At an emotionally charged forum debating whether the statue honouring Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town (UCT) should be removed, a young Black woman took the floor to say something that resonated with the many young Black South Africans seated in the room and throughout the country: the time for negotiating Black pain is over. Transformation is now.
For those of us who happened to be born towards the twilight of Apartheid, her words encapsulated everything that we’ve had to face navigating a South Africa that still privileges and upholds white supremacy. Unlike our forefathers and foremothers, we were spared the overt humiliation that was colonialism and Apartheid. We were not denied our civil liberties by virtue of the colour of our skins. We were not legislated to a life of second-class citizenry where our hopes and aspirations were denied in order for us to be in white South Africa’s servitude. We did not have to be beaten, abused, attacked and killed for the right to call the land of our ancestors home.
Yet what many, including those who fought for our freedom, fail to understand is that we live with the painful legacy of colonialism and Apartheid every day. We’ve had to come to terms with the fact that our miracle democracy only happened on paper and that white South Africa, for the most part, has remained blissfully apathetic towards the plight of Black South Africans. They have interpreted reconciliation to mean that they can ignore their complicity in perpetuating and maintaining the oppressive structures which continue to marginalise non-white South Africans.
The reason we as young Black South Africans want that statue to fall is because it represents all of the above. It represents the struggle that most of us have had to endure to be able to have a small slice of the pie from which our white counterparts continue to eat. It is telling of the 100 Black academics who constitute the 1,500 staff who make up UCT’s academic body. It is the lack of funding given to Black students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is the pittance paid to the workers of UCT who’ve had to wipe up the indulgent spillages of the white and Black bourgeoisie. It is emblematic of the lack of transformation that has taken place in our country owing to a lack of political will on the part of an ANC-led government which protects white privilege at the expense of Black lives and pain.
As UCT Professor Xolela Mangcu has said, I do not think it’s necessary to go to great lengths to explain why the statue of Cecil John Rhodes needs to be taken down. Many Black South Africans are exhausted of having to negotiate and debate their pain in insulting forums frequented by a largely arrogant, defensive, disinterested and patronising white South Africa. We are fed up with those who cherry-pick from Nelson Mandela’s legacy in order silence us.
Contrary to those who criticise the Rhodes Must Fall movement, Cecil John Rhodes was not a man of the times. He was a greedy murderer, racist, coloniser and misogynist suffering from a superiority and cult complex. He was committed to rendering Africa a pariah for barbaric racism and imperialism. As young Black South Africans, we are releasing ourselves from carrying the burden of reconciliation. We are asking that the spaces we occupy are distinctly African and reflective of an African society that is proud of its identity and committed to ensuring radical transformation and equality for all.
Image: UCT: Rhodes Must Fall, Facebook