I am South African born. My father was an Afrikaner Theodorus Potgieter, and my mother, Olive Grace Smart, of English descent. As a child I was often witness to arguments between my more progressive father and my grandfather, Edward Nelson Smart (b.Hunt – an ‘illegitimate’ child) as the latter was an English nationalist and royalist. My father, unemployed after playing a heroic role in the Second World War as a captain in the RAF, moved his family to a small town, Odendaalsrus, in the ‘outback’ of South Africa – the Orange Free State, where gold had recently been discovered.
All through my childhood in these backwoods we referred to African male adults encountered at for example petrol stations, as “boys”. Africans were widely known as “kaffirs”. So I have extensive experience of the application of what the Financial Times bewails as “incorrect speech”. While I have no doubt that such language is still in use in South Africa, it is now no longer acceptable to use such speech in polite company. Indeed it has been “banned” – thanks to the struggle and sacrifices made by progressive, black-led liberation movements in Southern Africa. I have no doubt that such terms are even “banned” in right-wing publications such as the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times.
The idea that a British so-called Liberal, Nick Clegg should argue in the Financial Times “this trend of banning people whose views you don’t like is getting seriously out of hand” in relation to Cecil John Rhodes is but a reflection of how reactionary British politics has become.
Rhodes was not only a racist, but a white supremacist. As a British imperialist he can correctly be compared to members of the Ku Klux Klan. Like the Ku Klux Klan he advocated white supremacy, white nationalism and racism, as the following well-known excerpt from his writings testifies:
“I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. Just fancy those parts that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimens of human beings what an alteration there would be if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence, look again at the extra employment a new country added to our dominions gives.”
Cecil John Rhodes regarded black people as “despicable specimens of human beings.” His role in setting black workers “apart” in “compounds” from white diamond diggers in Kimberley marks him out as one of the first architects of “apartheid”. He upheld the abhorrent idea that black people were natural thieves that had to be imprisoned to prevent them obtaining diamonds. By contrast, white imperialists, guilty of thieving these valuable African assets by the use of force, were of the “finest race in the world”. Afrikaner nationalists were to learn a great deal from their imperialist overlords, as they built on the racist foundations laid at Rhodes’s Kimberley diamond mine.
The profits made from apartheid enabled Rhodes to dictate the legacy made concrete at Oriel College. By raising a statue to him the Oxford college was not just celebrating the donation of his wealth, but also his role in entrenching apartheid. If Harvard’s establishment had erected a statue in the grounds of the University to a wealthy donor member of the Ku Klux Klan one can only imagine the furore – the stink – that would have caused.
So the Oxford students are right. They must be supported. Rhodes must fall from the elevated status he tried vainly to guarantee for himself, and wrongly accorded today by the British political and media establishment.