WHY TARGET COLONIAL SYMBOLS WHEN THE STRUCTURES OF COLONIALISM LIVE ON?

There is a certain irony to the preoccupation with symbols of the past – especially the statue of arch imperialist Cecil John Rhodes – when colonial-cum-apartheid policies remain in place. The land dispossession with which Rhodes is associated was initiated b
ecause of the demand for vast amounts of cheap labour for the mines; it also served the purpose of destroying the black peasantry which competed successfully with expanding white commercial farming. Together with labour migrancy and the accompanying controls over black movement went single sex hostels and the virtual destruction of black family life. Despite the current land reform rhetoric the land rights of poor rural residents are under serious threat – and despite some cosmetic changes the colonial system of indirect rule through chiefs remains in place and retards the development of democracy. The type of gross abuse of power associated with the apartheid police, including the use of torture, flourishes. Where are the priorities of the ‘Rhodes must fall’ brigade? Are lifeless statues more important than the sufferings of the living?
Land rights an government double-speak
The public focus is on government rhetoric about redressing land imbalances and recent legislation has re-opened the land claims process. However, many of the claims s lodged in the 1990s have not yet been settled, and serious allegations of gross incompetence and corruption in the Department responsible for land reform have not been addressed. At the same time, there are very real threats to rural people’s indigenous land rights, especially by the Ingonyama Trust in KZN. This Trust, which was established days before the April 1994 elections, transferred former KwaZulu Bantustan land, and other land earmarked for black occupation, to Zulu king Zwelithini, and a Board administers it on his behalf. It was this Trust which in 2000 awarded a lease to the traditional leader near Mbazwana (northern KZN) to operate a private game lodge – and which failed to intervene when a large area was fenced, denying people access to their homes, to water, and to their subsistence activities. The residential rights of people living in traditional communities are guaranteed by the Protection of Informal Land Rights Act but, according to the Trust, it is now issuing leases for residential rights on this type of land, potentially endangering the rights of existing residents (and earning more income for the Trust, which enjoys a surplus of millions of rand). Leaders claim that most revenues siphoned off from traditional areas do not flow back to benefit communities..
The conduct of chiefs varies considerably, with some ensuring wide community consultation and others abusing their power – including by driving people of their land (with no constructive action taken by government departments). More usually, residents are obliged to pay all sorts of monies to the leadership on various pretexts, and women complain that they are expected to provide sexual favours for some leaders (some of whom have allegedly been implicated in the ukuthwala practice of forced abduction of young women). Babanango residents are up in arms about King Zwelethini’s plans to build a new palace on what they claim is their ancestral land. There are also outstanding land claims in the area, and many who lodged claims in the 1990s are concerned that they may lose out to new claimants. (and rumours abound of Land Reform staff and politicians using the new claim period to take over land to which they are not entitled -such is the mistrust of the land claims process (see land report).
A number of communities in KZN face the threat of removal and/or the degradation of their environment through mining – especially the extension of titanium mining to areas around Mthunzini, the threat of coal mining in the Mfolosi Wilderness area, and the planned open cast iron ore mining around Melmoth, where the Ingonyama Trust Board has reportedly given its permission for the mining. As under apartheid, rural areas remain underdeveloped labour reservoirs, and the mining companies involved in these latest initiatives are multinational conglomerates in partnership with shadowy ‘empowerment’ companies. The exploitation of colonialism continues, augmented by the ‘empowerment’ of selected black partners, many of whom are alleged to be politically well connected.
Hostels and police brutality
While some family accommodation has been built in single sex hostel complexes huge numbers of men, women and children continue to live in overcrowded and often run down single sex hostels. Like the abuses in rural areas, the problems stemming from these colonial structures are compounded by political struggles and corruption. In Glebelands (Umlazi) the abuse of residents is carried out not by the notorious apartheid ‘blackjacks’ but by democracy’s police. At least 21 people have reportedly died in this complex in the past year and countless numbers of residents have been forcibly evicted from their rooms. Democratically elected block structure members and their women folk and children are the primary target of these evictions allegedly carried out by a known thug from KwaMashu hostels and his associates, who then oversee the allocation of beds to others, probably for a fee. This well armed thug is said to enjoy a close relationship with the local, highly unpopular councillor. The blame for this state of affairs lies with the police who should be preventing crime and arresting perpetrators but are instead abusing those targeted for eviction, including by the use of the notorious ‘tubing ‘ torture beloved of the apartheid police (one of the victims was a woman) At the heart of this anarchy lies the complete lack of transparency in bed allocation policy by the municipality with allegations – as in housing allocation – of interference by councillors dispensing political patronage..
Debates about colonial symbols are pertinent, but not if they are hijacked by thuggish behaviour – which, ironically, is replete with the racist rhetoric rooted in the colonialism of which they complain. Surely it is up to universities to insist that debates be properly informed and contextualised. The Roman empire, for example, was a brutal coloniser but do we not continue to enjoy the benefits of its legacy? If the universities simply give in to anarchy, rather than take a stand for orderly and reasoned debate, they may well end up producing a flock of sheep rather than the critical thinkers democracy needs to survive, let alone to thrive.