The Taliban and ISIS demanding #RhodesMustFall?

2015-03-28 05:45

“Vrees die swartes. Hulle is gevaarlik.” (Fear the blacks. They are dangerous.) This was the National Party propagandists’ rallying cry. It came to be known as “swart gevaar” (black danger).

It was not true, of course. The blacks were harmless. Even the so-called “Young Lions” (Mandela, Tambo, Lembede and Mda) were aggressive bark and little bite. Young ANC radicals did not agitate for militarisation until 1960, a few months before the party’s banning.

You would think, then, that the post-apartheid “rainbow nation” would have buried swart gevaar where the sun does not shine. Or that it would appeal only to the iffy intellects of Red Balloon Brigaders. I hate to be the one to poop where you sit.

On Monday (March 23) John Kane-Berman, the former CEO and consultant at the South African Institute of Confusion, wrote a column in which he insisted that the statue of Cecil John Rhodes must stand. “It is time to draw a red line in the sand,” he said. If anything, the students must be disciplined.

Kane-Berman’s column would have gone unnoticed but for the fact that he compared protesting UCT students to the Taliban. Yes, the Taliban! He compared students at perhaps the most prestigious university in Africa to a fundamentalist terrorist group in war-torn Afghanistan.

When I shared my exasperation on Facebook and Twitter, many people told me to ignore grootman Kane-Berman. He spent too much time at, you know, that Institute of Confusion.

As I was locating my state of Zen, Dr Rhoda Kadalie popped up with her “Ode to Rhodes”. She upped the ante by half-intimating that protesting UCT students are “Africa's version of ISIS”.

To be fair, her full statement was, “If we in the new South Africa become like Africa's version of ISIS, destroying statues that predate us and that we find offensive, then scholars who want to study Africa won't come to Africa anymore, because they won't be able to find African history here anymore.”

Just to make sure that her readers do not miss the point, Kadalie closed her column with: “Our students prefer to emulate ISIS and grab a sledgehammer.”

Interestingly, the core premise of Kadalie’s argument is that we must take a “scholarly approach to history is to understand its complexity, not to reduce it to one narrative.” However, to get there, she invoked a mass-murdering fundamentalist terrorist group. Because, you know, first you throw poo at statues (of racist imperialist dictators) and then you mutilate dissenters with a hunting knife on television.

Conservatives like Kadalie and Kane-Berman are not writing haphazardly. They are deliberately invoking terrorist comparisons to re-ignite “swart gevaar”. Fear is a conservative’s trump card. This has always been the case.

The U.S. placed Nelson Mandela on the terror watch list only in the 1980s, where he remained until 2008. Curiously, in 1980 Mandela had been in a maximum-security prison for almost two decades. The decision to place him on the list coincided with the intensifying of the resistance movement within and outside South Africa.

The reality is that Ronald Reagan ran out of persuasive arguments to justify his support for apartheid. He did what any good conservative would do: patch up the gaping logical and humanist holes with fear. Kadalie and Kane-Berman are doing the same.

Since we are on the subject, it bears pointing out that even “historical erasure” argument is not novel.

Professor Jonathan Jansen wrote—without an inkling of irony— that “a few unthinking and angry students wish simply to erase [Rhodes'] memory.” He claims that “stuffing” Rhodes in a museum is “in fact to deny ourselves.”

First, the argument is baffling. If Prof Jansen is correct, then Zimbabwe should have remained “Rhodesia” and Germany should have kept the wall standing; you know, as a reminder of history. I dare say the Congo must erect statues of King Leopold II on public squares.

Second, the argument resembles two pillars of apartheid: “cultural integrity” and “racial purity”. Architects of apartheid insisted that a racially diverse society would lead to a dilution—and eventually to erasure—of white culture and identity. In the same vein, Prof Jansen seems to suggest that we must celebrate an oppressive imperialist looter in order preserve imperialist history.

To John Kane-Berman, Rhoda Kadalie and Jonathan Jansen, I want to say: change is hard. Fortunately, change is also inevitable. It is hard to imagine but Cecil John Rhodes will do just fine in a museum. He belongs there.

Those who venerate him can pop in at the “Imperialist Museum” and pray at his feet. History buffs will still be able to study him. A private museum could even erect a taller statue on its front steps. He just does not belong on the front steps of a public university. That space is for heroes.

Get in touch on Twitter: @Brad_Cibane

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