Lone voice screams ‘bring back Cecil John Rhodes’

2015-03-27 16:23

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Galefele Molema screams “bring back Cecil John Rhodes” unapologetically among multitudes of vociferous opponents.

The 32-year-old has for the past few years been on a quest to have a statue of Rhodes returned to his hometown of Mahikeng, North West.

With the controversy surrounding the statue, Molema may be seen by many as a sell-out.

“I do not agree with those who say Rhodes’ statues must fall but I do not celebrate this coloniser. For me, Rhodes remains a thief who stole land and minerals from our forefathers,” he said.

“We can’t pretend like Rhodes or colonialism never happened. This is all part of our history and I am not going to sit back and let anyone steal it from us.”

At the centre of Molema’s not-so-much-supported campaign is the Rhodes statue which was erected outside a train station, part of the rail network built by the British imperialist in Mahikeng about 80 years ago.

Molema said he noticed in 2010 that the statue was missing and upon investigation, he found the statue at the Kimberley Club in Northern Cape.

“The statue was stolen. Not even Mahikeng Museum was consulted to see if they can accommodate it but it was given to the Kimberley Club apparently for safekeeping,” he said.

In a letter to Molema dated February 19 2014, Kimberley Club secretary Randall Bruce said the statue was donated to them in 2009.

“Should the claim of the entity you represent be lawful we are obliged to render the statue back. The return of the statue would have to be done at the cost of the lawful entity laying claim to its return,” Bruce wrote.

This has brought some hope for Molema but he doesn’t have finances to have the statue transported back to Mahikeng. He does not seem to be getting any much support from authorities and the public either.

Mahikeng Municipality said they were not aware of Molema’s intentions. “If he intends to bring back the statue and put it up anywhere in our area of jurisdiction then there must be some public participation and a council resolution on whether the statue should be displayed or not,” said municipal spokesperson Jerry Matebesi.

“There was an outcry a few years back upon news on intentions to put up a bust of (former Bantustan leader) Lucas Mangope at the North West University and it did not happen because people were opposed to the idea.”

Matebesi did not sound any confident that the people of Mahikeng may want to see the Rhodes statue anywhere in their town. “Others may ask, why Rhodes and not Sol Plaatje or Modiri Molema who contributed to the actual establishment of Mahikeng.” he said.

Molema is not discouraged though. “I know many people would not want to see the Rhodes statue again especially now with the ongoing outcry across the country. As a heritage activist though I believe Rhodes has a place in our history,” he said.

“In fact, we can learn a lot from Rhodes by mirroring ourselves against his bad deeds and those in power and leaders in general can use this to ensure that they do not perpetrate what the colonisers did to us. Rhodes was the first person to put up people in mine hostels. Why not deal with crisis in the mining industry, rid it of Rhodes’ mentality and leave the statues alone?”

Asked what he will do with the Rhodes statue if he ever gets it back, Molema said he will find it a home depending on the outcome of public participation. “If it is unwanted by the community I am sure the Mahikeng Museum will take it in. I just want it back home – that’s it,” he said.

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