by MP Giyose 20 April 2015 12h51
MORE THAN A SYMBOL: The Rhodes Must Fall Movement must not allow capitalists to hide behind a relocation of statues to convenient places.
THE United Front Co-ordinating Committee in the Eastern Cape wishes to add its voice to the ideas and mobilisation which has arisen at UCT and Rhodes University, especially regarding the legacy of Cecil John Rhodes.
While giving unqualified support to the ideas and direction of this movement, we would like to broaden and deepen the debate. It is instructive to take note that the mobilisation has centred on the Rhodes monument at UCT, broadening to other historical monuments elsewhere in the country and refocusing on the very name “Rhodes University” in Grahamstown.
Statues, sculptures and portraits have played a significant role in the history of both revolutions and counter-revolutions. Both understand statues, sculptures and portraits in the realm of politics not as mere cultural symbols of an opponent’s current, but rather as serious political emblems celebrating the victorious march of that current.
We cannot agree with the ANC, the DA or even the EFF that these are mere symbols.
On the contrary, they are stubborn representations of political fact. The cheeky visage of Queen Victoria glowering over Govan Mbeki Avenue or Paul Kruger towering over Church Square and indeed Cecil John Rhodes astride at the centre of a university campus – all these denote the triumph of certain brands of imperialism in the politics of South Africa.
The worst is the Voortrekker Monument, complete with its cenotaph reaching its reactionary apotheosis at noon on December 16 each year that was placed by a fascist National Party at the very seat of political power in Pretoria.
And how fitting it is that this celebration of Afrikanerdom during the great trek is paired off with the post-1994 Wall of Remembrance! The co-existence of emblems of oppression with those of “democracy” is a loud commentary on the very essence of the SA National Democratic Revolution.
Cecil John Rhodes and Nelson Mandela co-exist comfortably in the very soul of a “democratic overturn” which happened in this country in 1994.
They demonstrate the fraud which has been fed to the people since 1994.
The very idea of statues foreshadows a greater problem.
Historical events, far from being made by great men or leaders, who in South Africa are furthermore called icons or legends, are made at all material moments by the intervention of the masses
An Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar or a Napoleon are purely personages who were placed in strategic positions at certain turning points in the affairs of society.
They themselves rested on the conquests of the past while riding aloft on the crest of a contemporary movement.
Indeed the nameless peasant who is first to crawl across the road under the belly of a Cossack’s horse in St Petersburg in February 1917, leading behind him 1 000 of his fellow toilers, actually played a leadership role at that very moment in history far more important than any of our “great leaders”.
The movement of the masses makes the great revolution. It is a particular vulgarisation of the events of history which substitutes the masses with the leader.
The mischief is far more malign when a political elite not only elevates a leader, but goes on to place him in a mausoleum at his death as if he were alive. Thus he becomes a replacement of the masses.
Popular organisations are demobilised and his name, as if he were a god, is employed to carry forward the momentum of history. The statue, sculptural bust and the portrait are intermediate steps towards the deification of a leader.
It is critical that we should defend the integrity of popular movements to the very hilt.
We should jealously guard the legacy of ideas which come to us from the past and have concretised in current society the kind of qualitative conquests which have the potential to transform human society. It is these ideas that create a revolutionary mass movement.
Any appropriation of history by elites and leaders, even much more so by mausoleums and statues, comes forward to deflect historical events from the puff of revolution on to that of its opposite. We must strenuously renounce the legacy that comes to us from the history of oppression.
The students at UCT and at Rhodes do very well to identify both the name and the statue of the oppressor.
Furthermore, they do well to denounce Rhodes’ statue as a travesty to revolutionary advance in this country. They need to associate both the name and statue of this individual with all the events whose climax was the conquest, subjugation and annexation of this country together with all its resources to English capitalism.
They need to associate these names and icons with the whole subsequent legacy in this country that resulted in the union of South Africa led by Louis Botha, Hertzog, Smuts and Verwoerd.
This is the legacy whose important landmarks are the land acts of 1913 and 1936, the iniquitous labour laws of the union government, the education acts, the segregationist policies and the massive apartheid laws.
We must therefore support the movement of the youth unconditionally when they renounce this legacy and counter-pose to it a legacy of transformation, freedom, anti-capitalism and genuine equality.
The youth are correct when they affirm that the legacy of Rhodes, Paul Kruger, Verwoerd and all their allies is a legacy we must renounce. We all, together with the whole of our youth, have to advance relevant political demands whose effect is to build a new legacy.
That is the post-capitalist legacy which has no leaders, no statues, no icons and no individual legends. We must build the collective leadership of the working class, in the rural masses and the poor, whose task it is to build a new world.
To conclude, the Rhodes Must Fall Movement should become a national campaign of youth, workers and peasants. It must not allow capitalists and bureaucrats to hide behind a relocation of statues to convenient places.
These partisans need to become part of a National Union of Metalworkers of SA-led search for a socialist path. They need to join in the building of a United Front and participate in the task of building a programme for socialist transformation.
Thus, as part of the living Struggle, the campaign over the Rhodes statue and others will become a stepping stone in the momentous task of building a new post-capitalist society.
In this way a whole range of fundamental social conquests will be made and the legacy of racism, colonial conquests and imperialism will be eradicated.