A Restorative Justice Take on Rhodes Falling

By Sheena Jonke
Photo by: Sydelle Willow Smith www.sydellewillowsmith.com

  • Rhodes Must Fall and it’s Important for us all: A restorative Justice Perspective

    My humanity is inextricably linked to yours. It’s not enough that I concern myself with my own well-being and disregard the fact that you are not flourishing. Ultimately, if my brothers and sisters do not flourish, I pay a price, my kids pay a price, we all pay a price. We are all paying a price. So what’s so important about Rhodes? He’s just some dumb-ass from an era of old. No? I asked a friend of mine who does volunteer work for Access to Justice in Cape Town, just to help me with some of the history. For me, taking down monuments to oppression is a no-brainer. A monument or a statue denotes honour. We injure our own souls if we fail to see the importance of interrupting the enduring positions of honour of abusers. So Greshen Chetty helped me unpack the history as I refer to below: Rhodes is said to have stood at the foot of Table Mountain and made a powerful declaration over Africa that he would dominate from Cape to Cairo. Words are very powerful. The old adage that sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm could not be further from the truth. Words have creative power, the power to heal, the power to denigrate. And it is exceptionally important that we take countervailing action to dismantle the legacy of his words. Why? Rhodes brought with him an agenda.

    This agenda was steeped in the vision of freemasonry and along with it, the interests of the crown. The outworking of all of this was the enrichment of the few at the expense of the many. Within the narrative of the colonial era, the many were the native inhabitants of colonized lands. The modus operandi was to exploit the resources of the lands. We like to say “What the heck is all the fuss about? Apartheid has fallen. Colonialism has fallen.” But has it really? Look around you. Take a very good look. The bondage created by the likes of Rhodes prevails. The ills of the migrant labour system persist. The methodology of the unrighteous enrichment of the few at the expense of the many, and its related systems endure today. Worker families, especially around our mines continue to grow up poor, fatherless, disconnected and broken. Fatherlessness was not simply a by-product of the migrant labour system. It was central to it.

    If you take fathers away from communities, you leave them vulnerable. It was a method of control that left entire communities weak and deprived and it endures today. The road of poverty has very much followed the many exploited to enrich the few unrighteously. The prevailing systems that started with the likes of Rhodes lead to the massacre of 34 miners at Marikana. Don’t try and kid yourself around the connectedness of what happened there to 300 plus years of economic exploitation and exclusion. And those systems endure today. The mentality of the enrichment of a small elite at the expense of the many is alive and well. This leaves every single South African with a massive social problem to deal with. Its not just the problem of the poor. It’s the problem of us all. All behavioural violence has social roots.

    The work of Restorative Justice and Peacemaking is necessarily variegated, yet of a whole cloth (That cloth includes symbolic reminders of abuse and abusers). Understanding how social power is distributed is key to responding to conflict. (From Ambassadors for Reconciliation) Rhodes must fall. Images of him must go. The mentality of those that are enriched unrighteously at the expense of the many must go. And others from that era that had the same mentality and employed the same methodology in unrighteous enrichment must suffer the same fate. It’s time to set aside our small little apathetic complaining lives and allow the flame lit by the students at UCT to start a fire in us all that will start to raze the enduring systems of inequality to the ground. It’s time to live with a passion that advances us all. Don’t kid yourself that this is all about statues. It’s not. But often our symbolic physical acts point to something beyond the actual acts. My daughter and myself went through domestic trauma during her early life. We have both needed to heal in different ways.

    I married an amazing second husband and that has been part of my healing and restoration. When she met her boyfriend 15 months ago she was going through a trauma counselling process. Her boyfriend, a teenager innately and intuitively felt that her space needed a makeover. So he helped her redo her room, getting rid of anything that reminded her of her traumatic past. Was that the be all and end all of her healing? No. But it was part of her healing. A necessary part. If a teenager knows that the burying of symbols of the past is a necessary part of healing and restoration, why the heck are parts of the “educated” adult population still debating the value of the Rhodes Must Fall Campaign. Kids do this stuff intuitively, but we get so marred by intellectualism and political correctness on both sides, we no longer know who we are. We need to reclaim our humanity and say that we don’t leave symbols of abuse in prominent places and especially at places of learning and advancement that can keep triggering pain and anger. If we reclaimed the dignity in all for all which is central to humanity there would be no need for political correctness and the emptiness and apathy of intellectual debate.

    I have heard those opposing the Rhodes Must Fall campaign raising the issue of King Shaka and his cruelty. Are there those alive today whose lives were adversely affected by King Shaka? Does his legacy trigger pain and anger? Are there systems and patterns that flourish today to keep people oppressed as a result of his legacy? If so, those must come to the fore and speak. But don’t be the guy that tries to use the legacy of Shaka, that you are unaffected by, to deride the passion of those affected by and still in bondage to the legacy created by Rhodes, to mute their voices. On a scale of below average to harmful to all, it’s harmful to all. Dismantling abusive symbolism accords strongly with our work in restorative justice. We acknowledge that we cannot change the past, but we can bury with dignity for those hurt by. Not only can we, but we must. It’s time to take strong countervailing action to dismantle the declaration of Rhodes (and others like him) over Africa. It’s in the interests of us all. Peace, by the presence of justice.

    Sheena Jonker is Chairman and CEO of The Access to Justice Foundation of Southern Africa and Founder of ADR Network, South Africa.