Rhodes has ‘fallen’; at least from his perch of privilege above UCT’s Rugby Fields, where he gazed out with such seeming solidity until last month.
The debate and energy around #RhodesMustFall was obviously directed at much broader transformational issues than the symbolic power of the man himself; though his statue, and the unmistakably imperialist ideas that it represented were the focus, catalyst and target of many in the events we all witnessed and took part in on UCT’s campus.
Much has been said of Rhodes’ character, beliefs, and the white supremacist and colonialist views he held and the actions to which those views led in the debate over the last few months. In this illustrated talk Andrew Lamprecht will examine the life and times of a man who went from being the sickly minor son of a minor English clergyman, born in 1853, to dying, gasping for air, in his beachside cottage in Muizenberg 48 years later, having become one of the richest and most powerful men in the world. He had witnessed (and was in no small measure responsible for) what was undoubtedly the most profound and devastating transformation that the southern part of Africa has ever seen its history.
This presentation will attempt to give a glimpse of what he actually thought and believed as well as present a brief overview of Rhodes’ biography. The question of his legacy and the way that he received the uncritical adulation of many both during and after his death will be interrogated.
His life is often shrouded in mystery, and much misinformation and supposition wrestles with the very real and demonstrable documented history of a man who was a capitalist, an imperialist, as well as being and the direct cause and instigator of the loss or severe degradation of life for millions of people in in Africa. Yet Rhodes was – by all accounts – a very complex man and few of his contemporise and even friends had many good words for him while alive. Yet in death, having been instrumental in the most calculated imperialistic actions of his day, he became a modern ‘colossus’, celebrated and commemorated in the public spaces of Cape Town and elsewhere. Lamprecht will conclude by examining the history of the UCT Rhodes statue, how it came to sit in it position of languid entitlement surveying, with imperialistic yearning, the ‘hinterland’ of Africa and its existence on our campus for so long. The dust has not settled from the fall of Rhodes’ statue. This talk will also ask what the legacy of a statue that was ours – UCT’s – might mean for the University and the broader community going forward.
Andrew Lamprecht is a senior lecturer in Discourse and History of Art at the Michaelis School of Fine Art.