

Transformation can never be a moment in time but only an ongoing process of change for the betterment of all. Transformation is not only about numbers but includes attitudes, values and culture. Simply changing the admission policies to include more black students does not necessarily lead to a transformed institution of higher learning. Removing statues of those who represented white supremacy and white minority rule is important but not sufficient.

The discourse must go further than the superficial nuances and start to address the deeper causes that constitute a lack of transformation.

The anti-apartheid struggle was successful precisely because of the involvement and inclusion of white South Africans in the struggle itself.

White South Africans and others living abroad who chose to condemn what was fundamentally wrong delegitimised the white minority regime and bolstered the campaign to end the inhumane and oppressive system.

Inclusion replaced exclusion in the struggle for freedom and democracy. Peace replaced violence to ensure the successful transition to a democratic state. Commonality replaced difference in the building of a rainbow nation. Are these not absolutely invaluable in the struggle for the transformation of our society?

Chris Hani sacrificed his life for all that we have today. He was a hero of the struggle for a free and democratic South Africa. His legacy is one of political and civil freedoms for all and of equal access to opportunities for all.

Joe Slovo was a white male who made the ultimate sacrifice for a free and democratic South Africa. A confidant of Hani’s, he was a revolutionary and the negation of Cecil John Rhodes.

Where are the statues of Chris Hani and Joe Slovo in the new South Africa? Where are the statues of Ruth First and Albertina Sisulu, who contributed just as much to the struggle for a free and democratic South Africa – or is such an honour only for males?

As we celebrate Chris Hani month during the month of April perhaps we must call for the statue of Hani to rise as Rhodes falls.

White South Africans have a responsibility to contribute to building a truly nonracial, nonsexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa. The fact that many are not fulfilling their responsibilities and continuing to benefit from the economic injustices of the past or perpetuating a superiority complex is not aiding efforts at transformation.

Slovo would have been the first to remind white South Africans of this duty and the need to fulfil those responsibilities. He would have also reminded us as a country that the system we have chosen and continue to accept is at the heart of our social and economic woes.

Slovo would have reminded us that a worker is a worker, whether black or white, South African or Zimbabwean and therefore their struggles are the same and constitute part of the international struggle for unity and solidarity. It is inhumane and inexcusable that those from neighbouring African states have become the victims of an unjust economic system. Why do we allow space and opportunities for the British capitalist to prosper but not the Zimbabwean worker?

No other country in the world experienced apartheid and our dark history must teach us lessons for overcoming the present and ensuring a brighter future. Commonality must replace difference in the discourse on transformation precisely because of our history that emphasised difference above commonality. A more humane society requires a dedicated focus on all that is common in us as human beings. Tolerance must take precedence in the values that shall constitute the transformation agenda. Progress can never be based on anger or hatred. It must be driven by peace and nonviolence. As we remove the statues let us also remove the anger and hatred of one by another.

There was no difference between Hani and Slovo. There was no difference between Yusuf Dadoo and Moses Kotane. There was no difference between First and Sisulu. They shared the same values and principles with a common vision for a South Africa that belongs to all. Let us remember our true heroes and heroines and draw lessons from the past to advance the struggles of today.

  •  Pillay is chairperson of  the Young Communist League of South Africa and the National Youth Development Agency

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