The riot over Rhodes

2015-03-22 15:00

Was Cecil John Rhodes a racist? Yes. A narcissist? Yes. A colonist? Definitely.

However, I do not think that tearing down the statue of Rhodes is the solution to the systemic racism at the University of Cape Town (UCT). We need to be mindful of the role history plays in our lives.

Do we burn Mein Kampf because it represented the views of one of history’s most evil, racist dictators? No. We don’t have to praise the book, but we don’t have to eradicate it either.

Would Rhodes have condemned the presence of fellow brown and black students – like me – at UCT? Most likely.

However, my way of sticking it to him is by walking past that statue daily with a smirk on my face, to have him watch me walk the land he gave for UCT to be built on.

Let him see us as we see him, and allow tolerance to triumph. Instead of destroying historical figures we do not like, we should demand to be inserted into the historical narrative of UCT.

Perhaps we should erect a student declaration next to the Rhodes statue stating that – though we are not

inspired by his image – we do recognise the role history plays in our lives, and will exercise the tolerance and forgiveness imparted to us by Madiba, Desmond Tutu and the countless freedom fighters who died for our democracy.

This is how we make our history. It is not the time for destruction; it is the time for enlightenment. Let Rhodes’ legacy wither away, but leave the statue as a reminder of what we will never allow ourselves and our country to be reduced to again.

This is the test our generation faces, and this is the test we must pass: restoration, not retribution.

Uvania Naidoo

Cape Town

Naidoo is a master’s candidate at UCT

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