To honor a man who valued education above many things seems fitting. To erect a statue of such a man in front of a university is only appropriate. However, to honor Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town in South Africa is absolutely unfitting. His statue has been taken down, and rightly so.
It baffles me that it has taken so many years for this to be done. Cecil Rhodes is considered one of the most prominent figures of colonialism in the world and his racist attitude towards Africa, specifically South Africa, is public knowledge. Yet, it has been deemed appropriate to have this face of racism immortalized at one of the top universities in Africa for so many years. Undeniably, Cecil Rhodes donated the land on which the University of Cape Town is built, but he also gave its country misery and inequality.
I agree that some of the actions taken against this statue, like pouring excrement on it, were a bit extreme. I also realize that at a university where black students are a minority, there is an unspoken oppression that is still felt. Sometimes, when such oppression is felt, one resorts to extreme measures that are widely criticized. These measures, however, can also open our eyes.
Yes, Cecil Rhodes was a man who believed in the fruitfulness of education. The Rhodes Scholarship has benefitted around 7,000 people since its creation in 1902, and some of the students who have benefitted from it have been African. However, money put to an amazing use does not cancel out the racism Rhodes practiced. In the real world, a good deed does not negate a bad one. Adekeye Adebajo, a Nigerian Rhodes Scholar, said, “At the time I got the Rhodes Scholarship, all I could think about was getting a good education and fighting for pan-Africanist issues. This wealth was stolen from Africa when Rhodes plundered the continent, so I felt absolutely no guilt about using the money to criticize what he stood for.”Adebajo has not fallen for the victim mentality where one is just grateful for any opportunity. He said he understands that the opportunity that the scholarship afforded him cannot compensate for the atrocity colonialism caused in his country and on his continent.
The dismantling of the statue begs another question: what should be done with memories of colonizers and other historical figures that contradict the human rights and social issues we are aware of now? They cannot be erased, because whether we choose to accept it or not, they are an important piece of the past for the society we live in today. Nevertheless, they cannot be blatantly exhibited in controversial locations. While remembering Rhodes is important to understand why racial equality is imperative, remembering him on the grounds of a university, where students should learn not to honor the dishonorable, is unacceptable. Figures like him and others need to be remembered with caution and in a non-controversial space.
Racial inequality is an issue that is prevalent even today in our so-called modernized and globalized world. Statues like that of Rhodes are symbols that can either act as reminders of this inequality or as reminders that we are trying to leave that inequality behind. Dismantling this symbol acted as a reminder that this inequality should be left behind. Amidst the decades of protests and hostility, this statue is a gesture to show that the prevalent issues of racism in South Africa have been recognized. Hopefully, this gesture will evolve into actual actions that will inspire this world to take fittingly modernized and globalized steps towards achieving racial equality.