Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh needs to apologize to the University of Oxford and the Mandela Trust
Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh clearly is a well-educated (St Johns College, Universities of Cape Town and Oxford) and intelligent (MPhil with distinction) young man who has had some significant local (e.g. president of the Students Representative Council at the University of Cape Town) and international experience (e.g. intern in the US House of Representatives). He is also the son of a highly experienced, well-educated advocate and former senior public servant and South African politician. Based on this information, in this piece, I will treat him as I would any other academic colleague.
I am dismayed by two comments he made while being interviewed of BBC Radio 4 as a representative of the Rhodes Must Fall Movement at Oxford University. These are:
”We think Oxford is institutionally racist and by that we mean that it has had throughout its history significant biases against black people.”
”Debate involves speaking seriously and taking action, not just talking in abstractions. We believe that in Oxford, there’s a chance and an opportunity now to re-appraise the way it represents itself to the world and stop giving pride of place to the glorification and veneration of colonial genociders.”
Both comments are characterized by falsehoods and borderline defamation.
The “We think” comment states (not just implies) that there existed and still exists an institutional policy that excludes people with dark skin (irrespective of their geographic origin?) from admission to, and academic promotion within the University of Oxford. The only evidence he offers supporting this is that there have not been many dark-skinned students and professors at Oxford.
This statistical evidence fails to demonstrate any cause/effect relationship. In the absence of specific evidence of ‘racially’-based exclusion of academically qualified student applicants or professional discrimination involving the promotion of academic staff, this statement is false at best and defamatory at worst. In an ideal world where all people should be held accountable for statements such as this, Mpofu-Walsh should be required to withdraw his statement and issue an apology to the University of Oxford.
The “Debate involves” comment is superficially vague. If by “speaking seriously” he means allowing a monologue along the lines of both above-mentioned comments without the opportunity of rebuttal, he is nothing more than a suppressor of free speech. If by “taking action” he means doing something that the majority of the university community concerned opposes, he is nothing more than a non-democratic authoritarian. If by “not just talking in abstractions” he means excluding discussion/evaluation of all relevant evidence on the subject concerned, he reveals his own inherent bias and no understanding of the meaning of the concept of a “debate”.
Next, I take issue with his equation of the continued presence on campus of a statue of a century-long-dead, major benefactor whose actions have directly and benefitted an international cohort nearly 8000 eminent scholars (for some time selected irrespective of ‘race’/gender/sexual orientation) and, through the Scholars’ subsequent actions, millions of people throughout the world, with the continued oppression of “black people”.
How does he reconcile the removal of the statue when President Nelson Mandela gave his carefully considered decision to identify his legacy with that of Rhodes (i.e. in the Rhodes/Mandela Scholarship Trust) in order to promote/accelerate reconciliation. Further, how does the continued presence of the now non-eulogized Rhodes statue constitute “glorification and veneration” of the man?
Finally, on what evidence does Mr Mpofu-Walsh identify Rhodes as a perpetrator of genocide - the deliberate killing of a large group of men/women/children, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group?
With regard to the allegations of genocide (which I assume relate to Rhodes’ conquest of the Ndebele), let me draw your attention to some real evidence. First, please consult the MyNews24 article – Cecil John Rhodes – an Ndebele perspective.
Second, what actually happened were two wars. The first war was precipitated by a revenge attack on the Shona by Ndebele that resulted in the deaths of many women and children. Rhodes’s army of +- 750 men was vastly outnumbered by the Ndebele (80 000 spearmen and 20 000 riflemen, armed with nine-pound Martini-Henrys, which were modern arms at that time). Rhodes’s army won because it possessed Maxim machine guns.
The second war was a more complex affair and, this time, was supported by Shona warriors. But, in the end, the now Rhodesian settlers won due to their superior fire power and more effective military strategy.
Neither war resulted in mass murder of women, children or other non-soldier/warriors, although some settler families were killed in the second war. There was no genocide. Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, Rhodes’s burial was attended by Ndebele chiefs who, for the first and probably the only time, gave a white man the Ndebele royal salute “Bayete”.
If Mpofu-Walsh wants to investigate possible genocide committed during that era, he should look into the history of British concentration camps that imprisoned thousands of Afrikaner women and children and the merciless burning of Afrikaner farms by British soldiers.
If he wants to investigate a real, modern genocide that occurred in the former Rhodesia, peruse the history of Zimbabwean President-for-life Robert Mugabe.
One year after giving his first speech (in which he pledged to form a government of coalition with his fellow freedom fighter Joshua Nkomo) as leader of Zimbabwe, he ordered the creation of a North Korean-trained personal army (the Fifth Brigade) comprising his Shona supporters under the leadership of Colonel Perence Shiri. Shiri cultivated the nickname of Black Jesus, because he claimed to have the power of a person’s life or death. Two years later, Mugabe dismissed comrade Nkomo from his government, resulting in his exile.
Mugabe then unleashed Shiri and his brigade in the genocidal massacre “Gukurahundi” (“the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains”) to crush Nkomo’s “supporters” in Matebeleland. This involved the murder, mutilation, rape, beating and torture of tens of thousands of Ndebele non-combatants, including women and children. Shiri remains in Mugabe’s oligarchy, now as the Air Marshall Chief of Zimbabwe’s Air Force.
Then, of course, there is always the unnecessary deaths from HIV/AIDS of 300 000+ South African woman and babies due to the deliberate negligence of the government of President Thabo Mbeki.
To close, if this young man needs a crash-course on Rhodes’ history, he can consult this article here.
Emeritus Prof. Tim Crowe