Symbolic Ethnic Conflict in South Africa

The University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa is set to remove a 1930s statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes from its campus, according to the BBC. On the surface it seems to be a mere curiosity: why would an overwhelmingly black country have statues of white conquerors in 2015? From a black African perspective, it is imperative and a source of national dignity that such a powerful symbol be expunged from their lands.

The protesters said that the statue had “great symbolic power” which glorified someone “who exploited black labour and stole land from indigenous people”.

The campaign led to the university’s 30-member council voting on Wednesday for the statue’s removal.

It defended the decision saying it had canvassed the views of students, academic staff, alumni and the public before making its decision.

“This is exactly how a university should work and we believe is an example to the country in dealing with heritage issues,” it added.

“Heritage issues,” they call it.

In other words, the history or celebration of white South Africans has no place in what is essentially a black nationalist country. And really, who can argue? Black nationalists have no need for white iconography. But of course, South Africa bills itself as the multicultural “Rainbow Nation,” despite being overwhelmingly black African and its politics representing that demographic. Given the current climate, the removal might actually be the best possible outcome; otherwise shit-smeared statues of white South Africans would be used as propaganda tools and protest sites to promote white guilt and further rent-seeking behaviors on behalf of the black population.

In fact, some writers have essentially called for that to happen:

But writing in the News24 website, Vusi Kweyama warns against “erasing” history: “We must teach our children how to remember in a way that is empowering and educational.”

What better way to keep white iconography in South Africa than to use it as an education tool; i.e. anti-white propaganda. White people are evil colonizers who Saint Nelson Mandela triumphed over and who we continue to triumph over.

Of course, there are people in South Africa willing to defend the statues of white colonizers and imperialists, namely their descendants, who have a racial consciousness that would be unheard of coming from whites in Europe or North America:

But it has also led to a backlash with some white South Africans rallying to protect the statues of the 19th Century president Paul Kruger in the capital Pretoria, and 17th Century colonialist Jan van Riebeeck in Cape Town.

South Africa has always fascinated me as an example of what happens to a white minority in a country with a non-white majority that bears a grudge against it. South Africa is essentially the only extant country which has this situation; Rhodesia is long gone. The warning is completely lost on the white nations of Europe and North America, who continue to import, support and protect non-white populations in their own countries and watch their numbers increase every year. Whites are projected to lose majority status in the United States some time in the 2040s or 50s according to the U.S. Census. And even now with a white majority we have political and social debate over the moral supremacy of non-white causes against the white population (whether it’s policing, language, education, welfare or immigration), largely supported by white liberals in addition to self-interested non-white people. The coming non-white society will not sort you out based on whether you are a white ally or a white oppressor. That’s not how ethnic nationalism works and it’s not what’s happening in South Africa.

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5 Responses to Symbolic Ethnic Conflict in South Africa

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