Sunday, 22 March 2015

So, you want a revolution?

Postscript: Last night - 2 days after I wrote this essay - we attended a UCT function for donor alumini in which the charismaticVice-Chancellor Dr Max Price spoke at length about the Rhodes issue.  There was only one poo throwing student (not hordes as the media reports implied) and he's a fourth year political science student, who has been severly warned that his actions are disreputable. You can read what Russell Ally, executive director of UCT's Department of Alumni and Development has to say about the matter here .  More than ever, after attending this function, I still think #RhodesMustFall.


A man I greatly admire, Prof Jonathan Jansen has a different view: read his reasons why #RhodesMustStay here


Another important and interesting view, from veteran political journalist Max du Preez, can be found here in his article. Rhodes and the Rage of the Black Middle Class


My husband Beric, a UCT alumni,
standing at the Rhodes Memorial near UCT
The poo-throwing students of the University of Cape Town are making headlines, trying to force the removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes that has dominated the skyline for decades.

I find myself in agreement with those calling for the statue’s removal.

 Perhaps it’s my 50% Afrikaans blood, but Rhodes is, after all, a potent symbol of British Imperialism. The same imperialism that decimated millions of Afrikaaners in the concentration camps of the Boer War and the same imperialism that ravished its colonies from America to Africa to Asia, and thought we should be honoured at the privilege.

Yes, it is time to do away with the Rhodes statue and move it to some dusty museum as a part of our history, much as Stalin is part of Russia’s history and Hitler is part of Germany’s history.

But, really! Is throwing poo and using destruction to achieve the removal of a controversial symbol the product of a democratic republic? Is it the action of decent, intelligent human beings?

Of course not. These cowardly tactics are no less an oppressive tyranny than all that has gone before. The English imperialists had good manners; the Afrikaans nationalists had discipline and courage. The late great Nelson Mandela might have considered throwing a bomb or two, but at least he did it with intelligent forethought and a careful weighing up of the long term costs. Ultimately, he eschewed destructive violence for constructive dialogue and, together with FW de Klerk, created the potential for something greater than what existed before.
Rhodes statue on UCT Campus -photo via   .Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price personally wants the Rhodes statue moved.

The poo-throwing students of UCT have given no thought to the repercussions of their crude and petty violence. Their actions have certainly brought the issue to the forefront of our attention. It’s also conveniently detracted the media’s attention from the enormous corruption and mismanagement of our current ANC-led national government; the only province still functional at a state level is the home of the University of the Cape Town: the opposition-led Western Cape. (Despite the validity of the issue, one has to ask if this fuss over the Rhodes statue is a tactic of the ruling ANC who have failed to gain control of the Western Cape by democratic means. Are they now stooping to bullying, distracting tactics to achieve that end by destructive rather than constructive means?)

What has this fuss really achieved for the good of the country? There is no enlightenment or true liberation in calling scatological scatterings an expression of change and rebellion against "black shame."  The only shame here is the acceptance of this wanton destruction as a valid act of freedom.

Freedom fighting is not about seeking a quick fix of superficial issues such as whether the statue of Rhodes should be removed and the names of streets, airports and cities changed. All those cosmetic changes should come at the end of the battle, when the brave new world we all voted for in 1994 is running to the highest level of its great potential.

If the future “leaders” of our country resort to poo-throwing and acts of unruly destruction to get their own way as quickly as they possibly can, what kind of country will we leave for our children, and our children’s children?

Certainly not a country that provides a better life for all her citizens. Real change, change that is lasting and replaces the worst of the old with the best of the new does not happen overnight.

While the actions of these students may not reflect the atrocities of Nazi Germany, apartheid South Africa or the American genocide of the Native American Tribes (take a moment to remember American Indian Leonard Peltier, still a political prisoner after 40 years!), the sheer tyranny of this toddler mentality acting as if might is all right (the black student protestors), and white is all wrong ("the symbols of white supremacy"), is more dangerous.

The baying for the removal of the Rhodes statue should serve as a warning of what might happen in the future, if the worst manifestations of this modern day revolution are allowed to take root.

There are times when a revolution must be as fierce and as ruthless as the raging fires that so recently destroyed thousands of hectares of Western Cape fynbos. Then, much needed change can sweep through a land and offer rebirth and a glorious opportunity for growth and expansion.

But, for South Africa, that time is past.  We need to rise above our sense of victimhood — of race, of gender, of sexuality — and realise that, if  we as a country are to survive and start living up to our great potential, we’ll have to make some grown up choices on how we bring about change.

Here are some suggestions on how to make thoughtful choices for change that is for the greater good of all:

Question our motives: WHY? Why am I doing this? Why do I want to destroy this structure? Why am I obsessed with doing this? What are the real reasons I’m angry? And am I angry at the right issue? Am I challenging the right power structure? Or am I being swept away by an invisible undercurrent that could indiscriminately destroy all in its path.

Is this real progress or is this simply destruction? If we rush headlong into changing things without proper thought before action, we risk destroying something that can help us build a stronger foundation that will sustain growth over generations. We may feel the short term satisfaction that releasing our anger into violent action gives us, but what if we destroy something valuable and useful in the red rage of our need for instant change and instant gratification?

Have faith and develop patience!  There are Divine forces at work that the modern world often chooses to ignore. Whatever your religion or faith of choice,  time is the greatest test of how our faith in God’s plan for our human lives and our tiny planet plays out. When things are moving too slowly for us; when the promised land seems ever further away, it’s then we have to hold onto our belief in the unseen and the unknown and trust that, if we hold steady to all that is good and right, moral and just, compassionate and kind, in the end, we will have contributed to a better world, if not for ourselves then for the generations that will follow.

Think for yourself!  Never follow the herd. Think of the consequences of any action you take. And be prepared to move out of your comfort zone of your beliefs.

I’m a white African. I was born in Rhodesia, named after Cecil John Rhodes, in a small village nearby where he’s buried. 

But I say the Rhodes statue represents the past. Remove it and replace it with a statue of a Southern Right Whale, that ancient species, so mythical and majestic, and so important to the eco-tourism (and economy) of the Western Cape.  

Then let’s get back to the really important work of making South Africa into the world-class country she has the potential to become.
                                                                                                  "So, you want a revolution?" by Judy Croome
A whale seen off the Cape Coast.
Photo from