By Kerstin Hall
(Beware: Puns ahead.)
I do not go to UCT, so perhaps my credentials should not be trusted in this regard. However, since UCT students have been invading the Rhodes SRC page, prompting a barrage of “he doesn’t even go here” comments, I thought I’d pay my penny.
The practice of shit-flinging, in fact, appears to have originated in Grahamstown, circa 2011, when the UPM (Unemployed People’s Movement) made their feelings about the ‘bucket system’ known to the Makana municipality by emptying said buckets in the City Hall. Look, a video:
This form of protest sparked copycat movements in Cape Town, though these were not all related to the provision of humane sanitation. Then, for a few years, excrement went out of fashion. Until 9 March 2015.
There is a statue at UCT. A statue of a dead man. A dead man, who, let’s be honest, was not exactly the greatest guy.
Cecil John Rhodes, oh the shitstorm you stir 113 years after your death.
You, who believed so ardently in the project of British colonialism, a project that destroyed the lives of millions. That continues to ruin lives today, by means of the ever-expanding ripples of historically inherited destitution. When your ship docked in the Cape of Good Hope, did you know what you would sow? Did you care, oh diamond thief and bringer of war? Did you ever see beyond the voracious appetite of your motherland?
Let’s not defend this man.
However, I am against catapulting his image with dung. Not because I support dear old Cecil, but because someone has to clean that up. And, according to the UCT SRC, that someone was an outsourced black labourer. Someone far less privileged than the protestors themselves was tasked with the humiliating and degrading job of cleaning up human waste. Place yourself in that person’s shoes for a moment. Are you there? Good. Now, tell me, what is your opinion of the shit-slingers?
Secondly, this only gives fuel to the racists, who may now gleefully whisper behind their hands and into their Facebook newsfeeds: “So barbaric!” This is not the best discourse to feed. One need look no further than the News24 comments sections to realize that discrimination is alive and well in this country. Believe me; the KKK-clones are having a field day.
At the same time, I am aware that the protestors don’t care much about such opinions. But, as someone passionate about the topic of representation, I do feel that they do themselves and their cause a disservice by behaving in exactly the manner expected of them by the old regime-ers. The nuances of your argument are likely to be lost when you are swinging stools up the Jammie Steps. You become a stereotype, you are easy to dismiss as radical and unreasonable.
On the other hand, the protest was very effective in drawing attention to the issues, so…
The statue should come down. And I can’t really understand the rationale of the students who want it to stay. “It’s a part of history”. So are George Bush and the Bee Gees. Perhaps it’s okay to consign some things to a museum so they don’t offend people on a daily basis. “He donated the land for the university”. Was it his to donate?
It is not just a statue. It is a symbol of oppression. Placing it at the forefront of a supposedly liberal university sets a certain precedent. Some people will read and mentally disagree. Dissenters, people read symbols differently. Perhaps you see a great man pondering the mysteries of life. Your classmate could see the asshole who stole their great grandparents’ farm. Their view is not inferior to yours. (Their view is also premised on these things called facts).
And if it hurts them, if it upsets them, why should it stay? Unless you are willing to stand behind everything Cecil John Rhodes did, you are now up this line of argument without a paddle.
Now for the problem. I do not advocate changing the name of my own institution, at least not right now.
I go to Rhodes University. That’s right, RHODES. Yep. One and the same. The man himself.
Since Monday, our SRC Facebook page has exploded. This debate turned ugly, and rampant name-calling and tantrum-throwing has ensued. Tempers are fraying, tweets are proliferating and dining halls are buzzing. The SRC has called for an emergency student body meeting to confront the issue. Another Artbeat reporter will be live-tweeting the proceedings from our Twitter account.
Frankly, I don’t care what my university is called, provided it is reasonably pronounceable and spellable. I will even, unpatriotically, admit that I’ve always been in two minds about referring to myself as a “rhodent”. Rats. Woohoo.
But at Rhodes, we are not talking about one statue. We are talking about everything. Our email addresses and websites, which all culminate in .ru.ac.za. Every single official form. Signage. Financial accounts. Our sports facilities, equipment, clothing, merchandise. Degree certificates. Even our local bar is called “The Rat”.
The costs of changing our name would be monumental, running well into the millions. This is money we cannot afford to spend, because this money is imaginary. We do not have it. It is not real. And there is only so much cost-cutting Rhodes can engage in, because, believe me, they have been trying. Everyone in my dining hall knows the portions of spaghetti bolognaise are shrinking.
Yet our fees keep going up. Financial exclusion is becoming commonplace and after the government cut the majority of the NSFAS scholarship fund this year, we are left trying to make up the deficit with bake sales and pleas at Pick n Pay. The Give Five campaign raised R72 145.50 this year. Sound like a lot? That’s enough to give a pittance of pocket money to 36 struggling students.
At the end of the day, our working-class students will be hardest hit. So UCT, much though we would like to let Cecil go, it is probably not going to happen right now. Please stop insulting our SRC on our pages. They have enough shit to deal with.
If you would be interested in discussing this topic, please leave comments below. I will happily engage with you.