Entertainment Colonial-era statues stir controversy in S. Africa

Colonial-era statues stir controversy in S. Africa

Equestrian statue of Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902), Kimberley, South Africa
Equestrian statue of Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902), Kimberley, South Africa

(AA) – Many South Africans are calling for the removal of the many colonial- and apartheid-era statues scattered across the country.

“These statutes are forever a reminder of our painful and dark history of being oppressed,” Ayanda Kota of the unemployed people’s movement, a social movement that campaigns for the rights of the nation’s poor and unemployed, told The Anadolu Agency in an interview.

“Today we remain landless because of the legacy of colonialism and apartheid,” he fumed.

Kota said the authorities should remove all colonial-era symbols across the country because, he asserted, they reminded citizens of the suffering black people endured, both in South Africa and in Africa in general.

The controversy surrounding the statues first emerged two weeks ago at the University of Cape Town, when a group of students threw a bucket of human waste on a statue of Cecil John Rhodes.

Rhodes, who died in 1902, had been an ardent advocate of British colonialism, a mining magnate, and a politician in southern Africa.

He donated the land on which Cape Town’s Rhodes University was built on.

“We are an independent collective of students, workers and staff who have come together to end institutionalised racism and patriarchy at the University of Cape Town,” the group – which is campaigning for the statue’s removal under the banner “UCT Rhodes must fall” – said in a statement.

It said the statue of Rhodes glorified a “mass murderer” who reportedly exploited black laborers and stole land from indigenous people.

“Its presence erases black history and is an act of violence against black students, workers and staff,” the group asserted.

The group defines blacks as “all people of color” in South Africa, insisting that the removal of the Rhodes statue would not mark the end – but rather the beginning – of a “long overdue” process of “decolonizing” the university.

Most students protesting the statute’s presence never experienced the suffering that people of color went through under apartheid, as they were either too young at the time or had not yet been born.

On Friday, the University of Cape Town’s senate voted overwhelmingly to have the bronze statue of Rhodes removed from its premises.

The university council, which will meet next week, is expected to make a final decision on the matter.

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The Congress of South African Students, too, has thrown its support behind the campaign.

“We are in solidarity with the students of the University of Cape Town,” Zama Khanyase, congress provincial secretary-general in Gauteng, told AA by phone.

The controversy over the statues has not been limited to the university in Cape Town.

Students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College Campus have also joined the fray.  

On Thursday, a group of students at the campus defaced a statue of King George V, splashing it with white paint and covering it in words reading, “End white privilege.”

King George V was the husband of Queen Mary. He ruled for 26 years from 1910 to 1936, when he died.

Khanyase, the Congress of South African Students official, called upon the authorities to review the relevance of statutes erected in South African cities and towns during the colonial era.

“We need to know why such statutes are still standing up,” She asserted. “What is their relevance to us as a country?”

Enock Mate, a 33-year-old Johannesburg taxi driver, agrees.

“Colonialists humiliated our forefathers. Whenever we see their statutes or hear their names, we recall the pain and humiliation they put our people through,” he told AA.

“We don’t even want their statutes in our museums,” Mate added.

However, the Ministry of Arts and Culture said it had not received any formal requests for the removal of any statue in any part of the country.

“As government, we encourage citizen participation in efforts to find an amicable resolution to this matter through dialogue and negotiation,” ministry spokesman Sandile Memela said.

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