Rhodes narrative is the narrative of our black survival and capacity to rise forever no matter what.

2015-04-07 12:03

Rhodes narrative is the narrative of our black survival and capacity to rise forever no matter what. We are forever forced to remember our apartheid past not because we love it but because it shaped our present-day reality, and we have access to these memories because they still form part of our everyday lives. On our way to work, we see the divides. In our English conversations, we can tell who went to which school. In our entertainment spaces, racial divides are apparent, and even in our churches, race still matters.

The Jewish people will never forget the holocaust not only because it’s a historical fact but also because it dramatically altered their lives forever and killed even the living today. I imagine that in their dinner conversations, the memory of the past enters uninvited; in their social encounters with Germans, there are subconscious untold conversations that are shaped by the memorisation of their unfortunate past.

The memory project, whether good or bad, is important to appreciate so that history might not repeat itself. We erect statues and establish museums and other memorial sites not because we love our past so much but because we want to teach the next generation how not to be Hitlers or Verwoerds of their generations. These sites of memory give us access to our history, and ours is to filter that history through our individual and collective experiences or understanding, or rather, deploy optics that help us to remember in a way that empowers.

For example, maybe when blacks enter Voortrekker Monument, they are forced to remember the suffering and the bravery of black men and their enduring, never-die spirit, but when whites enter this very same space, they occupy it differently. Arguably, the space helps one to remember how far we have come as a nation to be where we are, and one is forced by the power of memory to never take for granted some freedoms we enjoy. Moreover, apartheid museum helps one to jump into the pains of those who went before us, their humiliation, their falling and their rising. The linking of Freedom Park and Voortrekker Monument through the reconciliation road also reveals the capacity of a divided nation to live together in the spirit of functional compromise.

Furthermore, when I was in Berlin, I visited a couple of memorial sites in an attempt to enhance my imagination of what transpired in the past. The West and East Germany divides helped me to understand a bit better the horrors of the Second World War. In a similar vein, my visit to Rwandan memorials changed my life forever as I interacted with the stories of the victimised, their dead bones, and the forever altered lives of the survivors.

The point I am trying to drive home here is that memorials are important, and when we enter into these memorial spaces, we occupy them through our experiences and make sense of the past in a way that is fitting to us. In other words, some of the iconic things are there not only for the glorification of individuals but also to serve unintentional educational purposes and the sustainability of the never-again project.

Perhaps when we allow the Rhodes statue to stand, we are not worshiping his brutality but allowing his dead self to tell us how far we have come as a nation, and teach our younger generations how not to be stupid. We can appropriate his narrative as the narrative of our black survival and the black capacity to forever rise no matter what. These are the markers of our journey, the markers of our rising that help us to track our historical transformation as a nation and never lose sight of our collective desired state of life.

To this end, the biblical Israelite narrative seems befitting; they used stones as markers of their migration and becoming, and these served as powerful iconic symbols of never forgetting the faithfulness of their God, and the construction of their society.

We must not erase our history, but teach our children how to remember in a way that is empowering and educational.

Perhaps, it is necessary to borrow the words of Fanon and Biko, and their timeless philosophy in the context our remaking as a nation. The struggle is not necessarily physical (though it might get physical sometimes), but our major battle site is in the mind, the decolonisation of the mind, and when the minds are empowered enough to humanise a black child, we have won half of the struggle.

Lastly, a decolonised mind will arguably know how to use everything in the interest of education and the sustainability of the never again project, and liberate a black child from dehumanising shackles of injustice. By the way, I don’t like Rhode’s colonial project and his friends just in case you were beginning to wonder, but my mind is decolonising by day as I acquire liberating knowledge of the self, and continue to live in the prison of the cries of the everyday people.

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