By Ntokozo Qwabe
As the Rhodes Must Fall movement at the University of Cape Town (UCT) approaches its third week, I thought it necessary to put down the 10 most useless responses people have made to it thus far, and jot down useful counter-responses to them. These counter-responses are collated and developed from real responses from students on the ground and in the media. I therefore document the counter-responses in the voice of the student movement (and not my own) — to emphasise that they are voices from below — undertaking the task of responding to attacks on the Rhodes Must Fall movement from different corners.
Useless Response #1: Why are you going all gaga about a statue? It’s just a freaking statue!
And you Madam/Sir win the award for being the person who missed the entire point behind this movement! We have emphasised that this movement is not only about the “freaking statue” of Cecil John Rhodes. It is about the general problem of institutional racism and the lack of transformation at UCT, which manifests itself in various ways that marginalise our student experiences, such as:
* The presence of colonial symbols of white domination and violence on the black body (like the “freaking statue” of a man who committed many genocidal mass murders, crimes against humanity and acts of dispossession against black people).
* The lack of black academics at the institution. (Did you know that UCT does not have a single black female professor, and only six black professors? See the shocking statistics showing how poor the institution is doing in terms of transformation from its employment equity reports and reflections from Professor Xolela Mangcu of UCT.)
* The lack of transformation in the student body, and exclusion patterns that drive black students out of the institution.
* Colonial language uses, cultures and traditions that perpetuate white supremacy and invalidate indigenous knowledge systems and ways of being.
* And many other related concerns that do not affect our white counterparts with who we are expected to compete.
Take some time and look at the concerns we have expressed from the ground here and here and educate yourself about this movement. The vice-chancellor of UCT, Dr Max Price, has admitted that the university is “too white” and has a white supremacist culture that alienates black students and staff. Did you see that he too supports the removal of the statue as it stands? Or were you too busy trolling to notice? If you still don’t see how important this movement is, then nothing we say will change you and we frankly do not care. At least we’ve done our part!
Useless Response #2: Nelson Mandela would not have supported taking down this statue. These black youths need to learn from him and forgive. I miss Mandela. He left us too soon.
Well, thank you for being Mandela’s spokesperson all the way from his grave and assuming that his views represent (or should represent) the views of all black people alive today. How about going back and actually reading up on what Mandela said? Or did you miss the parts where he said he also stood for human dignity and social justice?
Useless Response #3: We fought against apartheid, while you kids of today have time to fight against statues instead of using the opportunities we never had! Shame on you for flushing our struggles down the toilet!
Well, thank you very much for fighting apartheid — we are grateful for all the opportunities your struggles afford us today. We are just very sorry that you lacked the foresight to realise that institutional racism and symbols of white domination should be fought against too. Further thanks for putting your apartheid struggle credentials to the very good use of invalidating a whole movement you should in fact be proud of.
Useless Response #4: Seriously though, aren’t there more important things to protest over?
Because protesting is reserved for totally extreme cases such as fighting militant groups like Boko Haram or solving centuries of conflict in the Balkans, right? If you are so twisted that institutional racism is so normal as to be unimportant to you, then you are the problem — not us. Thankfully, your views about what is important are not normative, and do not blind anyone else but yourself.
Useless Response #5: I will not join this struggle because it falls into the now outdated “white vs black” trap, wrongly makes this about race, and does not appreciate intersectionality.
We appreciate that struggles in the country often invoke misplaced binaries that do not appreciate intersectionality and complexity. But not every struggle is complex, and entering every struggle looking for complexity where there is none risks making even the simple struggles unnecessarily complex. This struggle is about institutional racism experienced by black students, and to that extent, it is black and white.
Talking about one form of oppression does not necessarily require us to talk about all forms of oppression at the same time. Invalidating this whole movement by invoking intersectionality misses the point that intersectionality was never meant to invalidate existing struggles but to broaden them. Its purpose has always been to root out oppression in its entirety by engaging it in all its multiple layers and complex intersections.
Useless Response #6: You cannot pick and choose the past. Cecil Rhodes is part of our past. We should not delete painful parts of history so that we do not repeat them.
Wait? So remembering the past matters when we have to keep colonial symbols of white domination? Aren’t you the one usually telling us we live in the past when we dare question its role in the continuing abject poverty and economic marginalisation of black people? Was this not supposed to be the fault only of the present bad ANC government? This sudden spirit of remembering among people like you who often display despicable historical amnesia is very instructive!
Useless Response #7: Because Gareth Cliff says so, I neither support nor reject the removal of the statue. Why should we apply today’s moral standards to Cecil Rhodes?
As a commentator once said, Gareth should probably stick to social media and TV start-ups, and leave the teaching of history to those with PhDs. Please either 1) take a position on the statue — because, like Gareth, saying you “neither support nor reject its removal” and then go on to give us distorted history lessons exposes that there is nothing really neutral about your neutrality; or 2) be quiet, let those of us who have an opinion on the issue speak and stop being a noisy distraction to other people’s opinions on the statue.
As for moral standards: since when do we apply the contentious philosophy of moral relativism to assessing crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity? Like those of Adolf Hitler after him, Rhodes’ crimes are an affront to humanity regardless of the moral standards you apply.
Useless Response #8: This case cannot be compared to Hitler and the Jews.
What kind of human being would go to the length of playing the tedious zero-sum game of ranking acts of savagery, moral barbarism and genocide? Open a history book and learn something about the colonial crimes committed by Rhodes and his peers.
Useless Response #9: As an alumnus of UCT, I say the statue stays or I will stop giving money to UCT. All Rhodes and Mandela Rhodes Scholarships should be stopped too. In fact, we must take away the wheel too, and everything that the white man brought to this earth! This movement is reverse-racist!
Phew! Thankfully many of those who give to UCT and, separately, those who run the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, the Mandela Rhodes Community, or the Rhodes Trust are more visionary than you are! You would seriously go to such lengths so that symbols of oppression remain on campus? To what end? Anyways, good for you. We would rather risk the threat of financial violence from ignorant idiots than let this movement be denied the justice that it seeks.
And for your information, 1) the wheel was invented in Mesopotamia and 2) there can never be such a thing as reverse racism as crudely explained here. Take off your white supremacist blinkers!
Useless Response #10: This is an attack on white history and heritage. Should all public memorabilia of white history be replaced by those of black history from now?
So you resist a whole movement based on some white #FOMO lest everything white be deleted from public memorabilia? Your blindness leads you to three false assumptions:
* Cecil Rhodes represents “white history” (he doesn’t — many white Afrikaners distaste him for his role in the South Afrikan War (formerly known as the Anglo-Boer War) and many other white people distance themselves from his crimes and legacies).
* Having a fifteen foot monument of a terrorist overlooking a whole campus is necessary in order to reflect “white history”. (Really? Is white history/heritage only represented by evil white men? What about those white men and women who fought for justice?)
* Symbols of “white history and heritage” should be kept even when they are an affront to the dignity of the black majority. (Thankfully we are past that time when views of white people trumped all others.)
Quite frankly, if the logical conclusion of the conversation started by this movement is that we should remove/rename all monuments of evil regimes from prominent public spaces, then so be it. Living in a constitutional democracy that embraces the idea of transformation means our ways of being are a contested terrain, and the idea of change is constant. There are many exemplary white people who defeated past evil regimes and played roles in the making of our constitutional democracy who could still feature in a more transformative public memorabilia.
This would not amount to deleting the bad parts of our history. It would be to say that bad history can and should be learnt through the lens of those who defeated it.
Ntokozo Qwabe is a Rhodes Scholar reading for a BCL at Oxford University. He holds an LLB (summa cum laude) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and half-completed an LLM (with distinction) at UCT as a Mandela Rhodes Scholar. This article is written in his personal capacity.