A statue has been sentenced to banishment, still, a history cast in stone remains

May 05, 2015, 02:03 PM

A statue of Rhodes is set to fall, but a history cast in stone, persists...

Statues have a strange effect on the human psyche. Their stone absurdities haunt mankind, or comfort men and women, as though their strange figures still breath, walk and sprint upon the far-flung hinterlands of the mind. The fall of the statue of a somewhat unfortunate dictator, a Mr Saddam Hussein, seemed a perfect signifier of sentiment in Iraq, as the very glorious westerners brought lifelong democracy and eternal salvation with them... That the CIA orchestrated the event in question, was not immediately announced, but subsequently hit page 9 of some newspapers, years later.

Statues make us think. In Europe, the way a statue is crafted can tell you how its namesake died.

In a little mineral based economy at the southern tip of a largely unnoticed little continent called Africa, a statue of a man who died ages ago is causing a bit of a hiccup.

The man in question was the great, and terrible industrial businessman of his time. He acquired abundant wealth, and lived in luxury. Like most wealthy monopolists of his time, his wealth and conditions of life were quite opposed to what his workers and employees could expect from their own second hand cradle and soon to be dug grave. He insisted people wear trousers, which caused great hardship to people who farmed for a living. His egregious must-wear-trousers scheme gave him cheap labour to extract minerals within the devil's mouth of his mines.

Make no mistake, many of the most essential parts of South African infrastructure exist today because of the man in question. Our economy and business world owe certain amounts of their profits to the business acumen of the ruthless man Rhodes.

He set up the University of Cape Town, and is the namesake of Rhodes University (which in modern times owes more to its name than to any current reputational gap with its competitors).

Rhodesia quickly became Zimbabwe when its colonial rulers were militarily thwarted. South Africa has also taken upon itself to change the names of landmarks, even those which are quite neutral, poetic, and known across the world (or were until their names were changed).

The ancient Egyptians had a poetic curse. Those who were most particularly worthy of infamy, where wiped from the historic record. Their monuments were destroyed, and their name was pencilled over. The most monstrous of people, or the least liked were erased.This approach is distinct from the approach of the Chinese dynasties, which had history rewritten to blacken the names of their predecessors. The approach of that fearless thing, democracy, has been slightly different. Rather than fear the ghosts of yesteryear, an approach has emerged, that seeks to preserve history, both good and evil. History, is a lesson according to such an approach. It is a hard fought knowledge that must be heard, and must be remembered, with tales of caution, and carefulness to study from the ruin of others.

Napoleon might have mercilessly pursued his opponents, but the French would not dismantle his statues or his monuments. Even those who believe him akin to a secular anti-christ, would hardly dare desire to lay ruin to his statues. His monuments, remind them of both his terrible wrath and madness, and of the great feats he achieved in other areas.

Statues make us ask about history, they bring it to life in a way that writing alone will not.

Ghandi, had some very racist things to say about black South Africans, when he was still walking the earth. From his horrendous statements, one might think he believed his fellow human beings to be below the basic dignity of human rights.

We do not remember Ghandi for this reason however. We remember him for his pursuit of peace. We do not tear down his statues, and demand that the world view him by one context only. In fact, we recognise that his views were more a product of his social upbringing at the time, a defect, ...