I was infuriated to read about protests by students in Cape Town, South Africa, that have led to the removal of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes, imperialist, pioneer, visionary, mining magnate and former Prime Minister of the Cape Colony.
Yahoo! News reports:
A bucketload of human excrement flung at a statue has toppled a symbol of British imperialism in South Africa, marking the emergence of a new generation of black protest against white oppression.
The senate of the University of Cape Town (UCT) on Friday bowed to student demands that a brooding bronze statue of colonialist Cecil John Rhodes should be removed from the campus.
UCT, the oldest university in South Africa and regularly ranked as the best on the continent, was built on land donated by Rhodes, a mining magnate who died in 1902.
Many of the students involved in the protests never lived under the injustices of white minority rule, but say they still experience racial discrimination 21 years after the end of apartheid.
The large statue of a notoriously racist Rhodes gazing across an Africa that he coveted for the British empire made them feel alienated on a campus still dominated by white staff, they said.
. . .
One white letter writer probably spoke for many when he suggested in the Cape Times that the student who threw the excrement at Rhodes should leave UCT and attend a university established by "his own ancestors".
But students have dismissed the argument that Rhodes should be honoured for donating land for the campus, saying he stole it from black Africans in the first place.
There's more at the link.
Those closing paragraphs say a mouthful. I endorse wholeheartedly the views of the letter writer in the Cape Times, and I reject with contempt the students' response. After all, the history of Black tribes in South Africa, dating back long before the arrival of white settlers, is one of continual internecine warfare, atrocities against other tribes, and forcible occupation of their lands - until the occupiers were in turn driven out by stronger foes. To complain that whites dispossessed blacks of their land is to ignore the reality that far more blacks were historically dispossessed of their lands by other blacks over many centuries, just as Native American tribes forcibly took over each others' territories for centuries before European colonists arrived in North America. It's been that way all over the world since the beginning of the human race.
(For that matter, where do you think most of the black slaves imported to North America came from? The majority of them - probably the vast majority - were enslaved by other blacks in West Africa before they were sold to slave traders who brought them to America. Slavery isn't only the fault of the whites.)
A different, more radical perspective on the protests is provided by Equal Times:
On the surface the campaign has been successful, with UCT agreeing to remove the statue, but students continue to occupy the university’ administrative offices with a list of demands that include: reducing the “extortionate” tuition fees; paying all UCT workers a living minimum wage; implementing “a curriculum which critically centres Africa and the subalter”; and recognising that “ the history of those who built our university – enslaved and working class black people – has been erased through institutional culture”.
. . .
UCT Student Representative Council (SRC) president Ramabina Mahapa has been quoted in the media as saying that “black people can’t be proud at UCT, because UCT doesn’t speak positively about [our] image.”
According to Mahapa,“through its use of symbols, such as the monument to Rhodes, the university is discriminating against black people.”
. . .
The “continuing whiteness of UCT,” as 2008 report of the Ministerial Committee described it, strengthens the sense of racial belonging for whites at UCT, while at the same time, it alienates and ‘others’ blacks.
Again, more at the link.
If I had the chance to talk to these student radicals at UCT, this is what I'd say to them:
You have not earned the right to criticize one who achieved so much in his lifetime - particularly not one who, even in the context of imperialist racism that every single European nation practiced in the 19th century, could say things like, "I could never accept the position that we should disqualify a human being on account of his color".
You have not earned that right because you have not achieved anything to set against, and be measured against, his achievements. His example inspired more than one generation, and was remembered long after his death by both black and white Africans. What example have you set by which to be remembered? Flinging excrement at statues?
It doesn't matter what color your skin is, or what your background might be, or what your aspirations are. What matters is what you achieve - and don't tell me that the lack of things of which you feel 'deprived' holds you back from achieving. That's politically correct claptrap. Good men and women in every nation, of every tribe, ethnicity, language, creed and color, have achieved great things after beginning in absolute poverty with nothing and no-one to help them. They earned the right to criticize others on the basis that they proved themselves by their deeds. You have not - at least, not yet. When you have, come and talk to me again. Until then, shut up.
The Rhodes Scholarships that Cecil John Rhodes founded have educated many of the world's leaders, including US Presidents. His philanthropy is visible in the grounds on which your university stands, which he donated, and in Rhodes University in Grahamstown. You apparently see no contradiction between deriving personal benefit from his generosity, and throwing excrement at his statue. Shame on you.
I'd say that to them . . . but I don't suppose it would do much good. I guess it's a good thing I left South Africa when I did, because if I was still living in Cape Town (my birthplace) I'd have no hesitation in telling these jackasses what I thought of them. Nowadays, that might not be survivable in what Alan Paton called 'the beloved country'.