The issue of Cecil Rhodes’s statue being pelted with excrement has deeper issues, of the emerging free thinking young Africans who do not want to be influenced by warped views of Westerners who cannot identify with the enlightened African – of whose breed there are no averages. Scouring the many debates of this issue exposes a deep divide between Africans and Westerners on the issue of colonialism and how it should be remembered. The young minds of Africa who are free from biased views of the world from a western context, are beginning to question certain aspects of African history which was mostly written by Westerners.
First of all, it is of no wonder that the students of University of Cape Town have reacted in this way, because for centuries the African life and history has been dictated by Europeans. Today, a spirit of rebelliousness is slowly fermenting in the young minds of Africans who are fed up of western hegemony on public life in Africa. For once, this new breed of Africans want to decide on what is right for their culture and history, without any distortions or sympathy for imperialism and its so-called advantages from anybody. They want to decide by themselves, and they will decide for themselves – Kwa wenyewe! Ngokwabo! Pawokha! Nipa ara wọn! Da kansu!
Scouring the many social media comments on this issue, it is disparaging to hear of the lazy argument that claims that there would be no South Africa without colonialism. The claim is that Africa would not be introduced to the modern pillars of life that is education, technology and democracy if it was not for men like Rhodes. Basically what they are saying is that Africa would not be what it is today without imperialism and somehow Africans need to be grateful despite colonialism’s grave flaws.
What a load of bullshit!
What these arguments seem to forget is that, no one in Africa asked for this so-called intervention by Europeans. Africans had their own interpretation of life before the Europeans came, and it is unintelligible to claim that Africans should be grateful for colonialism.
Kerr Cross for example writing in 1890 had this to say about the social and economic life of Northern Malawi:
Food is everywhere abundant, bananas, sweet potatoes, cassava, yams, Indian Corn, beans, peas, millet and other seeds, wild fruits, honey, milk and beef
And in regards to the social order, a look at the village life provides a good picture:
All weeds, grasses, garbage and things unsightly are swept away by little boys. Each house is built of bamboo, with clay worked by the women into little rounded bricks ….The doorsteps are often painted with designs in red, yellow and other colours, and altogether there is an air of comfort, and plenty
(Cross, D.K., Geographical Notes of the country between lake Nyassa, Rukwa and Tanganyika, in: Scottish Geography Magazine VI (1890) pp. 283-4, quoted in: McCracken,J., op. cit., p.98.)
So life for the Africans living in those days must have been reasonable enough in the African context. In fact innovations used in agriculture, in the military and in industry developed in the Northern parts of Africa, by earlier civilisations in Egypt, and those developed by the Nubians, and by civilisations like that of Great Zimbabwe would later find their way southwards, to be improved upon. [For a much more indepth description refer to this video by Dr Yosef Ben Jochannan ]
Toyin Falola and Tyler Fleming of the Department of History, University of Texas at Austin, USA, writing in AFRICAN CIVILIZATIONS: FROM THE PRE-COLONIAL TO THE MODERN DAY, says:
Though people have lived in Africa quite some time… Iron tools enhanced weaponry, allowed groups to clear and manage dense forests, plow fields for farming, and basically better everyday lives. Ultimately, iron tools allowed Africans to flourish in every environment, and thus they could live in larger communities which led to the formation of states and kingdoms. With state formation came the formation of modern civilizations with common languages, belief and value systems, art, religion, lifestyle and culture
They go on to say that:
Later European explorers and settlers often argued that territories were unsettled upon their arrival and thus were ripe for the taking, but these assumptions were misguided. Often land had been abandoned due to poor soil quality, infrequent rainfall, or had been claimed for future use
No matter how people frame these spineless arguments that portray pre-colonial Africans as having been in need of a white saviour, Africans had their own way of life which was derived of African innovations. The unfortunate thing is that we shall never know what life in Africa could have been without the slave trade and colonialism. Having said that, pre-colonial communities were never completely isolated,and there was interaction between states and with outsiders including the Middle East, India, the Chinese and Europeans. Thus, there are credible grounds to suggest that exchange of ideas on a purely economic relationship (as opposed to coloniser and colonized), relationships in which African truly benefitted, would have ultimately led to a level of development comparable if not superior to those witnessed in other parts of the world.
It needs to be noted that when colonialists came to Africa, they found a continent that was rich in both resources and culture. Africa was home to kingdoms, chiefdoms and previously had housed some of the most intriguing empires which were built using a sophisticated craftmanship previously unknown to Europeans.
But somewhere along the way theories were cooked up which concluded that Black African lives were inferior to White lives. In the absence of written African accounts (many of which were purposely destroyed) that disproved this thesis, such ideas, peddled about by racists such as Arthur de Gobineau and Georges Vacher de Lapouge then spawned the belief that it was in the best interests of Africans that Westerners erase their way of life, whether they liked it or not because the African could not comprehend what was right or wrong for him/her. According to such supremacist theories – which were driven more by propaganda that needed to find an excuse to use in the dispossession of the African, and were devoid of any truthful and verifiable science – the African needed ‘help’ from a superior being: the white man.
No matter how anyone tries to frame these argument, the fact remains that when the Europeans first arrived, Africans were not lacking. And while they may not have had certain ‘luxuries’, most parts of Africa were stable, had capable people who were content with their lives.
There were diseases (e.g. malaria and dysentery), just like everywhere with such warm climates, and the usual tribal conflicts, but at no point were Europeans asked for their ‘civilization’ to be transplanted to Africa. Put simply, it was forced upon them.
So, its absurd to suggest that colonialism despite its barbarism, needs to be applauded for it ‘civilised’ the savages of Africa.
What people who push that argument seem to forget is that most of the so-called savagery in Africa at that time was fermented because of the transatlantic slave trade which pitted one African tribe against each other. For example in East Africa, before the Arabs came in search of slave labour, the various tribes that inhabited the area were either subsistence farmers or practicing animal husbandry. Society was orderly, and discipline was observed. (Here i must say that the ‘savagery’ painted on Africans at the time doesn’t come anywhere near to the level of savagery by Europeans in the middle ages – from religious persecution to wars of conquest in which thousands were massacred).
It is this sense of entitlement on the part of Europeans and Americans that has lived on up to this day, that still fuels western countries to meddle in the domestic affairs of other countries, even when they wouldn’t have others meddle in the internal affairs of their own countries. Because some of them are raised to think they are more important than anybody else; that the world owes them resources, wealth, happiness, and it doesn’t matter what or who is in their way; that others who have better things must be dispossessed; that others cannot enjoy their own resources without interference. Jealousy and Greed. This kind of mindset still remains, as Rhodes said,
I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.
And that is just so sad.
This imperialist kind of thinking is what explains Western countries aiding dodgy rebels to kill Gaddafi, in a country that was more prosperous than any other country in Africa. It is what causes them to back fascist militia to oust an elected government in Ukraine…
Remember what happened to Morsi?…. how a shady military general who is ex-CIA was entertained into pushing out an elected leader in Egypt…
The Syrian conflict and 200,000 people who have died as a result. Iraq and the over one million people who have died as a result…
Gaddafi, Morsi and others were no saints (and yes Morsi was incompetent), but as I’ve argued on this blog before, Gaddafi’s Libya was a hundredfold better than the current Libya, which is ruled by a thousand different murderous militias, causing mindless carnage that is destroying the last vestiges of African prosperity. Many Libyans today openly regret what has become of their country. And the sad thing is western countries can’t fix the mess they helped create.
So, as an African who lives in a country that was a former colony (to which colonisation deprived access to sea – leading to a perpetual volatile economy, and a never ending high cost of living), I’m deeply offended and find it appalling when some fools still think Cecil Rhodes should have a place in African history. I think that decision is for Southern Africans to make and if they deem him to be a villain not a hero, then it should be so – at which point some of us will gladly applaud.
In the same manner that most Africans accept that Adolf Hitler was a murderer, a pillager and conqueror, is the same way the Europeans should accept the view of some Africans on Cecil Rhodes. Having a statue of Rhodes at UCT is abhorrent in all types of rationality, because it was only about 110 years ago that an infestation of men like him masqueraded as angels across the African landscape when in fact they were on a mission of exploitation and pillage. Plundering Africans and their natural wealth: a theft that has clearly benefited the West up until the present time, and whose negative effects are there on African soil, visible for all to see.
I therefore believe that the towering statue of Cecil Rhodes should be pulled down at UCT because it is a constant reminder of colonialism and white superiority. Unlike the pulling down of Saddam Hussein’s statue in 2003… or unlike the pulling down of Lenin’s statues in former soviet republics after the fall of the USSR ( the fall of whose reigns were fingered by foreigners) I think it is time that Africans get to decide on what pages of history they want to write for themselves, and to remember – whether such is accompanied by ‘faeces flinging’ or not, without any foreign interference. And I’ll tell you why: because for years we have been brainwashed with the ‘heroic’ deeds of such charlatans who did nothing for us of any real value. If anything, accepting Cecil Rhodes as a hero is accepting and validating white superiority which once thought African cultures had no place in the world. It’s a bit like trying to convince Iraqis to erect a statue in honour of George Bush and Tony Blair, the two politicians who in recent years have done the most to destroy any hope of peace, security, prosperity and normality for ordinary Iraqis. Glorifying Cecil Rhodes and people like him is tantamount to accepting Slavery and Apartheid.
Slavery…dishonors labor; it introduces idleness into society, and with idleness, ignorance and pride, luxury and distress. It enervates the powers of the mind and benumbs the activity of man. – Alexis de Tocqueville
For the enlightened African, Cecil Rhodes is a pillager, murderer and a bigot who may have made wealth for some countries in Europe, but is partly responsible for the poverty, sickness, corruption, hegemony and human suffering that we see across Africa today. He has no place in our societies that are striving for love, equality, peace and prosperity for all (irrespective of gender, colour, nationality or race).
So then…Kwa wenyewe! Ngokwabo! Pawokha! Nipa ara wọn! Da kansu!
Edited: S Nkhwazi