Why on earth am I writing about a statue again? What is so powerful about a statue that it deserves my time? These are some of the thoughts bothering me this morning. Much of South African (and other) internet has been abuzz with talk and debate around statues – one specific statue and statues in general. Why is this statue thing getting to me? Which nerve is it touching? I can simply say, “I’m reacting normally to the sight of protestors and people wanting to ‘tear down’ (and busy doing so) historical monuments throughout the country”, that my sense of disgust and confusion is a natural one. But then again, the Rhodes statue, which has been the central talking point and which removal brought me to write this post, is a statue on a university campus I have nothing to do with. I’m a Matie for goodness sake! Who cares what the Ikeys (this could be looked into as an anti-semitic slur and a call to change the name to something like ‘Tigers’ could be launched) are doing up against the mountain!? But watching the video of the Rhodes statue being removed did stir something in me which deserves introspection. The question I’m asking myself this morning is where my reaction to events surrounding the statue comes from. This blog post is not an argument for a position on the matter but one of me doing introspection.
If you are not familiar with the great statue ‘debate’, google ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ or follow #RhodesMustFall on twitter. You will then encounter any possible opinion on the matter that exists under the African sun. I could recommend the following articles, which would reveal my position on the matter to some extent: Must Rhodes Fall? How Should I Know? I’m Just Another White Guy and A Christian response to race issues on campus.
The question I’m asking myself is why I dislike the behaviour I’m seeing on the video of the statue being removed? I’m not against the idea of removing a statue, and agree with Robin Gilbert-Jones that “students do have a say in what symbols are represented on their campus”. History has seen many statues rise and fall before. I get that our country is still largely draped in white history and think it is good for different peoples within our country to put themselves in one another’s shoes and think through why the ‘other’ reacts the way they do in given situations. I agree that symbolism is powerful and can influence the psyche of a people. The one thing I appreciate about these situations though, is the fact that we are forced to think things through – if we don’t jump to the defensive straight away, that is.
I have no specific admiration for Rhodes, as he is considered an ‘enemy’ from both my ‘Afrikaner’ and ‘Christian’ perspectives – being a colonist who has driven exploits against all peoples in the land, and his agenda considered un-Christ-like, on the one hand, and even tied to the occult through masonic initiatives on the other. But then again, one might argue I’m a Cape Afrikaner who has a more favourable view of British rule than some others. I am somewhat of an Anglophile at times, as so much good has come from Britain and they have influenced my culture in a positive way. I cannot but view the video from my own cultural perspective, and even more so from the family values under which I was brought up along with my own personal characteristics. Besides that, I also pursue a biblical worldview and have certain expectations of others because of that too. I am thus an introverted white Afrikaner, brought up in a relatively tame family environment, who came to faith in Christ just over ten years ago, and from this perspective I watch the scenes of the statue being removed play out in front of me.
I feel the excitement. I experience the joy. There is something powerful in seeing history happen, something beautiful in seeing ‘the people of the land’ having a voice in the land. There was also something ugly in how it was done. This is where people might accuse me of ‘not understanding’, or viewing it from my ‘white’ or ‘Christian’ or ‘Servaas’ perspective. There was something ugly in the boastful, self-righteous manner of the ‘chant-leader’. There was something disrespectful in the manner a person in the wrong was treated, even if it is only the symbol of his legacy. Just like there is something ugly about people hoping for the Boston Marathon bomber, who was recently found guilty on all charges against him, to ‘suffer’ and ‘endure torture’ for the ‘animal’ that he is. We want justice, but too often we want to achieve it by making someone ‘pay’ for it instead of living just lives ourselves, lives worthy of statues. We have the freedom (always, even within prison – ask Mandela, ask St Paul) to build, but too often we think of ‘tearing down’ as ‘building’.
I am also very guilty of this myself. I am quick to criticise rather than provide a better way. If I stood on that statue rubbing his face like that, cheering like that, I would guess my dad would confront me about it somewhere along the line; in the quiet, calculated way he has confronted me about things in the past. Like this past December holiday when he dropped, “the real wise people are the ones who don’t always speak their mind but sometimes listen and speak only when it is the right time, even though it seems wrong not to speak”, on me. In saying that, he confronted my own foolishness, and I had the privilege to admit where I so often go wrong and could begin to change that bad trait of mine. I don’t know what the guy in the white shirt on the statue would think about his actions in years to come and I don’t know what his dad would have to say about it – older people tend to think differently about these things, I’ve learned. Does he even enjoy the privilege of knowing a dad who guides him? Any person who can restore families, and fathers to families, in this country, that person deserves a statue, a statue and a Bell’s.
The Christian response, though, would be to take note of and listen to actions and cries for help, regardless of whether they are made in a helpful or destructive manner, and consider how reconciliation of people to one another, in God, could be achieved. It could mean removing a statue or telling people that no statues will be removed. While I value history and its monuments and do become attached to earthly things, I must often remind myself that I am not of this kingdom, and that those who are from this kingdom will cling to monuments (or the lack thereof), for it is all they have. I am, however, tasked to help usher in the Kingdom of Heaven into this earthly one. This is the challenge to me as a Christian; what does this look like and how do I do it? I know the solution begins by having meals together. Traditionally, reconciliation happened through the eating of meals together and I believe there is great merit in that. I don’t do that, but I should.
PS – another thing I hope to see people understand, is that both white and non-white South Africans are coming to terms with the New South Africa, which inevitably means both will act ‘racist’ towards one another in their attempts to do so, even the noblest ones. I recently, for the first time, realised that many whites and non-whites ascribe different definitions to the word ‘racist’, and therefore cannot even agree when it is linguistically correct to shout “that’s racist!”.