News this morning that the statue of Cecil Rhodes has been removed from UCT in Cape Town.
Rhodes was of course an utter racist. By today’s standards much of his behaviour was reprehensible in the extreme. But of course the uncomfortable fact is that to many of his contemporaries his views were rather less reprehensible, and it’s true he used some of his wealth to help found both UCT and Rhodes University.
If it wasn’t for a rather large and prominent statue, it would have been possible to quietly gloss over his role in the establishment of UCT.
But statues are big and highly tangible objects. In both Delhi and Budapest the uncomfortable reminders of the past have been exiled to lonely sculpture parks in distant suburbs, and the last statue of Queen Victoria installed in Dublin ended up as a lawn ornament outside an eponymous Sydney shopping mall.
The statues of Franco have been, in the main melted down, and in Portugal references to Salazar have been removed.
It is a very human thing to try to erase an uncomfortable past.
The act of removal is part of history’s narrative. But it doesn’t change the reasons as to why these objects were there in the first place …