In "Rhodes and the rage of the Black Middle Class" (News 24, 31 March) Max du Preez displays the condition of "undue understanding" whereby staged displays of student "rage" demands our earnest and sympathetic attention according to this admirable journalist. I see it differently in this case: moral indignation is a standard strategy for endowing political and personal ambition with the aura of legitimacy.
The premise that the possession of a melanin-deficient skin renders one a racist by default was used throughout this campaign as a crude bludgeon to extract tangible concessions and a posture of appeasement. Should one point out the unpalatable truth that in the absence of the colonial expansion into Southern Africa the likelihood is extremely high that the region would still be populated by warring tribes, but sans roads, sans medical care, sans internet and cell phones, sans universities, sans democracy - in fact sans everything that the same young students regard as the very foundation of the good life - one is immediately moved from the default to the proven racist category.
But that is indeed the plain historical reality. However, another and equally important fact is that colonialism simply introduced a fresh layer of toxic complexity to the pre-existing stew. To the San hunter-gatherers, Khoi semi-nomadic pastoralists and a contentious tribal mix of Bantu pastoralists, colonialism brought various European, Asian and Indonesian flavours together with new religions to the embattled Southern extremities of Africa.
In consequence, as pointed out by Prof Charles van Onselen and widely understood by most thoughtful observers, South Africa is a desperately rickety construct of multiple identities bound together by accidents of history.
By most criteria South Africa should fail. We live in a continent of economically ravaged, post-liberation states, prey to tyrants, wracked by unresolved ethnic and religious violence, extreme climatic conditions and ideologies. Our own society is characterised by gross inequalities: economic, educational, cultural and social. We have a history of bitter and prolonged internal ethnic conflict and oppression and our social fabric is ravaged by violent crime, corruption, poverty and the disintegration of the binding social institutions of family and clan. Simultaneously we face a tide of rising expectations on the one hand and serious disillusionment on the other.
The "Rhodes statue" episode at UCT is a symptom of a social-political climate characterised by low trust, scarcity and simmering tensions, ripe for activists seeking publicity and power. South Africa is a country seemingly destined for various forms of disintegration.