De Klerk's criticism 'cute' - Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford

2015-12-28 14:42
Former president FW de Klerk (AFP)

Former president FW de Klerk (AFP)

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Johannesburg - Former South African president FW De Klerk’s criticism of the call to remove the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at Oxford University has been dubbed "cute" by the student movement behind the controversial call.

"We thought it was cute: apartheid’s last president defending one of its architects," the Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford (RMFO) movement said in an open letter published on its blog and Facebook page.

Addressed to "Dear Freddy", the group said that De Klerk’s position on the matter was "retro, like the [new Star Wars Movie The] Force Awakens, but with white supremacy".

"Freddy, Freddy, Freddy, we think you should be ashamed of yourself."

Last week, Agence France-Presse reported on a letter De Klerk wrote to The Times in the UK, in which he called the student movement against colonialist Cecil John Rhodes "folly".

"If the political correctness of today were applied consistently, very few of Oxford's great figures would pass scrutiny," he reportedly said at the time.

"We do not commemorate historic figures for their ability to measure up to current conceptions of political correctness, but because of their actual impact on history," De Klerk was quoted as saying. 

'White arrogance'

He also said that despite "the Afrikaners'" dislike of Rhodes "the National Party government never thought of removing his name from our history".

In Monday’s open letter, the student movement commented that "for starters, it’s hilarious that you [De Klerk] think the National Party – one of the most evil institutions of the 20th century – is a model for how to deal with colonial symbols… What’s next, the FW de Klerk School for Black Consciousness?"

Lamenting his position as an example of "white arrogance", the letter concluded: "We’ll send you a postcard once Rhodes has fallen."

Meanwhile, a South African student attending Oxford University, Ntokozo Qwabe, who has been vocal about his involvement in the movement, published a Facebook post on Sunday in which he reiterated the determination of the movement.

"We stand absolutely resolute in the cause."

Qwabe, himself a recipient of a Rhodes scholarship, said the principle behind the movement remained that "we say: no white supremacist narrative will go unchallenged".

The Eshowe-born student criticised the comments made by De Klerk and former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot, dubbing them "white male descendants of settler colonisers" who still believed that their opinions were "authoritative".

The BBC news website reported that Abbot, himself once a Rhodes scholar, previously commented that if the statue was removed it would be an act that would "substitute moral vanity for fair-minded enquiry".

Oriel College, a constituent college of Oxford University, said it was considering removing the Rhodes statue after it received a petition from the RMFO movement.

The petition, handed over in November, stated that the statue violated the university's commitment to "fostering an inclusive culture which promotes equality, values diversity and maintains a working, learning and social environment in which the rights and dignity of all its staff and students are respected".

A statue of Rhodes was removed from the University of Cape Town earlier this year after students protested under the banner Rhodes Must Fall.

The Oxford movement was inspired by this.

In a media statement, Oriel College said it would launch a structured six-month "listening exercise" on the statue, running from early February 2016, to hear various views on the matter.

'He does not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize'

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the Economic Freedom Fighters declared that De Klerk’s position on the Rhodes Must Fall movement showed that he did not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize he shares with Nelson Mandela.

"If De Klerk does not see the importance of the demand by Oxford students that Rhodes' statue must be removed in the United Kingdom, then he does not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize he received alongside Mandela," spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said in a statement.

In their blog, the RMFO movement defended its beliefs, suggesting what it was "doing is the opposite of erasing history. Nobody has done more to stimulate public engagement with – and the public visibility of – Cecil Rhodes' role in history".

"A key part of our movement is about education: we want to ensure far more people are aware of how brutal colonialists such as Rhodes not only caused untold devastation and violence in their lifetime, but instituted systems that continue to oppress and exploit the post-colonial world."

The organisation also addressed the issue of students still accepting Rhodes Scholarships, saying it was important to recognise the origin of the funds.

"These scholarships were stolen wealth, raised through the systematic and brutal exploitation of African labour in mines in which thousands died, on land that he stole from indigenous peoples.

"It is unconscionable to suggest that any benefit Rhodes scholars have received since can ever justify or outweigh the magnitude of these crimes."

As such, the organisation suggested, it was "restorative justice", that the beneficiaries of the scholarship were those who were descendants of Rhodes' victims.

Read more on:    fw de klerk  |  uk  |  monuments debate

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