2015-05-05 06:00

A statue, a name, the mere reminder of a man long gone, still has the power to open old wounds.

It can still polarise communities and spark outrage. The recent #RhodesMustFall campaign has highlighted this, with UCT students lobbying for the removal of Cecil John Rhodes’ statue from the campus.

Rhodes, after whom the Grahamstown university is named, was a British colonialist, businessman, mining magnate, and politician in South Africa who died in 1902. Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe, was also named after him.

The UCT senate has voted overwhelmingly to remove the statue from the campus and place it in the custody of heritage authorities.

Local schools have also been urged to move away from apartheid naming, which divided more affluent schools into “high schools” and others as “secondary schools”. Schools named after apartheid leaders will also be given the option of renaming.

If we take away every name, every image and every statue – will it heal our wounds?

Will our communities become less polarised?

Will the removal of these colonialism and apartheid reminders undo the damage of those dispensations?

By all means redress the inequalities of the past, give dignity to those who were not afforded it and heal the deep wounds of degradation.

But let’s not do that by forgetting our past.

Let us remember those colonial and apartheid leaders – not to honour them, but to ensure the inequalities of the past never happen again.

We do not have to embrace the numerous statues, images and signs of these leaders, but we do have to teach our children who they are and what they stood for. This is our history, and it is our responsibility to learn from it no matter how unsavoury it may be

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