Of colonial statues and monuments

1
2318

THE year 2015 saw a massive movement at the University of Cape Town where students launched a “Rhodes Must Fall campaign” that saw the removal of the statue of Rhodes which stood at Rosenbosch campus.
The campaign spilled over to the UK, with students from Oxford University also calling for the removal of the statue of Rhodes which adorns the front of Oxford College.
This Wednesday the Oxford Union, a prestigious debating society, voted to remove the statue of Cecil John Rhodes.
However, the University Chancellor, Lord Patten is adamant that the statue is not going anywhere.
With each day pressure is mounting hence it remains to be seen if this statue would be removed.
Zimbabwe too has taken steps to rid the country of its colonial relics.
A number of statues have been removed.
These include two statues of Rhodes, one in Bulawayo and another in Harare as well as the Alfred Beit and Physical Energy statues.
The ‘Emperor’s Sculptor’ as Rhodes wanted them called, were taken down after Independence in August 1980 and are now stored at National Museums in Bulawayo and National Archives in Harare respectively.
The one in Harare used to stand at Third Street and Jameson Avenue (now Samora Machel) while the one in Bulawayo used to sit at the City Hall.
Another statue of a man on a horse called Physical Energy, cast in 1959 and very closely associated with the persona of Rhodes, was also taken down after the country attained Independence.
The statue was first unveiled in Zambia in 1960.
It was associated with the worst sort of racism following remarks made by the then Federal Prime Minister Godfrey Huggins when he equated the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland’s policy of racial partnership with the statue, describing blacks as the horse and whites, the rider.
“The relationship that exists between whites and blacks is the same that exists between the rider and his horse,” said Huggins.
“They do not eat or sleep together, but there is a working relationship between them.”
Following Zambia’s Independence the statue was moved to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
The Physical Energy statue was erected in April 1966 near the intersection of Jameson Avenue (now Samora Machel Avenue) and Rotten Row near the Queen Victoria Memorial Library, overlooking the Rowan Martin Building.
After the attainment of independence, there was mounting pressure to remove the statue from the public eye because of its colonial connotations.
In October 1981 the Physical Energy statue was moved to the grounds of National Archives where it still stands today. 
However, colonial monuments that proclaim white supremacy and the colonial legacy still, silently, stand tall in the country’s cities and towns.
When Rhodes died at Mutzerberg in Cape Town on March 26 1902 his body was brought into the country to be buried at Matopos (World View) near Bulawayo.
The choice of Matopos, the spiritual centre of the indigenes was deliberate.
For Rhodes’ grave would be turned into a whiteman’s shrine thereby desecrating our spiritual centre.
It lies in a granite tomb covered with concrete and there is a brass plaque with his name on it.
A few metres away lies Dr Leander Starr Jameson and Allan Wilson with his 34 men killed in battle in their abortive attempt to capture Lobengula.
The Matopos is practically a ‘Rhodesian Heroes Acre’ and thousands of tourists (mostly whites) throng the place throughout the year.
Blacks who visit the place are starkly reminded of the past by the unkempt grave of Mzilikazi in a cave nearby.
The well maintained grave of Rhodes and his homosexual friend tell the story of conquest, the subjugation of African people and their lands by foreigners.
These reminders of a brutal era can be removed but we choose not to as they are relics which remind us of the evil colonial past.
Also in place is David Livingstone’s statue in white marble which still stands in the courtyard of Munhumutapa House, Office of the President and Cabinet (a complex of offices in Harare housing the Cabinet office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Vice-Presidents’ Offices and the Ministry of Information).
David Livingstone is greatly remembered for arrogantly claiming to have discovered Victoria Falls and naming it after his queen, Victoria, although local Africans had known the falls as Mosi-a-Tunya (meaning the smoke that thunders).
Livingstone is still allowed to stand in two granite statues on either side of the Falls, which now form the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Yet white American soldiers did not hesitate to topple the statue of former Iraq President Saddam Hussein.
Britain, France and America had no qualms with the desecration of the body of Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi and ensuring his remains were thrown into an unmarked grave in the desert.
Are we too civilised a nation, too decent or alternatively too obtuse to take down the remaining statues and symbols?
Maybe it won’t be long before the statues of Livingstone are taken down.

1 COMMENT

  1. Removing statues is a sign of immaturity. Any sane society preserves and recognise its past. Anything else is cultural vandalism.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here