Xenophobic attacks and the call to remove colonial statues signify frustration linked to economic exclusion, speakers at the 100th University of Fort Hare (UFH)-Daily Dispatch Dialogue said. They were speaking in the Guild Theatre on Monday night.
UFH’s Professor Leslie Banks said frustration resulting from economic and political exclusion was notably expressed by the Marikana uprising and subsequent massacre in 2012, and had now evolved into the vandalism of statues and xenophobia.
“There’s a connection between the statues’ debate and xenophobia, and it’s the politics of exclusion.
“My sense is that Marikana was a turning point in a groundswell of identity [seeking] in South Africa that was predicated on economic exclusion,” said Banks.
“In the context of transformation of universities, statues like [Cecil] Rhodes are slow violence. They’re symbolic [and] don’t represent a moment of sensation.
“They simply occupy a landscape that tells those people they are colonised.”
National Heritage Council chief executive Advocate Sonwabo Mangcotywa warned that failure to correct the situation could manifest in other forms of unrest.
“Statues and memorials symbolise power relations in society. Statues are a metaphor of an unchanged past, as if freedom has not dawned.
“If nothing changes in the socio-economic situation, if it’s not foreign nationals [being targeted] today, tomorrow it will be something else,” said Mangcotywa.
Mangcotywa called for inclusion of the majority through historical symbols and economic participation. “We need beneficiation of minerals, to grow the economy, create jobs. It’s a wake-up call to do something now. It is about a decolonisation project as it happened in Ghana, Tanzania and [other African countries].
The statues debate was sparked when Chumani Maxwele, a fourth-year UCT political science student, threw human faeces on the statue of Cecil Rhodes overlooking the university property.
Maxwele, who was meant to be at the Dispatch Dialogues but did not attend, said at the time the presence of the statue on a prime spot at UCT was offensive to the previously colonised.
The UCT Student Representative Council and thousands of students supported the call to remove the statue, followed by a UCT council vote for its removal.
However, that action sparked the debate on how South Africa should deal with its colonial and apartheid symbols, with statues of Queen Victoria in Port Elizabeth, Paul Kruger in Pretoria and the Anglo-Boer War monument in East London among those recently defaced.
At the Dispatch Dialogue, historian and artist Prof Pitika Ntuli quoted Non-European Unity Movement founder IB Tabata describing how a tsunami originates with a disturbance beneath the sea.
“In society discontent simmers underneath the surface and it’s brought forward through statues and xenophobia. We welcome what happened with the Cecil John Rhodes statue.” — firstname.lastname@example.org