Rhodes on the Brink: A Postscript.

The impulse to archive the native in a series of disjointed snapshots, which together form an unhappy whole, is a form of cultural warfare. Through this process, the native identity is substituted with a series of objects. For example, the “African culture” fills all of their museums as trinkets However, to become cultured, the “African” must surrender all the parts of himself which have been cast as “African”. With such manoeuvres, the European asserts that this “tribal” culture can only be an anachronism to which progress must be brought from without. Of course, we know that this is correct. There has never been an “African culture” – that which the European speaks of, is a figment of his own dissonant imagination. However, we must pay attention to the technology of the coloniser’s project of cultural violence.

As Fanon says, the coloniser cannot convince himself of the “objective non-existence of the oppressed nation and its culture” (190). Thus he is driven by a desire to force the natives to submit their own culture as inferior to the magnificence of European modernity. The teleology of the native in this “new” nation, on a “new” path to modernity, isolates the native from communities which existed prior to colonialism by forcing these same communities into the new paradigm of the nation state – here we must take note how this entails a slippage between the liberation of a national culture and obtaining the title deed to a geographical space. “You have your strongmen, we shall have our own.”

In this we see colonisation of the national culture by the nondescript forms and customs of the nation state. In these moments, the momentum of “progress” is lost from the coloniser’s tongue, though it had never been present in his deeds. We find instead a zeal for stability – the native becomes an indecipherable chaos. The coloniser’s ignorance becomes the native’s incoherence. Renewed efforts to stabilise the national culture – that is, the practice of culture – ensue. The intellectual’s of the Mother Country, pour their time and resources into unearthing some essential truth in the native’s proclivity to effervescence. The colonial edifice is responding to its deepest vulnerability. To stabilise a culture, the coloniser must first admit both its existence and its changing character – its intensification.

We find ourselves in the midst of this struggle. Because we know that culture is practiced, a living breathing mass; because we see how the coloniser clings to his idolatry in the statues he has erected of great colonial terrorists, we know that the promise of liberation is hollow. We now see the folly in forgetting that liberation must be demanded and not requested, taken and not given. In turning on the coloniser’s artefacts, we threaten to snatch the towel from the edifice of colonialism. We see clearly that native culture can only be found in resistance. We must resist if we are to escape obliteration.

The native resistance is misrepresented as both regressive and peculiar. The coloniser will accuse us of all manner of things – of destroying history, of living in the past, of decadence. In a fit of petulant rage, he will defend his coloured memory to the tune of millions. Confronted with the barbarity on which he sits, from which he eats, he runs in the hope that this will increase the span of time which separates them. Rhodes is substituted with his statue, he becomes an artefact. Rhodes is an object of the coloniser’s fantasy.

The coloniser will say “Rhodes was a man of his time.” What he means to say is “Rhodes was, and is, exactly where he belongs.” Which is to say, think about today’s problems, “We have found new ways to oppress you, our barbarity has an ostensibly gentler face.”

Here we find the two opposing instincts in today’s colonising consciousness. He clings to the statue both because he is not yet done with the barbarity of Rhodes but also because the artefact, the objectification of Rhodes, allows him to believe that he is. He is driven by the desire to possess the timelessness of the Rhodesian object as he has done the native’s “culture”. Thus, it is ironic but not at all surprising that he who demanded the forward march to modernity, uncompromising progress, must defend his history against the passage of time in order to protect the dynamism of colonial culture.


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