Should Rhodes have fallen?

By Lexi Rowland

A recent student movement at the University of Cape Town resulted in the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, one of the main contributors to UCT’s founding, to be unceremoniously removed from its pedestal on the campus. Among the reasons for such a removal, Rhodes’ legacy of racial discrimination and arguably influential role in the formation of Apartheid are cited as the most important.

Acemoglu and Robinson, in their 2001 paper 'The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation', present a model for the analysis of institutional change in colonial countries from the time of colonization to today. Such a model aims to find a development in history that cannot be affected by any omitted variables and therefore be afforded a direct causal relationship with a current institution. Arguably, in the case of the Rhodes Must Fall Movement where Rhodes is depicted as a solely racist reminder, such a relationship with Apartheid has been afforded to Rhodes' himself. 

Yes, Rhodes' was undoubtedly racist however many other factors, as well as persons, were similarly if not more influential to the formation of Apartheid decades later. The importance of such omitted variables, or people, in the history of a country such as South Africa would mean that in order to remove all racist symbols or institutional reminders of its history, the history of the country would have to be restarted. 

Rhodes, just like many politicians today, had both good and bad qualities and therefore he should not be remembered as a simple racist. Although he was undeniably involved in the formation of Apartheid, Rhodes was also influential in mending relations between the British and the Afrikaners as well as creating infrastructure valuable to today's South Africa; thus making his legacy a double edged sword. Shouldn't he stand therefore, not in commemoration, but in remembrance of the recklessness of colonizers toward race relations in Africa as a whole?