Should the removal of the Rhodes statue be our number one priority?

2015-03-30 14:51

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One word that can describe one’s reaction to the breaking news and ensuing debate following the defacing of the Cecil John Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town campus is “disbelief”.

One simple act of vandalism had set off a chain reaction of events that could dent the progress made post-1994 in the Republic of South Africa.

One cannot understand the direction in which our beloved country is going – especially against the backdrop of a country choosing to celebrate the strides made by the disenfranchised African-Americans in the United States through the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday that honoured the actions of peaceful protesters fighting for liberation.

A simple act of the first African-American US president, Barack Obama, giving a speech of triumph and resilience of the American people’s spirit, nothing short of inspirational. He made the speech in front of a monument, Edmund Pettus Bridge, which was meant to serve as a symbol of oppression and white supremacy.

The president remarked that: “What they did here will reverberate through the ages.

“Not because the change they won was preordained, not because their victory was complete, but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible; that love and hope can conquer hate.”

It was an assertion that our own struggle hero, former president Nelson Mandela lived by. He preached that it was through working together that we could effect the change we would like to see in the new South Africa.

Mandela previously remarked that: “If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.”

Though continents apart and a noticeable generational gap, these great men are encouraging the elusive act of mastering forgiveness and reconciling the past and the present in order to move forward.

The Union Buildings have made a notable transformation from being a glaring symbol of white supremacy and black domination to a national heritage symbol that embodies democracy as we know it.

One cannot comprehend why there is an absence of reason, clarity or rational logic guiding our future.

South Africa is a nation with a dark and brutal history yet the nation like a phoenix has risen above past challenges and still continuous to charter a course for transformation of a very diverse society.

If UCT chooses to remove the historical statue, regardless of whether it is to a storeroom or museum, it would be a conscious attempt to forget the past and innately blast Cecil John Rhodes’ positive contribution to scholarship into oblivion.

South Africans must ask themselves if this is what our generation is to be remembered for, in light of the mammoth challenges facing our young democracy.

In light of the increasing rate of unemployment, the energy crisis, economic challenges and Parliament delving into an abyss that only those in the fracas can fully make heads or tails of, should the removal of the Cecil John Rhodes statue truly be our number one priority?

One can only conclude by using the words of President Barack Obama:

“You are America. Unconstrained by habits and convention. Unencumbered by what is, and ready to seize what ought to be ... for everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, and new ground to cover, and bridges to be crossed. And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.”

You are South Africa.

Siwela is an UCT alumni and politics graduate

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