Essay, Pages 7 (1507 words)
Monuments are capable of radiating an impression of ‘supernatural omnipresence'( Kros, 2015). The monuments which represent historical figures especially those who are associated with oppression can have a drastic effect on the relationship between the monument and the living beings associated with it. The monuments act as a constant reminder of the oppressor and the sufferings they had caused to the living beings associated with them. This is exactly what had happened with the Rhodes statue in the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa.
A student protest movement had started with the aim of removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes from the university campus because they saw it as a symbol of colonialism and with the wider aim of decolonising knowledge production. The movement spread far and wide and media also played an important role in the spread of the movement.
Rhodes and the controversial statue
Cecil John Rhodes was a British imperialist and was a supporter of colonialism.
He was the founder of De Beers, prime minister of the Cape Colony. He is also known for the creation of Zimbabwe and Zambia. Besides, he was also the creator of one of the most effective and beneficial educational exchanges in the modern world – the Rhodes scholarships. However, this does not certainly deny the fact that he was a racist. He believed that the whites were the superior race and wanted to bring the whole world under the control of the British crown.
The Rhodes statue is the most controversial statue in the UCT campus.
It is a tribute to a man who, more than anyone else has come to embody the colonial dispossession and oppression of Africans ( Hodes, 2015). Daily maverick news. The leader in Oxford, Ntokozo Qwabe, regards Rhodes as ‘the Hitler of Southern Africa.'( Lemon, 2016). The protestors, mainly consisting of students saw the statue as a symbol of oppression and hence wanted the removal of the statue.
How the movement started ?
The first act that initiated the movement occurred on 9 March 2015, when a politics student Chumani Maxwele smeared human excrement on Rhodes statue from a nearby portable toilet. The next morning, Maxwele took his package to the foot of nearby Table Mountain – and to the imposing grounds of one of South Africa’s oldest and most prestigious universities. Overlooking the rugby field in the centre of the campus is an old bronze statue of a white man. He is in an armchair, one hand on his chin, the other holding some paper – and he is sitting forwards, like a man startled by something he has seen on television. ( Harding, 2015) BBC news.
They then occupied a building and made numerous demands. They also revived an old radical slogan ” One settler, One bullet”. The council of UCT conducted an emergency meeting to decide the fate of the statue. However, Max Price, president of the UCT council had already announced that the statue was as good as gone. This made the protestors cry the chant. “One settler. One bullet.”
It is interesting to note that this excrement incident was not the first incident against the Rhodes statue. The Rhodes statue has been a contestation space prior to this. However, this was intensified by the RMF movement. As stated earlier, the RMF movement was to question the racial discrimination practices in South Africa. The excrement-incident has to be understood: as a mobilizing gesture to arouse enthusiasm around a new political aim in South Africa. ( Knudsen; Andersen, 2018). Many black protestors came to see the movement as ‘what Africa should not be for us in future.’ ( Knudsen, Andersen, 2018). The Rhodes statue also acted as a symbol of a ‘sense of not belonging.’ ( Knudsen ; Andersen, 2018).
Demands of the protestors
The movement initially started in UCT and later on spread to Oriel college as well. Race is central in South African public and political discourse. To be labelled as racists meant drastic consequences for both individuals as well as institutions, therefore UCT accepted the unanimous demand of the students to remove the statue from the university premises. On the contrary, the governing body of Oriel college asked for a six month consultation period, where seminars and lectures were conducted to enlighten the students about the historical context of the statue. However, in both the contexts there was a fear of loss of image and reputation of the university by the governing bodies and especially in UCT there was a fear that the government could use this protest in their favour. The fear of loss of image also made the Oriel college decide that the statue will not be removed. The protestors expressed their anger by stating that the decision to save the statue reminds us that ” Black lives are cheap at Oriel.” ( Lemon, 2016).
The wider issue raised by the movement is ‘how we live with our history’ (Lemon, 2016). It was also part of a wider demand to ‘decolonise knowledge production’. The protestors also demanded for a ‘free space’ where all the students are free to express themselves and in the process get rid of all oppressions they might face.
Role of Social Media
Social media has encouraged increased participation in protests through collective actions. Twitter has captured the interests of many scholars these days. The scholars are interested in studying the ways it can be used as a medium of communication during social unrest, to inform political discourse and to precede revolutionary events on the ground. Social media has also let to the rise of new forms of protest.
There are 6.6 million twitter users in South Africa making it the third most popular social networking site in the country ( after facebook and youtube). Despite having few followers, it has seen more participation than facebook. ( Bosch, 2016). Young people are using social networking sites to develop a new biography of citizenship which is characterized by more individualised forms of activism (Bosch, 2016). Twitter provides many platforms of participation like tagging, reading, following hashtags as well as creating and sharing content, thereby making the citizens aware as well as keeping them engaged.
In this particular instance, there were a lot of debates on whether Rhodes was correct or incorrect, should the statue be removed or not etc. These debates took place both in online as well as offline spaces. However, the role played by social networking sites especially twitter had a long lasting impact. The movement gained popularity through #RhodesMustFall and later simply #RMF.
It also acted as a platform where the voices of the unheard could be heard. According to Bosch, ‘A particular kind of listening can serve to break up linguistic conventions and create a public realm where a plurality of voices, faces, and languages can be heard and seen and spoken'( Bosch, 2016). Bosch is of the opinion that twitter provided the medium for the black people to voice their grievances which no other medium allowed them to. If building of statue is seen as a ‘practice of representation that enacts and gives social substance to the discourse of collective memory’ ( Bosch, 2016), then the discussions in twitter using the #RMF also played a key role in arousing people’s memory as to who was Cecil John Rhodes. Some people tweeted in support of Rhodes recollecting all the good deeds he has done for South Africa while others disrespected him for his racist and typical colonial ideologies. The campaign thus represented contemporary struggles over the transformation of old monuments and their associated meanings, the rewriting of history and memory and translations of the past ( Bosch, 2016).
Spread of the movements
The movement soon spread to other universities as well. The movement in Stellsborsh university was inspired by RMF movement. The main aim of the movement was to change to medium of education from english to Africans
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5. Bosch, T. (2016). Twitter Activism and Youth in South Africa: The case of #RhodesMustFall. Information, Community and Society
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7. Harding, A. (2015, April 11). Cecil John Rhodes movement: A necessary Anger? BBC News
8. Hodes.R DAILY MAVERICK
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10. Kros, C. (2015). Rhodes Must Fall: archives and counter-archives. A South-North Journal Of Cultural And Media Studies.