Christopher Rodrigues
Christopher Rodrigues

Beware, the new statues

Dali Tambo’s struggle theme park self-proclaimed “the show business of history” will soon be an expensive blot on the landscape. But about such present-day bronzes our students have had, so far, little to say.

Irrespective of the misgivings that some will have regarding Mr Tambo’s R600 million-R700 million boon most, one suspects, will have no fundamental objection to another set of graven images. For in the animus of a “Year Zero” there is also the expectation of a revolutionary culture to be built up in place of what will be torn down. Let’s call this identity Azanian, remembering that it’s not just a preferred place name for what was previously the Bremner building, it’s also primarily, or so it claims, a world view.

Read against the grain then, the hashtag Rhodes Must Fall is not iconoclasm but the desire for a mythos every bit as monolithic as that which they hope to supplant. In this sense, standing only in need of their institutional Sir Herbert Baker, or Rudyard Kipling, our vanguard represents its unconscious opposite. To use an apt expression: the flies maybe different, but the shit’s the same.

Peruse the movement’s demands (Long gone is the Freedom Charter’s: “All the cultural treasures of humankind shall be open to all, by free exchange of books, ideas and contact with other lands”): Replace the names of dead white males with either African appellations or “black historical figures”; relegate so-called western curricula and reify capital-A “African discourses”. In sum: “Our (incommensurable) pain (race being understood as a “proxy for disadvantage, prioritising black students”) should be the only factor [my emphasis] taken into consideration … ”

Essentialist politics and nationalism of whatever hue not only flattens the complexities of historical judgement it creatively underwhelms. (Dare I mention Bertolt Brecht: “Misfortune, in itself, is a poor teacher.”)

To return to UCT’s boarded up Moloch:

Deconstructing, jamming, or remixing Rhodes would not only have been inventive, it would’ve served as a rebuke to the follies of the status quo ante and, more importantly, similar such projects now and in the future. In other words, it’s a lost opportunity for some first-rate dialectic.

The refusal of dialogue by the students as “reflecting the disturbing normalisation of colonisation and white supremacy” doesn’t, however, bode well. As this movement grows, so will its dogmatism harden. Speaking of subalterns, as their manifesto does, we ought to recall Edward Said: “Never solidarity before criticism.”

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