Legacies of imperialism

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When I visited Bulawayo, Zimbabwe several years ago, I was fascinated by the history of British imperialism in the city.  The grid like structure of the town planning was attributed to Cecil Rhodes, as it was based on his apparent admiration for the spaciousness of American cities that probably emerged around the same time, i.e. in the Victorian era. There is a major high street in Bulawayo where Rhodes and his cronies would stage chariot races back in the day! There is no doubt that this merchant secured a space in Africa to act upon his whims, at the expense of the local people.

I don’t know enough about Rhodes to form a strong opinion about his views with regard to race, but it is obvious that the indigenous peoples of Zimbabwe were not expected to enjoy the benefits of his business dealings as much as the American students who were recipients of stipends from his trust fund, set up for them to study at Oxford or Cambridge.

In recent years, there have been several attempts made by young people of African descent to tell other versions of the Rhodes story, in the aforementioned universities as well as some institutions in South Africa. Statues and busts erected in his honour have come under scrutiny, with some folks asking for them to be removed. In my opinion, perhaps they should be left in place, as long as there are other gestures made by the relevant authorities to acknowledge the complicated nature of his legacy.

The gestures made to redress the balance of point of view in telling the story of what happened in that era should be built to last, so future generations can assess for themselves the pros and cons of the choices and decisions made by imperialists of his ilk.

It has become fashionable once more for some political thinkers in Europe and America to be open in expressing their disregard for the sensibilities of people of Black African descent. Maybe those disregarded folks need to invest in erecting monuments and creating symbols that express alternative points of view.