The Fallist movements – an opinion
No discussion about present trends and developmental possibilities in South Africa can begin without considering the legacy of the immediate and the more remote past. I am convinced also that we should speak candidly and unflinchingly about the trauma and the negative effects of colonialism, slavery, capitalist-imperialism, segregation and apartheid on the physical, psychological and sociocultural conditioning of the oppressed people.[i]
The student Fallist movements (2015–16) have called on South Africans to simultaneously “look back and reflect; act now, and move into the future”. In an initial statement of intent, the Rhodes Must Fall petition of March 2015, the authors set out an admix of concerns and goals rooted on the one hand in the contemporary stagnation of transformation at our universities, and on the other hand they seem to imply that is so because collectively we as South Africans have a violent past ever present in the “now” and which manifests itself in the “lived experiences of all”. This, say the students, has never been adequately dealt with by us, their parents, whether former oppressor or oppressed. Thus their call for a TRC-like process within the higher education sector.
In discussion fora, mass gatherings and workshops, on social media and in multiple commentaries, students, academic staff, vice-chancellors, political analysts and observers like me have made attempts at unravelling these moments of anger, frustration, determination and, at times, anarchic violence erupting at campuses across the country. Currently, the focus of the protest has reinvigorated the call for fee-free, quality higher education.
At the heart of the matter are two interlinked concepts and realities which manifest themselves in all aspects of the South African “way of life”: the pervasiveness of structural inequality and white supremacy in our daily lives.
The signing of the Peace of Vereeniging (May 1902) in order to secure the future of the “superior white races” (Alfred, Lord Milner) at the southern tip of Africa and the subsequent proclamation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 was the embodiment “(of establishing) a hegemonic order in South Africa. By hegemony, what is meant is not merely dominance, not merely state control, but pervasive internalised dominance that flows through nationally based and structured institutions and civil society.”[ii]
These two political acts had every intention to secure the future enrichment of the “white race” at the cost of the invisibility of the “native” majority. The “colonial-imperial project”, as often cited by the protesting students, comprised a range of state-sponsored initiatives which were to anchor the over-arching goal of building a self-sufficient, loyal subject nation of the British Crown. The Natives Land Act of 1913 was one such critical factor in realising this goal. Another was the suite of acts of 1916 which saw the establishment of the University of Cape Town (UCT), University of Stellenbosch (US), University of South Africa (Unisa) and later, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in 1922 for, in the main, “the young white men of the Union”. Although the acts were laced with contradictions and ambiguities from the very outset, these universities were there to promote, institutionalise and perpetuate knowledge immersed in social Darwinism and notions of British superiority. And there, in support of these noble endeavours, were many civically minded individuals who were prepared to bequeath or endow these germinal institutions with large amounts, in some instances to this very day. To name a few: Dr Willem Hiddingh, Mrs Leander Starr, Messrs JW Jagger, RH Stuttaford, Sir Max Michaelis and Dr Harry Bolus, names which ring a bell to many UCT alumni as well as to many Capetonians who know their city and its history.
“For the Sons of the Empire …”
Cecil John Rhodes, whose statue at UCT served as the initial spark of the 2015 student protests, serves as the embodiment of the colonial-imperial project. As a politician and a former prime minister of the Cape Colony he knew to exploit the fickleness, prejudices and racism of the mainly white electorate and politicians at the time in order to foster an imperial vision of “Great” Britain as well as fomenting strife and even war in order to cement and grow his business empire and that of his fellow Randlords and British financiers. Viewed as he is as one of the major contributors to what remains prevalent in South Africa today in terms of structural injustices and white supremacy, it is apt that we consider this individual and his impact on South Africa, the UK, the Commonwealth of Nations and the world at large in a bit more detail.
In establishing in formulaic minutiae the terms of what was to become the first, and for a long time the largest, private education and research endowment, the Rhodes Trust, Rhodes determined in his last will and codicils that, apart from awarding no fewer than 57 scholarships (@ £300 each in 1904) per annum to young (mainly white)[iii] male scholars “with moral character” from the British Dominions, the USA and Germany[iv] and who would conduct research in order to promote the ideals and his vision of the growth and impact of the British Empire,[v] he also ensured the establishment of Rhodes House at Oxford, as well as a major endowment and property on the slopes of Table Mountain to the “Federated” Government of South Africa[vi] for the establishment of, among others, the University of Cape Town; so, too, towards Rhodes University College (later University), etc. Several Randlords were to follow Rhodes’s example with modifications: Alfred Beit determined that his estate would (i) partially be added to the Rhodes Trust; (ii) serve by and large for infrastructure development – railways, bridges, roads, schools, clinics – in southern and central Africa, developments which continue to this day via the Beit Trust; (iii) commit generous endowments to the establishment of the University of Hamburg (his home town), Imperial College in London, Wits (School of Mining and Engineering) and lesser amounts to UCT and Rhodes University. Sir Otto Beit, Julius Wernher, Sir Abe Bailey and others are further philanthropists who gave generously both to South Africa and to their “new” motherland, Great Britain, where many of them chose to settle, given the rising sentiments of an imminent war as well as the pervasive anti-Semitism, especially in Germany and Austria. Not a single one of these trusts, through their trustees, considered any similar endowments to colleges which were being planned or developed for the “non-European” population. Let us, therefore, look at a first factor which could be tabled at a TRC-like process, that of restitution.
Although in the interim changed either by an act of the British parliament or by the trustees, the will provided in great detail that which the trustees of the Rhodes Trust were to oversee in perpetuity, viz the strategic enhancement of the great imperial project of British territorial and economic superiority, and that of world peace.[vii] Many influential personages of the British establishment and South African Randlords[viii] shared his vision and consciously disbursed his enormous wealth to further these ideals. Foremost among these was Alfred, Lord – later Viscount Milner – who fastidiously sought to imbue the trust with these imperialist aims underscored by the appointment of like-minded individuals as trustees. Nothing untoward, it may be said. But as has been argued on the pages of the Rhodes Trust – see http://www.rhodeshouse.ox.ac.uk/redress-rhodes – it has become essential for current and previous Rhodes scholars to engage critically about the legacy of the man in conversation with the Trust. The latter format is somewhat incestuous, as this dialogue is being conducted among these scholars and the Trust in a totally opaque and non-transparent manner. The proposals being made as per the web page, however laudable they may be, cannot honestly be viewed as being a constructive contribution unless conducted in such as manner:
- that the debate be conducted within the broader framework of the decolonisation discourse at South African and a few British universities[ix]
- that Oxford University and the UK, which has unduly gained immensely from the relationship with the Rhodes Trust for more than a century, should no longer serve as the only “beneficiary” of this largesse[x]
- that the disbursement formula as it currently stands unduly favours candidates from territories such as the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where, since the formation of the Trust, numerous similar and larger opportunities abound, be changed in favour of candidates from the global South
- that the disbursement formula with regard to territories and specific institutions in southern Africa be reconsidered and that this be divested of its elitist character
- that the governance regulations and structure of the Trust – following due process – engage in a discourse which would show preference for the needs and opportunities as presented by southern Africa in particular and Africa in general.
Well hidden from public scrutiny for decades are numerous such endowments and bequests in the hands of what were the historically advantaged institutions which made huge contributions to South African higher education and research, that is, to scholarship conducted by white males in the main and, by commission or omission, contributed to the object of white supremacy. It used to be a well-known tale of many a poor black student at UCT who was turned away from the doors of the celebrated former registrar that “unfortunately, there are no funds available for you”, the “you” being the identifier and signifier of “non-European” and of not being eligible for the millions returned into the endowments on an annual basis for decades. So, too, at US, the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN, formerly Natal) and UCT, where in instances either the institutions, an executor or a member of the public has had to take the matter before the courts – vide the MM Hattingh Student Bursary where US took the matter to the high court as it was no longer in line with university policies. Here the court found that, in instances such as this, “the principle of freedom of testation was limited by the constitutional guards against racial discrimination”.[xi] But have all institutions been that brave? What about Wits, North-West University (NWU) (formerly Potchefstroom), Rhodes University, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU, formerly UPE and PE Tech), or University of the Western Cape (UWC), or the former University of Durban-Westville (UDW)? This second act of procuring resources within the higher education sector in line with our constitutional principles and the Bill of Rights could most certainly contribute to ameliorating the enormous needs, especially for postgraduate studies, where many candidates have to hold down a form of employment in order, for instance, to raise a young family, thus severely compromising both their degree completion duration as well as the quality of work done on a part-time basis.
Finally, a third act which would be more in line with restorative justice would be to engage with those still functioning trusts established by the former Randlords – eg the Beit Trust, Abe Bailey Trust – as well as by the many Cape Town-, Port Elizabeth- and Johannesburg-based merchants who made fortunes from the mines and from cheap black labour – the latter of whom many were sent home to die of, for instance, silicosis.
As the majority of such bequests and endowments are for education in general and for higher education and research in particular, I would suggest that a body such as Universities of South Africa (USAf) would be the ideal first patron to lead this process supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF), the Council for Higher Education (CHE) and the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSaf). Whether they would be up to the challenge? How would the amorphous Fallist movement and that of the student representative councils be included in this process?
These are my initial thoughts about what could inform the broad terms of reference of the Fallist movement-suggested TRC-like commission on higher education in service of the colonial-imperial project and of apartheid. Areas which I am also investigating as possible items for such a commission include:
- business, (the mining) industry, finance capital, the media, higher education and the colonial-imperial project
- the State, public policies and transformation of our universities – foregone opportunities?
- examining bodies, curricula, texts and the post-colonial university
- the “old guard”, learned societies, renegade academics at our institutions.
- Robert Kriger, heita research consultancy, Tshwane
[i] Alexander, N. 2008. Education for multiculturalism: The Challenge for institutions of higher learning. Public Lecture at NMMU, Port Elizabeth, 19 November 2008.
[ii] Bill Freund. South Africa: The Union Years, 1910–1948 – Political and Economic Foundations. In Hamilton, vol 2, p 211.
[iii] Although not determined as such in his will, the Trustees under the leadership of Milner for many decades saw fit to interpret the will in this manner, “befitting the ideals of Rhodes”, given that the majority of the “educated” in the colonies – apart from the Caribbean Islands – were “white”. Indeed, the first “negro” admitted from a southern USA state caused quite a controversy among fellow Rhodes scholars at the time. Females were afforded the opportunities to apply only in the mid-1970s after a Third Amendment Act had been passed by the British Parliament in 1973. By then scholars from the broader Commonwealth had also been admitted as prospective Rhodes scholars.
[iv] Like the Beit brothers and Julius Wernher, Rhodes believed that education and exchange would contribute to understanding between conflicting countries and ultimately contribute to peaceful co-existence.
[v] Rhodes was very insistent that research should be a cornerstone of higher education and development, and saw his endowment as contributing to ridding institutions such as Oxford from retarding educational traditions, but he certainly did not question the deep-seated class character and implicit beliefs in the liberal “ideals” of the Empire, viz “[Those historians who] … applauded the British for bringing to the subcontinent [of India] political unity, modern educational institutions, modern industries, modern nationalism, a rule of law, and so forth” (Dipesh Chakrabarty).
[vi] At the time, 1899, Rhodes was of the opinion that the territory of South Africa would, apart from what was to become the Union, also include Rhodesia, Nyasaland and, by buying out Portuguese interests, Mozambique in order to proclaim a Federation of (African) States which would eventually equal or surpass the USA, but under the Union Jack.
[vii] The reference being to the UK, Germany and the USA representing to Rhodes the most formidable military powers at the time.
[viii] Senior Trustees, or Chairs of the Rhodes Trustees.
The Earl of Rosebery, 1902–1917, Viscount Milner, 1917–1925, Sir Otto Beit, 1925–1930, Lord Lovat, 1930–1933, The Rt Hon LS Amery, 1933–1955, Sir Edward Peacock, 1955–1962, Sir Kenneth Wheare (Victoria and Oriel 1929), 1962–1969, Sir George Abell, 1969–1974, Viscount Harcourt, 1974–1979, Sir William Paton, 1979–1982, Lord Blake, 1983–1987, Sir John Baring (Lord Ashburton), 1987–1999, Sir Richard Southwood, 1999–2002, The Rt Hon Lord Waldegrave, 2002–11, Dr John Hood (New Zealand and Worcester 1976), 2011–.
[ix] Students at Queen Mary University, London organised in the Pan-African Society have been calling for the removal of two plaques commemorating King Leopold II of Belgium, who was responsible for the death and mutilation of millions of Congolese.
[x] Rhodes and several of the Randlords who settled in the UK endowed Chairs at Oxford, made huge commitments to the expansion of Imperial College, to London University, and Alfred Beit endowed the University of Hamburg with more than two thirds of its establishment costs running into millions of Reichmarks.
[xi] Article by Fatima Schroeder at http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/whites-only-bursaries-to-be-scrapped-1.1850455#.VVmf3439mpo
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