The University of Cape Town – my alma mater – recently hit the international news headlines with the success of the #RhodesMustFall movement, in having the statue of John Cecil Rhodes removed from centre of the university campus.
Rhodes was a British businessman who helped colonized Southern Africa. He had a vision for a railroad to be built from the Cape to Cairo, and it is said that at the place where the statue of Rhodes stood at UCT, on Devil’s peak, Rhodes proclaimed that as far as the eye can see, would be the British Empire…Ironically, the statue overlooks the Cape Flats, which is where black and coloured people were forced to live under apartheid. In “post-apartheid” South Africa, part of the vision for a “transformed” South Africa was to consider all the ways that the country has been colonized, and to find ways to “transform” the country towards a new, equitable, decolonized, Rainbow Nation. This includes grappling with how places, buildings, streets have been named after colonial rulers, and to contend with the impact of having those names attached to land and property. The #RhodesMustFall movement grew out of a larger dialogue about systemic racism at UCT, both within the student body, and within the teaching staff and faculty. The removal of the statue (and other statues and symbols of apartheid, white supremacy, and colonization) is only part and parcel of a larger movement about decolonization, and contending with what it means to be “transformed”.
I have been watching this movement closely for personal reasons, but also because it has forced me to reflect on my own
context, living in colonial Canada, and what it would mean – or what it would take, rather – for a #RhodesMustFall movement to happen in Canada. In my experience, here in Canada, we have barely even begun to recognize the wrong doings that we, as settlers on indigenous land, have done to First Nations people. We’ve created an apartheid system, which inherently disenfranchises First Nations people, yet somehow we market ourselves as “apologetic, peace loving, Canadians”. Fun fact: the South African apartheid system was actually designed after the Canadian system – the South African ambassador to Canada had a special relationship to visit Canada to learn from Indian Affairs, how Canada “managed” indigenous people.
It makes me think about our own “reconciliation” process that we are still going through here in Canada, and how we still have an “Indian Affairs” department in the federal government that continues to manage, marginalize, and give different rights to First Nations people. I think about the systemic racism towards First Nations people that this country continues to reinforce again and again. I think about the comments that we all regularly hear about “lazy Indians who don’t pay taxes” and “chugs”.
I think about the elementary school that I went to: Sir James Douglas, a fur trader and first governor of British Columbia. I think about the high school I went to: Eric Hamber, the first Lieutenant Governor (the representative of the Queen) of British Columbia. Even the name of our city, named after Captain George Vancouver, and province – British Columbia. I think about how we don’t even think twice about what that means to have the names of these icons of colonialism emblazoned all over this land.
How complicit am I, when I don’t even think twice about the fact that we still have the queen on our money – a monarch?
#RhodesMustFall has been a big wake up call to me, that we need to seriously check ourselves here in Canada, about what we are doing to indigenous people, by being totally complicit in the colonial violence and oppression.
What will it take for a #RhodesMustFall movement here?
In love and solidarity,