Heritage that hurts

13 April 2015

Assoc Prof Shadreck Chirikure
Department of Archaeology

"Under normal circumstances, there would be no problem with Rhodes' statue: Jameson, Smuts and others have all done terrible things, and yet they are part of our institutional and national memory.

The problem with the present is that all we have around us at UCT are reminders of the past; not the present, and not the future. If you cannot be promoted then it reminds you of the Archie Mafeje debacle. If you encounter a racist comment, all you see is the brooding statue of Rhodes and the strategically placed Jameson Hall. There is nothing to look forward to for inspiration as far as symbols are concerned. Post–1994 memorials are in very invisible places.

"What Rhodes' statue teaches us is that tolerance exists only in an improving institutional context. Yale University has not changed its name because it was founded by a slave trader and Zimbabwe has so far resisted calls to exhume Rhodes' grave. What is needed at our beloved UCT is real transformation, not only the talk of the past 20 years. Now that Rhodes will fall who is next? Are we going to relocate the Jammie Steps, relocate Jameson Hall, Smuts Hall and many other sad reminders of the history of oppression in this country? Are we going to relocate the university because it is built on land donated by Rhodes?

"Taken to extremes, this view suggests that the presidential residence at Groot Schuur must be moved because it was built by Rhodes. We have heritage that hurts at UCT, but we have ourselves to blame because of our inability to create new heritage that reflects times that we live in. We cannot blame Mr Rhodes for our failure to enrol more black students, we cannot blame Mr Rhodes for our reluctance to promote black academics and women, and we cannot blame Mr Rhodes for our failure to build statues commemorating 20 years of democracy."

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Monday Monthly

Volume 34 Edition 03

13 Apr 2015

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