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Pan Macmillan

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Rhodes Statue Debate: Songezo Zibi Criticises the “Post-1994 Corporatised Narrative of Our History”

Raising the BarSongezo Zibi, editor of Business Day and author of Raising the Bar: Hope and Renewal in South Africa, has written an article about the current discussion around the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town.

Zibi begins by relating the story of Nongqawuse, the Xhosa prophetess who persuaded her people to destroy hundreds of thousands of their livestock in the mid-1800s.

From there Zibi moves to Nelson Mandela, whose “statue gazes over the capital, Pretoria”, unlike those others who opposed colonialism, such as Khawuta, Hintsa, Sarhili, Makana and others.

“Like everyone who paid the ultimate price trying to fend off the likes of Cecil John Rhodes and his predecessors,” Zibi says, “they deserve recognition too.”

Zibi criticises the “post-1994 corporatised narrative of our history”, and says historical figures have an important contribution to make in understanding and shaping South Africa’s future.

The discussion about the UCT statue has great potential to expand to other memorials and monuments black South Africans find offensive. It is as much about culturally alienating academic institutions as it is about pent-up black anger about a reconciliation and nation-building project whose responsibility to reach out appears to be theirs alone.

Sadly, there is patent lack of leadership and foresight, for this will one day soon culminate in a move to put dynamite through the Voortrekker Monument and others like it. Then, like everything else our leadership never sees coming, it will become a crisis. We have to develop urgently a national framework on the preservation of history and memory. Left to spread like wildfire, the consequences of this mood may be too ghastly for any of us to contemplate.

The divisions that predated this debate, and those that have expanded since, will be nothing in comparison to the extremes that will arise when we talk of destroying monuments.

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