The statue of Cecil John Rhodes overlooking UCT has been at the heart of heated debates on transformation. In his introduction to Viewpoints, published in November 2013, former Vice-Chancellor and Emeritus Professor Njabulo Ndebele writes of the vexed legacy Rhodes left UCT, written from the perspective of one sitting on the Jammie steps beside his bronzen figure, looking through the lens of time.
A story of time
Introduction to Viewpoints by Emeritus Professor and former Vice-Chancellor Njabulo Ndebele (November 2013)
In 1994 South Africa began a new human calendar. We could call it The Year of Coming Together. That is what it really was. South Africans came together formally to discover and re-discover one another. They stood one behind the other in long lines across the country to vote together for the first time in more than three hundred years of recent history. Affirming and humbling for everyone, it was an extraordinary experience of human equality.
University campuses can be thought of in this way too: affirming and humbling places where, over time, people come together to discover and re-discover one another, equal before the quest for knowledge, experience and community. Bodies, minds, conversations, doubts, certitudes, fashions, wealth, poverty, secrets, disclosures and all kinds of histories: they all intersect there, on campus.
The treasures in this book are a part of that story of interaction. Although many of them predate 1994, the stories of how they came to be, their presence – sometimes felt, sometimes almost forgotten – offers a mode of reflection on what comes and goes in the public mind of a university campus.
And there lie the secrets of discovery. The surprises of re-discovery tell us that what is re-discovered may have just emerged from the half-light of history to reveal its neglected – if hidden – value, and how its invisibility may have been an accretion of its value all along.
The treasure in the voter's lines in 1994 surfaced in the revelation and experience of finding value in the lives of others, up to then seen but really unknown. Life in the new human calendar must be for the most part about the continuous discovery of others. And so it must be for campuses over the decades, sometimes centuries, of their existence.
Since it was founded in 1829 as the South African College, the University of Cape Town, like all universities around the world, has interacted with its city, its country and the world beyond in multiple ways. The story of its interactions is a story of time. It is told partly through its architecture, partly through its students and teachers, partly through its quaint collections of art and scientific objects, partly through spikes of controversy or the lack of it, and partly through academic achievement. Each aspect of the campus is a treasure.
Campus community as treasure
The architectural presence of the campus is its most immediate point of interaction. It captures the eye. With its six white columns and Devil's Peak rising majestically behind it, Jameson Hall easily takes centre stage. A wide-angle view of it locates the Hall at the centre of the pictorial frame. The lower half of it is the work of man; the upper part, the work of nature. From here, this iconic image of the University of Cape Town is viewed as much as it views.
Man-made buildings and a rugby field in the foreground echo the grandeur of the towering peak in the background. Joseph Michael Solomon, the architect, abstracted a piece of nature in his mind and framed it within a symmetry he defined with buildings. Human hands like his may shape the world, carving the place of humans in it. The resulting shapes are potentially infinite. They can be a source of awe, respect and pleasure. Or they can engender ceaseless controversy. Never neutral, they are always a statement conveying some meaning. And around meanings, interactions are generated and many positions taken.
There is a nineteenth-century figure who significantly shaped the southern African sub-continent. His compulsive and daring ambitions for the entire continent of Africa evoke strong emotions. He is either praised or denounced, admired or mocked. Enduring controversy around him has assured him an indelible place in history. Whichever way you turn, you will encounter him, whether on campus, or elsewhere in South Africa; or beyond, in Zimbabwe. His name, Cecil John Rhodes, echoes from Cape to Cairo, the span of continental distance by which he expressed the extent of his vision.
You may not see him clearly in the iconic wide-angle view of UCT. Yet he is decidedly there. Perhaps it is just as well that his visual presence is not more prominent. He is part of campus history, not the whole of it.
Rhodes is memorialised on campus by a bronze statue of him, now weathered green by time. On a closer look you will make him out, the hippo on the surface of UCT's river of time, defying casual embarrassment and willed inclinations to have it submerge, perhaps forever. Its broad back defiantly in view, it is never to be recalled without thoughts and feelings that take away peace of mind.
Indeed, Rhodes, the donor of the land on which the University of Cape Town was built, exerts a presence on campus which often prompts a desire for his absence. But, like Moby Dick the whale, he will blow.
The statue of Cecil John Rhodes, 'sculpted by Marion Walgate and unveiled in 1934', fits perfectly in Solomon's abstracted symmetry. To appreciate the bold magnificence of this symmetry, you have to imagine a centre line which begins some two to three hundred metres down the hill below Solomon's framed foreground, at a spot known as the Japonica Walk. The line cuts upward through the white structure known as Summer House, 'built about 1760 by the Dutch' and 'reconstructed by Herbert Baker in 1894'. A point of architectural serenity amid the din of the M3 highway traffic just above it, the Summer House stands at the upper edge of the Middle Campus.
The line then hops over the highway to the lawn of the rugby fields, the lowest point of the wide-angle picture frame's foreground. Standing at the edge of these green lawns, the
Summer House behind you, you can see clearly the line of symmetry cutting through Rhodes's statue, giving it a place of honour you may never have imagined. Rhodes is placed firmly at the centre of the space between the third and fourth pillars of Jameson Hall. It is a marvel!
The line then ascends to Jameson Hall, to cut perfectly into two halves the pediment, a perfect, flat, isosceles triangle resting on the entablature just above the pillars. It cuts through the pediment's vertex angle, lining its tip with the flagpole at the centre of the Hall's summit. Then, finally, it leaps like a laser beam across the fynbos and the end of Newlands Forest, to head straight for the forehead tip of Devil's Peak.
But from where he sits in a panelled armchair about one hundred metres in front of Jameson Hall, Rhodes has his back to the splendour behind him. It is with a great sense of himself that he seems to feel the presence of everything behind him without having to validate it with his eyes. It is there, on his land.
Leaning on his right hand, his right elbow on his right thigh, Rhodes contemplates the wide vista in front of him, below him, facing east. He takes it all in, in a leisurely if thoughtful pose. His left hand, hanging casually over the left armrest and side panel of his chair, holds a scroll loosely. The manner of his clutch is in his gaze. He seems to have suspended reading momentarily to ponder. He will get back to it, when he needs to.
A concrete balustrade just below Rhodes allows you to stand there, your back to him. You too can assume his pose and everything behind him. Then you can see fully what he himself and Jameson Hall behind him can see. For a while you might even experience the gaze of contentment: there, spread before you, is the world you had a hand in shaping.
You and Rhodes see a great deal from that balustrade. You will watch rugby games just below. Farther down, you will see the Middle Campus, once dominated by the Kramer Law Building, now with two newer structures, the Masingene and the School of Economics buildings. Your eyes will move across to the left, attracted by the twin multi-storied residences, Leo Marquard and Tugwell.
Effortlessly, your eyes will leave campus and take in the power station between Pinelands suburb and KwaLanga township. If you have a longer memory you will remember that once there were two cooling towers over there. Those towers and a railway line separated white Pinelands and black KwaLanga, despite the two suburbs' proximity to each other. How many citizens of these suburbs, you may ask, will have stood together in the voters' lines in April 1994?
With a slight movement of your face to the right, you will see the N2 highway. A further movement of your neck will reveal more of the wide vista of the Cape Flats and a refurbished landmark: the Athlone Stadium. It will remind you of the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup, when billions around the world knew for sure there was a city called Cape Town, and that where you stand was a part of that city. Farther beyond, you may see aircraft take off and land at Cape Town International Airport, where soccer fans from around the world will have landed. And then well beyond but within the reach of your eyes, you will see another mountain range: the Helderberg. The illusion of its closeness occurs at the expense of a vast False Bay, a part of the Atlantic Ocean, just beyond the airport.
Although you and Rhodes command a view, the vista before you is too far and widespread to show its imperfections. At some time past you may have read about, heard about, or seen smoke rising from rampant fires in the informal settlements of KwaLanga along the highway to and from the airport; and from farther afield, in the townships of Gugulethu and Crossroads. You might have contemplated lives charred and belongings incinerated, families traumatised; and you might recall the clamours of tragedy in the newspapers, on radio and television, of political accusation and counter-accusation, and stories of poverty and wealth deposited on the deliberative tables of commissions of inquiry.
From there at the balustrade, with Rhodes behind you, you contemplate the imperfections of life beyond in the vista, and ponder on the perfect symmetry that immediately surrounds you.
You and Rhodes command a view.
If the treasure of UCT as architecture is telescopic, most of the treasures in this book are in the realm of microscopy. But something else exists midway: another treasure, not easy to think of as such. It is the treasure of human community, probably the most intangible of treasures. It cannot be archived for retrieval. But it can be experienced, or remembered through memory – sometimes recorded, sometimes told through pliable anecdote, passed from one generation of staff and students to the next.
The story is told that black students studying medicine at UCT during racist times were never allowed anywhere near the cadavers of white people. In the same story, both white and black students wrote the same examination, but never graduated together. It was a long time before the awkwardness and discomposure of this historic fact was confronted with courageous dialogue by the Faculty of Health Sciences, in the 1990s.
The national context in which this happened was the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The June 1977 hearings in the Health Sciences Faculty were a part of special sector hearings around the country. They enabled the Faculty to face up to its past through disclosure and acknowledgement, as a path towards reconciliation. Through such intensive interactions, and their painful intimacies of self-reflection, the faculty was able to confront its systematic allegiance to apartheid ideology as part of the role played by higher education institutions in perpetuating discrimination.
The story of the invisibility of black students and a small number of black staff on campus, and of white complicity in it, both poignantly pondered in the Faculty of Health Sciences hearings, revealed the undercurrent of moments in the history of UCT campus life when the overwhelming visibility of white staff and students reduced their capacity for critical self-reflection. This story delivers the message that there can be severe limitations to the reflective capacity of dominant majorities, that such majorities can become insensitive to the negative impact of their dominance, and that these influences on their behaviour can render them complicit with their governments in the passing and enactment of bad laws.
Of course, we cannot miss the irony that the dominant majority on the UCT campus was a part of the dominant minority in the national sphere. Thus, the campus community shared the oppressive impact of the government that ministered to and protected its way of life.
From such messages come lessons of history without which a future value system could not be conceived. We learn that even pain can become an unexpected treasure in the evolution of human sensibility. We learn that treasures are not always pleasant; that they can be painful too, but no less treasured. This is as true of institutions as it can be for nations.
There is a treasure that both staff and students of UCT appreciate daily, or endure often, without being aware of it. This treasure may be to them like water is to fish: a given reality of life. It is that UCT is a contoured campus.
For most of it, you climb or descend. Students may walk from residences along Main Road in Rondebosch, climbing all the way to the Engineering and Science buildings just below Ring Road, the western perimeter road of Upper Campus. Later, they will walk down. In these contoured conditions, lateral movements between north and south may offer horizontal moments of rest. Climbers and descenders might look forward to these moments as subliminal rewards. If rest is the easiest reward to note, there is another more valuable: the experience of community.
Rest may become an occasion or opportunity for congregation. Congregations become moments of encounter. Frequent encounters give birth to community. Freed from the purposeful climb or descent, students unavoidably meet at the Jameson Hall steps. They are then themselves contoured in their groupings, up and down the steps.
'Who are you?' is the question congregants at the Jammie steps might wish to ask, but perhaps seldom do. They first have to sit next to someone for a while before they make the attempt.
'Here you come,' is a thought when friends or lovers rendezvous after having been intolerably separated by a class.
Were these questions ever asked over the years when white students were a dominant majority? Or did they get to be asked with greater intensity when numbers of black students began to increase on campus? Even dominant majorities have internal segregations that deny them an undifferentiated identity.
The easiest congregations may occur between 'birds of a feather'. But in an institution under pressure to 'transform', such congregations are seldom allowed to rest. Who has to make the move and respond to the question 'who are you?' Will the white group, members of the majority campus population, move to joining a black group, members of a minority group, and risk being shunned, or accused of imposing and patronising behaviour? Or will it be the other way round, as black students risk being seen as seeking proximity to their 'superior' colleagues?
Community as treasure takes time to coagulate. The mistakes and misunderstandings of first impressions first have to give way to trust, itself a product of time. But at some point, someone has to take the initiative. The north-south aspect of University Avenue, with the Jameson Hall steps as its centre, offers a vibrant space of human concourse, potentially generative of new relationships. Generations of students have congregated there. It is the only place where they can 'chill' and unwittingly have Cecil John Rhodes's unobstructed view of the world spread out below. From there, after 'chilling', they go north, south, east, west to their classes and laboratories, or to the library and its archives, where they can ponder its various collections.
Life within the architectural symmetry that is the University of Cape Town may seem impossible to reduce to a single principle of coherence. In the day-to-day life of an institution, architectural symmetry cannot be a reliable point of reference. It is too fixed. The dimensions of buildings offer only a protected space.
For that space to give of itself in abundance, the symmetry has to give up the strictures of its dimensions to the multiplicity of talented human beings within its confines, each of whom is a passionate centre of creativity.
So the points of reference of a university may very well be in all those people, each and every one of them, gathered there to pursue a purpose they have found, or one that found them, or one that emerged from within them. Each passionate member of the academy seeks to achieve a detail of perfection that is pursued into existence whenever the individual, seized by the imperfections of the world out there, commits to bridging the gap between an imperfect world and human efforts to discover or create perfection.
In the symmetrical, contoured space of an academy, collections may represent asymmetrical moments of creative intimacy, focused in their purposefulness. Some items of individual collections hang on walls inside buildings. Or they may stand indoors like the sculpture of Sarah Baartman, whose tortured life is expressed by Willie Bester in bicycle drive-trains, bolts and metal plates.
Or they may be part of congregated installations, such as those found at the Irma Stern Museum. Others require that those who daily climb or descend on campus develop an active awareness of wherever they may be in the symmetrical space of their campus. They will discover that there are surprises as they go up and down, or walk north-south laterally.
Some architectural surprises require the walker to participate in their creation. Walkers are invited to frame portions of a building, abstracting it from the whole to contemplate it: a corner, a play of shadows somewhere; reflections on windows, a detail of design on a chimney above, framed through aloes on the ground; surprising metal designs along corridors. Two buildings coming together with a piece of sculpture between them, such as Rhodes framed in the centre between two pillars. In such ways, the entire campus may come alive for the walker who is aware.
Perhaps the building of human community as a treasure requires a conscious institutional effort to spread community awareness of the wanderings and brief meanderings that need to be undertaken through the campus to encounter and experience it as a spatial environment of ceaseless discovery, puzzlement and wonder. But to bind the community with a spirit of 'transformation' requires more.
A sefika in SeSotho (isivivanein isiZulu) is a kind of travellers' landmark. It is a cairn of stones, created over time by travellers where pathways meet, or at some prominent spot along the way. It is customary that travellers who come across a sefika add their stone to the cairn. Doing so is believed to bring them luck.
Perhaps the most famous sefika appears in the account by French missionary Thomas Arbousset of King Moshoeshoe's expedition from Thaba-Bosio to the sources of the Malibamatso River in the year 1840. UCT, then the South African College, was only eleven years old.
'We left together for Makosane. Along the path a sefika came into view. It was a cairn of stones erected by travellers. Following the custom of the country, each of us added also a small stone to it.'
A sefika is a monument created by travellers unknown to one another, yet connected by something that marks their having once been present at a particular spot in the world.
In journeys of knowledge, that list of travellers is endless. Some leave collections of their work along the way. Some collect the work of others who have gone before them. Archives are wonderful places to find them. Perhaps the archive, the place where knowledge collections are found, is the ultimate sefika. But each individual stone placed in the archive is itself made up of many stones. So we may have stones within stones in a microscopic sequence.
Collections represent focused and persistent compulsions. They bore into their subject at the same time as they expand it. Each accretion of the fact or detail adds to the subject's breadth and depth simultaneously.
A collection represents endurance and steadfast pursuit. It may be the still pursuit of intense mental inquiry, or it may necessitate spatial journeys of the kind that linguist Lucy Lloyd, artist Irma Stern and photographer David Goldblatt undertook. The arduous effort to see, experience and record becomes far more than devotion, or even obligation. It becomes a consecration of self; a giving of oneself beyond measure. Being and quest and revelation coalesce into a life. It fulfils itself.
Such is the endurance of places of learning. They are infinitely discoverable through lives that keep being opened up by collections, and through those who want to enter the lives within them with enquiry. Collections make absent lives present and available through scholarly effort.
The endurance that goes into the creation of a collection translates into the endurance of its worth. It is most probably this quality that draws scholars to it. It embodies the attraction of what can be found and revealed in it, each visit promising the yield of a new experience and the prospect of making it available to the learning public.
How does the past become available? First by being seen. Second by providing a point of reflection through which one can marvel at past ingenuity and endurance. Consider, for example, the quiet and plain – though sometimes complex – ingenuity of musical instruments no longer commonly available. The section of this book on Kirby's Musical Collection contains an enticing note on the ingungu, a musical instrument described as a 'friction drum': 'The ceremonies at which it was originally used have practically disappeared', such as a ceremony that formed part of a wedding.
In the new democracy born in 1994, we can witness, across many African cultures, the return of traditions and rituals suppressed by colonial dictum. Some, such as the Zulu bull-killing, ukweshwama, have elicited public controversy. Colonial past and contemporary modernity collide in a space of centuries of dialogical silence. Eradication took away any opportunities for modification.
Like a recessive gene, memory retains firm contours of ritual. Appropriate conditions will resuscitate the rituals in their remembered state. Initially, the moment of resuscitation will engender a space of noise. Incrementally, it can evolve into a space of shared understanding.
I have heard of the Zulu trumpet, icilongo, but have never seen it. Having seen it in this book in Kirby's collection of musical instruments, described by Kirby as an instrument 'played by young men going courting, as well as en route to weddings', I now want to hear it. What journeys might I need to undertake to do so? The desire to hear it is not only enticing, but also decidedly alluring. Silenced though the icilongo might be, Kirby's collection has retained its presence, one that can be displayed from time to time.
There is also the 'presencing' effect of the Bleek and Lloyd Archive, which evokes even deeper resonances. The historical silencing of Bushman languages and cultures has a commemorative date: 6 April 1652, the day when three ships under the command of Jan van Riebeeck docked at a place that would one day be known as Cape Town. Thus began in the Cape a system of life by which to encounter, gradually replace, then capture, absorb, yoke, silence and eradicate what it encountered.
The purposeful history of this system in the southernmost part of Africa began at what was to be known as the Fort of Good Hope. The Bushman people it encountered would be on their way to being 'regarded as living relics of a once universal lifestyle, a mirror on the past' instead of being experienced as living a way of life as 'a common humanity'.
Few scholarly books evoke as much reverence and affection as Pippa Skotnes's Claim to the Country: The Archive of Lucy Lloyd and Wilhelm Bleek. Through the archive depicted in this book we can 'hear' the !Xam Bushmen speak, in their silence. We can see them in pictures. We are affected by the poetry of their reflections.
Without announcement, these reflections begin the book with a story. There follow envelopes, pictures of people, and written ink notes, until you happen onto the table of contents. And then, surprisingly, a dedication in poetry to the Bleek and Lloyd families. And then more poetry, which can only be described as the poetry of living, capturing in age-old tweets the intimate flows of human thought in the very process of living ('I am the man lying, starving, thinking of stealing sheep'). This section ends with a picture of archival boxes on a library or archival trolley. The rest of the book then begins: a treasure of scholarship.
In this book, the journey through the archive leads us into surprising intimacies between art and science, in the botanical 'presencing' of the Harry Bolus plant collection. This ecological treasure provokes constant reminding of the importance of our natural environment and its perpetual tussle with 'progress' and 'modernisation'.
Much of the 'presencing' of the photographic archive on these pages pushes the archive towards the present, and therefore more towards presentation than the deep textures of 'presencing' memory. Unlike the photographs from the Bleek and Lloyd archive, which affect me with a sense of discovery, there is a contemporariness about the photographic archive that evokes a sense of recognition.
If the poetry of the Bushmen conveys and connects deeply felt and thought moments of living a life, the photographic archive evokes scenes of life from the 1950s to as recently as 2013. They convey a kaleidoscope of moments that humanise, through captured emotion, the arid social space of apartheid society.
Fleeting moments of emotion are immortalised in these photographs, emotion which was denied in the larger world. Pictures of intimacy between white 'masters' and black 'boys' and 'girls' were not permitted. David Goldblatt's photograph titled The farmer's son with his nursemaid on the farm Heimverberg near Nietverdiend in the Marico Bushveld, Transvaal, 1964 evokes genuine, mutually protective affection between a white boy and his black nursemaid, an intimacy perhaps to be forever denied in the harsh world beyond them. The genuineness of such feelings, aroused in different settings, becomes a human common denominator in a world that officially denied such a leveller.
And so the archive, and enduring sefika, cut through time with a message of many human stories. Each traveller who has added a stone offers a lifetime of work to the monument of knowledge. The institution that houses it signifies the choices it has made by which it seeks to be identified. By your archive, so shall we know you.
Human society has the gift of expression, captured in moments of insight. 'I am /kaggen, I create the world by dreaming it.' Each moment then becomes potentially and universally understandable, and has the capacity to emancipate.
As you stand at the balustrade, Cecil John Rhodes behind you, consider that in 2013 the university organised a forum to discuss the theme 'Is UCT racist?' This was the third annual forum on matters of race in South Africa, which began in 2010. A part of the discussion in the third forum is captured in an on-line daily publication.
A former black student submits: 'We were made painfully aware that this university was not built for us.' Several examples of black student distress follow. They include aversion to being interpreted as needy: 'If I walk around UCT barefoot, people think I don't own shoes.' This and similar accounts culminate in a rhetorical question which was met with 'loud applause'. 'If UCT is not racist, why is Cecil John Rhodes's statue still there?'
'What do you want me to do?' a white student asks. The question conveys desperation. It may tell of the depths of disorientation among a once historically dominant white majority now reduced to a minority below 50% on campus. More than a call for instruction, it is a plea for intimate engagement and guidance in a space of uncertainty, and even confusion. The question is unlikely to have been asked when black students were invisible on campus in the 1950s. Then the white campus majority had the initiative. Today, any exercise of initiative has to be negotiated.
What has changed decisively are the off-campus sources of validation that dominant on-campus groups could call on for political and cultural authority. But my sense is that the degree of self-confidence of the new numerical black majority has yet to be as high as that of the white majority's at its best times. If that be the case, then both white and black students on campus cannot be entirely confident of their respective political, cultural and academic moorings in the larger society. If the larger society has to find itself in a transitional public space that is in constant flux, so does the campus community face the challenge of finding new treasures within itself. How will the character of the new campus public respond to the outer public that is itself evolving?
More significantly, will the new black campus majority, bound to grow and consolidate, have any lessons to learn from the behaviour of a once-powerful dominant majority with a history of insensitivity towards helpless minorities on campus? How will the new black majority translate its numerical ascendance into cultural and academic value?
'What do you want me to do?' The question can evoke cynicism or superiority from the new majority, or the challenge of leadership. The last promises new treasures.
If we insert a panorama of distance on the campus debate we have just gleaned, we might find something about the narrative of the archive in this book which opens it to a perspective of power that may not have been easy for the debaters to visualise.
First was the power which, since 1652, silenced all others it encountered. This power has been in decline since 1994. It has tons of recorded history to describe and characterise it. Second is the ascendant power, which since 1994 has sought to reverse many of the effects of more than three hundred years of history.
Change is located more in the flux than in a list of things achieved. On the list are steps taken rather than destinations. In the flux it is easy to mistake stops for destinations. Despite the list of things done, the ascendant power still does not display a sense of achievement. It is inclined to point out what has been taken away and reclaimed, rather than what it is poised to create and sustain over decades and centuries, on the base of steps carefully taken.
Cecil John Rhodes, sitting on his weathered chair, is now a factor of history rather than an active determinant of the future. While fall-out from him may not be ignored, the fact is he is unable to threaten any desired future. His removal from his vantage position will not eliminate the fact of the gift of his land, however much that ownership may itself be questioned. Some outcomes of history establish a balance of circumstances with a large measure of common interest among the very contestants in that history. An artificial tempering with that balance might be injurious to all.
Cecil John Rhodes might remain sitting there, devoid of the aura of triumph, lonely and in search of an interlocutor. The thought of placing a statue of Nelson Mandela where JM Solomon's line of symmetry might pass equidistantly between the two large historical figures might be tempting. But this could be an artificial balancing act on one particular environment: a mere campus.
Beyond the campus, statues of Mandela have already mushroomed around the country. Thus his presence on campus need not only be in the form of a physical, spatial adjustment. Rather, it can resonate with new iconographies of new values, built onto and into the campus, in both visible and invisible (yet no less present) ways.
To face up to and go beyond reservations around Rhodes's legacy requires spatial and value-laden infusions that are purposeful, yet restrained by deep self-confidence: something more organic in its freshness, and which could, from time to time, like Solomon's line of symmetry, leap across the fynbos to the forehead of Devil's Peak with a new sense of presence.
Indeed, the UCT archive with all its treasured holdings has inherently worked counter to hegemonic history through a concerted 'presencing' of its silenced parts. Without being fully aware, we may be passing through the relatively early stages of a subversive moment yet to be fully cognisant of itself.
Consider that the increasing trend of a 'black' presence on campus is irreversible. It is an expression of the presence and authority of the changing world beyond the academy. Any threatening aspect of Rhodes's presence on campus is certain to be eroded the more it is seen simply as an artefact to ponder. In time, the majority of students may pass him by without a hostile thought, noting his philanthropy not necessarily with gratitude, but most probably with critical acknowledgement. They, the inheritors of the archive, will be the invisible statute of Nelson Mandela, completely present on a campus that will think of them only as treasured citizens.
This piece was written by former Vice-Chancellor and Emeritus Professor Njabulo Ndebele as an introduction to Viewpoints: The University of Cape Town and its treasures (edited by Paul Weinberg and first published by UCT Press in November 2013).
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