You have to be a skilled ninja of avoiding news, the internet and the entire world if you are not aware of the #RhodesMustFall movement.
This movement, catalysed by the hotly contested faeces-throwing on the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, has spread far and wide, catalysing many around various parts of the country and the world to join along in support.
The statue will finally be removed from Upper Campus on the 9th of April 2015 at 17:00. Even though many doubted this moment could ever even achieve its first goal, the detractors will probably continue and say “The statues gets moved and then what?”, questioning the integrity of the movement post its first achievement.
These are the same kind of detractors who never thought that we could reach this stage where the statue will actually be removed, yet here we are. They should not worry themselves, the movement has clear objectives, beginning with the statue and other goals shall be achieved later on.
But nonetheless, beyond the movement’s continuity, there is a powerful moment happening here, commentary based solely on the fact that the decision to remove it has been made by UCT management through its council.
There are two severely undervalued precedences set by the act of this removal that many of those off campus (and quite honestly, many on it as well) are not realising.
Firstly, the discussion on transformation in South Africa and in all institutions has been long running — since at least 2000 and as far back at pre-1994 — and that’s exactly the problem: these discussions have long started but have failed in resulting into action… Until now.
Pre-#RhodesMustFall, the sentiment around campus was that UCT’s management claims to listen and understand students’ concerns; claims to be dedicated to addressing transformation yet the extent to which they are committed has been questioned. Concerns over transformation of curriculum, concerns on the symbols around campus and whose history it preserves have essentially gone unheard.
Discussions are helpful only when the conclusions reached turns into action. And when a critical mass of students joined together, requesting that management sees that this statue is removed, and the removal actually happens, there is restored faith in management: we can genuinely say that management listened to us. We can see the action and no longer have to work on unsupported faith that we’ve been “understood”.
There is power in this precedent set: it’s possible for one thing to be transformed, opening up the opportunity in which other transformative actions can take place. Changing the curriculum, addressing the number of black professors seems more attainable now than previously — the door of communication has been opened wide.
Secondly, this movement has established a campus wide process of conscientisation in every student at varying degrees. In years previous, one could easily complete their degree without knowing who Cecil John Rhodes was and what he did.
Because of this movement, everyone knows at least about Rhodes. This movement has planted the seeds of conscientisation, by bringing into the forefront what many would never had even thought to think about. There is debate, dialogue amongst groups of people in their personal conversations — the movement is not a large group demonstrating but also gains strength in its daily discussions. This kind of dialogue leads to internal and external questioning, catalysing in individuals to understand the world surrounding them at a greater depth.
When Rhodes is removed today, I shall be there. And I know that this moment is important and will be analysed for many years to come.