The rainbow nation is showing its true colors. When President Jacob Zuma blamed apartheid for the problems at the country’s power utility ÔÇô Eskom, his detractors thought the President had gone bonkers. Zuma’s argument was that successive apartheid governments had structured the economy in such a way that it benefited the white minority to the exclusion of the black majority.
He offered that with the advent of democracy, it meant the power utility’s aging infrastructure was unable to cope with new demand for an inclusive society. There were those who screamed from the rooftops that the government should take responsibility for its incompetence, start sorting out the rolling power outages that are harming the country’s economy, and stop blaming apartheid. Suddenly, in the 21st year of democracy, South Africa’s black majority are clamoring for the removal of statues that remind them of the yoke of colonialism and apartheid, while their white counterparts are all the more happy with the status quo. The black majority is blaming their white counterparts for being freer in democratic South Africa and still benefiting economically from apartheid privilege while the black majority wallows in poverty and inequality.?
But how did all this begin? A hermit academic, Associate Professor Xolela Mangcu, at the University of Cape Town (UCT) last year dispatched a series of opinion articles expressing his frustration at the lack of transformation at UCT ÔÇô an English institution of higher learning largely regarded as liberal and progressive. His gripe was, and still is that UCT is reluctant to appoint black professors. He also believes the university is hostile to the introduction in its curriculum the teachings of African philosophers such as Steve Biko of the Black Conscious Movement. ?
Nobody seemed to care to listen to Mangcu┬á until a UCT student Chumani Maxwele, threw human excrement at the Cecil John Rhodes statue at the same university last month to express his frustration with the lack of transformation at UCT calling for the removal of the statute. Human excrement seems lately to be the most effective weapon of protest in South Africa. The poo was stinking enough to force the university senate to overwhelmingly vote for the removal of the Cecil John Rhodes statue after the university held a meeting with students who backed Maxwele’s actions.?
Elsewhere in the Eastern Cape province at Rhodes University, students are calling for the name change, saying Cecil Rhodes’ evil legacy must not be celebrated because he was a not only a racist, he also stole land from black people. At the seat of government in Pretoria this past week, members of a largely youthful and equally raucous opposition party ÔÇô the Economic Freedom Fighters ÔÇô defaced the statue of Paul Kruger with green paint.
There are fears that more and more statues deemed offensive to Africans will suffer the same fate. Unlike the UCT, the South African government has not yet taken a formal position on whether or not to remove the statue of Paul Kruger from Church Square. The government is treading very carefully. A female white Afrikaans musician chained herself to the defaced statue of Paul Kruger this past week protesting against its?removal. An Afrikaans mini music festival was staged at Church Square where the stature is situated as way of showing objection to calls for its removal.
Mangcu writing in the City Press recently warned that “the response of UCT students to a society still drenched in racism is an early warning of racial war ÔÇô which we would do well to heed. Throughout history, students have been at the forefront of social change, whether we are talking about Karl Max and the Young Hegelians or Giuseppe Mazzini and Young Italy in the 19th Century, Steve Biko and black consciousness in the 1980s, Tsietsi Mashinini in 1976 or our┬ágeneration in the 1980s.”
Ernst Roets of the AfriForum ÔÇô an organization which promotes and protects the interests of the Afrikaaners ÔÇôalso wrote to say he believes the student activists at UCT are attempting to commit a deed of cultural plagiarism.
“It is disingenuous to call for the removal of Rhodes statue because you have a problem with his legacy while continuing to reap the fruits of his legacy by studying at the university he built,” argues Roets.?There is generally a feeling amongst black people that their white counterparts are trivializing the issue of the removal of offending statues and other edifices. The white narrative is that that the apartheid statues are part of the South African history and should be left alone. A former African National Congress Member of Parliament, Melanie Verwoerd, herself, wrote that “instead of reacting with contempt, we should hear the hurt, anger and frustration of UCT students and understand what lies behind it”.?But if there is anyone who cares less about stoking the fires of racial hostility, it is none other than African American activist Assata Shakur, who wrote to the UCT students in the City Press asking them to visit violence? upon white people. ?“You and your comrades have hands. Use them.
Pull down the statue [Cecil John Rhodes]. If it doesn’t come down, think of something else. Throughout history, the person of color has had his back whipped by the white man. Our African hearts have been penetrated by white bullets. Our souls have been sliced by their spears. In Sharpeville, your brothers were mowed down by the white man , the same white man who holds you in captivity now in his game of educational mind colonization,” wrote Shakur.? The South African media frequently carries horrendous reports of the inhumane treatment of black people by whites. Recently a 16-year-old-boy was reported to have allegedly instructed a black worker to undress and have carnal knowledge of a dog. With calls for the expropriation of land from white people without compensation also growing in South Africa, is the South African government ready for what seems to be the inevitable racial implosion?