Monday, 13 April 2015

Cecil John Rhodes, Hero or Villain?

...As his legacy comes under spotlight in Zambia

Cecil John Rhodes, no doubt, played a very big role in the establishment of the country now called Zambia when his British South African Company (BSAC) set up administrative centres in North-western Rhodesia as well as North-eastern Rhodesia which later merged to form what became known as Northern Rhodesia up to 1964 when it changed to its current name.
Events in South Africa in the last few weeks first calling for the removal of Rhodes’ statue from the University of Cape Town campus grounds and then removing it altogether, has brought about debate in countries associated with Rhodes—Zimbabwe and Zambia.
As for Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe stated his position regarding the man who gave the two neighbouring countries—Zambia and Zimbabwe—their colonial names, Southern Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia, respectively.
President Mugabe, during a recent state visit to South Africa, pointed out that his country’s southern neighbour had the colonialist’s statue, but Zimbabwe has his remains, buried in the Matopos, a range of hills in the south west of Zimbabwe, a country that had carried the man’s name until 1980. Rhodes died in 1902.
Mugabe, dismissing the thought that the man who paved the way for the colonisation of a large part of Southern Africa through his Cape-To-Cairo railway dream as part of accessing Africa’s rich and vast mineral resources, said Zimbabwe would not exhume Rhodes' remains even as some people were calling for such action.
Rhodes' grave in the Matopos.
Quoted by Nehanda Radio, Mugabe said: “We in Zimbabwe had forgotten about Cecil Rhodes until South Africa said it has his statue in Cape Town, where he was the minister of the Cape and mischievously wanted to also take control of Zimbabwe… We have his corpse, you can keep his statue.”
Zambia, the other Rhodesia, does not escape Rhodes’ presence in one way or the other. A Lusaka upmarket leafy suburb is named after him. This is Rhodes Park situated very close to the central business district (CBD). Ironically, Rhodes Park also bears a local vernacular name—Maluba, flower for those who may not know Nyanja.
Rhodes may not have set foot in Northern Rhodesia now Zambia but people sent by him were all over the place seeking often fraudulent and misleading concessions with local kings and sub-kings that opened up most of the country with mining as the major economic activity which was enhanced by construction of a railway line from Livingstone to Chililabombwe.

Sir Evelyn Hone's Statue

With the events down south, the issue has undoubtedly brought about debate about keeping Rhodes and other colonialists’ legacies. University of Zambia political scientist Dr Alex Ng’oma kicked-started the debate when he called authorities at one of Zambia’s top colleges, the Evelyn Hone College, to pull down the statue of the man it is named after, Sir Evelyn Hone, who was the last colonial governor of Northern Rhodesia
Media trainer, Herbert Macha, however, denounced the uprooting of statues. In a Facebook post, he said:
“Hate him or like him, Cecil Rhodes contributed immensely to development of Southern Africa, buried in Matebeleland in Zimbabwe, his investments are still present. I feel sorry [for] our brothers and sisters in South Africa for they may not know well the history.”
On the same Facebook wall, Mweete Hamakwenda posted:
“It's a misplaced fight. Fighting CJR [Cecil John Rhodes] statue while failing to fight the principles he represented, which still exist through the imperialist policies of Britain, USA etc. Who determines the price of copper at the global market? Who decides the quantities of exports the third world can trade in the developed world? Who controls global affairs through the undemocratic Security Council and G7? Who controls or fixes oil prices when this high-value product is in bulk in Africa and can change the continents' economic profile if trade was fair? So, why go and exhume a dinosaur from his grave when you are failing to deal with his living principles in today's global economy. Stupid Africa at it again!”
My contribution on the same wall was:
“… As we teach history let it not be the account of the hunter at the expense of the lion, i.e the conquerors writing the history rather than the conquered. Let us tell the story that Leander Starr Jameson [leader of the BSAC pioneer column] who gave us the name Fort Jameson, hanged [Ngoni] Prince Nsingu! Let us teach our children that Dr [David] Livingstone was a ruthless itinerant whose mission was not to spread Christianity but to pave way for the [1885] Berlin Conference. The history we are taught--even our own independence struggle history--is full of nothing but half-truths and outright lies. Ok, pulling down statues is not the panacea, it is rewriting the curriculum to reflect nothing but the truth [that needs to be done]”
In any case, whatever is done with Rhodes’ statues and his legacy in the Southern African region, the truth of the matter is that he changed the boundaries, familial and inter-ethnic relations and cultures through movement of peoples who were forced to pay taxes which could only be done through work in new labour endeavours he controlled and the state administration that was born out of the new economic activity centres arose.
[Photo credit: Wikipedia]

1 comment:

In my opinion said...

Hi Gershom,
thanks for sharing your blog. I found it very interesting. Reading it has left mixed feelings in my heart, among which are anger, resentment and may be a little sense of depression.

I am angry because of the way Livingstone has been represented. While what you say about him paving a way for the 1885 Berlin Conference might be true, I desist from spreading such rumors unless there is tangible proof. We are dealing with a historical moment, the best we can do is to educate our children about truths and untruths or is it miss-truths?

I am resentful about the fact that we are here again wrestling history to such an extent that it is becoming a continental debate. What developmental issues could we make debatable and benefit young people? Nothing wrong with debating issues like these but we have to make them productive. What is the end?

I am a little depressed because we are still pawns in the hands of greedy imperialists and we still seem to be playing victim. The imperialists are greedy, but how un-greedy are we?

Thanks Gershom for the history buff you are, I really respect your provocative topics. On the other hand, there are some religious issues that we may have to sound off on sometime in future when time allows.