Until the lion has its own storyteller

13 April 2015

Dr Russell Ally
Department of Alumni and Development

"The Rhodes statue captures in essence many of the underlying challenges of transformation that UCT faces. It represents the origins of the university in white privilege and black exclusion. Black people would not have erected a statue of Cecil John Rhodes if they had been part of the university from the beginning.

"The history of how the statue came to be positioned where it is today is interesting as a historical account, but the meaning is to be found in that old African proverb that says if the lion and not the hunter wrote the history of their encounter, it would be a different history that would be written.

"We can choose to focus on the excrement that one student threw at the statue to discredit the frustration that has been felt over years about how the story of UCT has been told – in its buildings, its names, its statues, its institutional culture – or we can begin to embrace a different narrative that integrates the lion into the story in a more humanising way.

"The space has now become a place of debate and reflection. Students across the racial divide agree and disagree with each other on what its fate should be. They quickly see that the significance of this discussion goes beyond the immediate future of the statue. It is about the future of their country. About how they are going to live together long after this particular incident is a distant, fading memory.

"But this will probably be the most important education that they ever receive. For in a few years after they graduate, they will have forgotten most of what they learnt in the lecture rooms.

"Under the shadow of the foreboding presence that the Rhodes statue still continues to cast over our history, no blows have been struck. Nothing has been destroyed. No lives have been lost. No walls erected. Instead we have a contestation of ideas. We have a marketplace of different solutions offered to problems that have bedevilled our university for many years.

We have conscious, engaged students prepared to grapple with what it means to build a different kind of South Africa. To create a more inclusive UCT, sensitive to the pain of the past, but confident of building a shared future."

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Monday Monthly

Volume 34 Edition 03

13 Apr 2015

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