When the hysteria surrounding the Cecil John Rhodes statue at UCT first came to my attention, I was outraged. I rampaged up and down my house for hours. “How dare they,” I shouted at the cat. “How dare they remind me of school!”
This man’s name had not crossed my mind since it was quite literally beaten into me during history class.
“Which British hero was Rhodesia named after? Yes, you at the back. With your hand up.” My hand wasn’t up. It never was. I wouldn’t make such a rookie mistake. I was stretching. Stretching and yawning. I would always turn around, though, hoping the teacher was talking to someone behind me, forgetting that I was in the last row.
My mind raced like a steamroller. Rho … Rho … row your boat, gently down the stream. Nope. I had nothing.
Off to the front of the class, shirt up, bum out. One for every letter in Rhodes’s name. Six of the best. I don’t know why they called it that when it was quite clearly six of the worst. R-whack-H-whack-O-whack and so on until my little blue eyes were brimming with hate. Not for the abusive psychopath beating me, but for Cecil John Rhodes. This was his fault.
So when his name cropped up again all these years later, I instinctively lifted my shirt and bent over. Luckily I was in Woolworths at the time. Wealthy white people are prepared to accept all manner of aberrant behaviour if it’s exhibited by one of their own. Sometimes they even join in. Mostly the ones in jodhpurs.
Funny things, statues. Ridiculous, really. A bit like history itself. People with glum expressions and woolly jumpers wander about shaking their heads gloomily and saying rubbish like, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” That’s nonsense. People who remember trite aphorisms are doomed to repeat them. And we despise them for it.
I want to live in a world where history is consigned to the dustbin of history. Where the media is forbidden from referring to anything that happened more than 24 hours prior to publication. People must be forced to live in the present and focus on the future. Only then can we … can we … what was I saying?
Ah, yes. Statues. I have seen a few in my time. I saw David in Florence once. Not bad, I suppose, if you’re into that sort of thing. I would have given him a bigger willy to compensate for the fact that he’s really just some unknown bloke with curly hair. He might have been Julius Caesar’s catamite for all I know. It doesn’t matter. There’s nothing to suggest that he did anything other than prance about in the buff hoping someone would come along and offer to carve him out of marble. It’s a good thing Michaelangelo spotted him before the Carabinieri did.
Statues, like history, should be banned. Why? Well, there’s that bit in Genesis for a start.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Phew. I had to go and stand under a cold shower after transcribing that lot. Powerful stuff. Utter gibberish, of course, but such beautifully phrased gibberish.
You know who also has a problem with statues? Islamic State, that’s who. The Buddhists, on the other hand, love their statues. Then again, Buddhists love everything so I suppose it doesn’t really count.
You know what really offends me? Those statues on Easter Island. Ever since I was a boy, I wanted to go over there and find out what the hell. I mean, really. What the hell. Giant heads with torsos but no arms or even legs? It’s not right.
As for that Statue of Liberty. What a travesty. I don’t know why the American Indians haven’t thrown poo on it yet.
So the boards have gone up around Cecil J Rhodes and we can no longer see him. He has become Schrodinger’s Imperialist. Perhaps if all the homeless people stand still for long enough, someone will come along and build little wooden houses for them, too.
The internet is awash in outrage. White people who can barely spell ‘university’ are coming out swinging wildly and babbling incoherently through lips flecked with cappuccino foam.
Here’s a page I came across on Facebook.
“The whole statue removal situation at certain universities in South Africa is just the start. If we, the people of South Africa, do not stand up to these crazy demands, our history will be removed for ever. Do you want that? I certainly don’t. Act now, sign the petition and we will demand that the statues and memorials are left alone. History is history – it can’t be changed. HANDS OFF THE STATUES! The petition will be forwarded to: Minister of Arts and Culture.”
Really? You’re sending your petition to Nathi Mthethwa? Okaaay. That should work.
The petition had received seven signatures and four comments. Allan from Durban nailed it when he wrote: “Let’s earn from history rather than repeat it.”
That has to be the most exquisite typographical Freudian slip in the history of race relations in this country. And when I say history, I mean the last 24 hours.