Static History: Statues, Symbolism, and Race

This year I joined the University of Cape Town’s Black Law Student Forum (BLSF) as a member of the executive because I knew many students who felt disgruntled about their experiences within the faculty. I did not join the team with utopian dreams of solving all the issues and turning the law faculty into Gilberto Freye’s “racial democracy”. I joined because I thought it senseless that students felt the way they did yet not much was done in terms of collective action.

This is not the post on why I joined the BLSF nor why I believe it still necessary to have organizations such as the BLSF within the faculty. However, in light of recent events surrounding the Rhodes statue, and the greater conversation about race and symbolism, (if you are unaware of the situation read more here) members of the BLSF executive were asked to give our thoughts on the statue. Although the article posted by the organization does in gist represent my views, (read the statement here), I thought to share my original piece with you to better express MY opinion…

Each morning I walk from UCT’s north stop to Kramer, I tend to look up at Jameson Hall beautifully contrasted by the overpowering mountain. I occasionally see Fuller’s bust encompassed in the sandstone, and the view from where Cecil John Rhodes sits is enviable. I do not know who the Kramers, Jameson nor Fuller are, but I assume they have played an integral part in the formation and sustenance of the University of Cape Town; an institution which prides itself on its legacy and the calibre of students, researchers, and faculty it produces. However, I am very aware of Cecil John Rhodes.

From a young age, I was taught of South Africa’s history through a particular prism, and Rhodes was a prominent name in textbooks and tests. Ingrained in my memory is this mining titan who would wish to build a railroad from Cape to Cairo.  His story is not as novel as my textbooks made him seem to be. As I was taught to wonder at this man’s accomplishments, I was never told that he would not regard me, Black and female, as competent nor as worthy of achieving the dreams he was meant to inspire in me. It is this tainted reality of who Rhodes was which I believe the reason why many UCT students are calling for the removal of his statue.

The power of imagery is often understated; it is a conversation between the curator and the audience –  a story, message or feeling wished to be told. I do not wish for Rhodes’ story to be erased from the history of UCT, controversy aside, he played an important part in why the university is situated where it is among other financial assistance which he provided and continues to provide till this day.  However, it is the celebration of Rhodes through a statue that needs reconsideration. I am conflicted in the sense that I understand the outrage over the statue; however I do not know where this will stop? Is this a call to rethink all names and imagery at the University? Will I walk to a building no longer named Kramer, see a hall not named Jameson, or Fuller’s bust?

The problem is greater than the symbols at UCT. The removal of Rhodes from campus will unfortunately not erase the greater sense of silence on issues of racial representation at the university. Whereas I believe the conversation, and call to remove the statue is a starting point, there are deeper issues which need to be spoken on, not in place of, but in conjunction with symbolism at UCT. With that said, I support the student’s call to remove the Rhodes statue, and equally urge all students to engage in conversations and actions on broader transformational goals.

Relebohile Phoofolo

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Here is to wishing for only one life crisis a lifetime

Yesterday I completed my first term of law school, and I wish I could say I did so unscathed. The past six weeks felt like I was competing in a mini triathlon, completing one gruesome task after another. I have had to motivate myself to do my readings, papers, go to class, and study; but I never doubted if law was what I wanted to do (some would say that is a good sign). On Friday after my last test of the week, on Comparative Legal History – a class that isn’t as much about the legal histories but a brief introduction to Private law – I was frustrated that I had not answered the question on the oranges; however I was looking forward to socializing with my fellow colleagues who are in this with me for the next three years.

In South Africa you are able to enroll in a law program fresh out of high school, but some universities have introduced, and are trying to encourage students, to complete a bachelor’s degree before entering law school. I do not foresee them phasing out the High School to law school program completely, but I think more students see law as a complementary (or alternative) career path.  I know that my journey to UCT Law was not as clear-cut, but in a Paulo Coelho-Connect the Dots- kind of way, I find myself in Cape Town studying for my LLB letters.

I am currently enrolled in the law program at the University of Cape Town as a “postgraduate student” a term that comes with a lot of connotations, expectations, and frustrations. Essentially, this term differentiates me from my high school counterparts in two ways 1. I already have a degree to my name and 2. I am enrolled in a three-year program whereas the high school students are in a four-year program. However, colloquially, this means more. Collectively, I am in a group who is prone to do poorly because of overconfidence from completing a first degree. Equally, I am in a group who has the potential to do the best in the law program for the same reasons. Individually, I am supposedly in a Brain trust, I’m THAT GIRL who asks questions in a lecture (Thank you Mount Holyoke), and I’m the girl with the accent/nice voice (if all else fails, I’m becoming a voice over artist). These superlatives have put more pressure on me – I never wanted to fail, now I feel like I there is no room for failure (not a healthy attitude, I know).

So where are these supposed dots? Well, I’ll quickly run through my 2010-present. If you have read my earlier blog posts, then you know that I have been going through a quarter life crisis, unsure where my life was heading. You know that I went into the working world after I graduated from Mount Holyoke and dabbled in a lot. You may also know that, although at the time I didn’t know it would turn out to be, I went on a mini Eat, Pray, Love, think about your life and figure this shit out, vacation last year.  The idea of law school was always planted in the back of my head, but I didn’t know if I really wanted to pursue it. I felt that if I went to law school I was being clichéd, and taking the easy way out.  All I knew was, by 30, I wanted to be great – I blame Beyonce.

When I posted on FB that I was coming to UCT for law school, and more recently when I was scorning a test I was studying for, two friends reminded me of an occasion in 2010. In August of 2010, I was in South Africa doing “research” for my thesis and took the time to do some traveling through SA with these two friends from the USA. We visited the UCT campus to see a friend of mine, and as we sat on the infamous Jammie stairs, I mentioned in passing that I was thinking of going to law school and UCT was a contender. Fast forward to 2012, I was prepping myself for my move back to Lesotho with no clue what I was going to do once I got here, and the thought of working in Cape Town for my then employer weighed heavily on my mind – this turned into me wanting to move to Cape Town, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it happen, and it in turn, did not happen.

During my vacation last year, I saw no future in the work I was doing in Lesotho, although I loved the idea of my work it deepened my quarter-life crisis thoughts and it snowballed into thoughts on love, life and work (living in Lesotho will have you having serious thoughts on marriage and kids, even if you never intended to have either). One night I decided I was going to look into applying to UCT. The application process was really simple and I completed it that night (save the sending of my transcript and the application fee). It was such a spontaneous application that I didn’t want to tell anyone that I applied thinking I may jinx the process. UCT was the only school I applied to and I kept toying with the “all eggs in one basket” scenario, but I felt that UCT seemed right. Alas, here I sit, several months, and a lot of uncertainty later in Cape Town studying law.

Recently I wound up on the Thought Catalog website and as I went through the pages, I realized that the type of articles which I used to read religiously, I now brush past. I still have questions about Law school and if this is truly the right fit for me, and wonder, after these three years, what am I going to do? Right now, I feel that these are healthy questions, and after talking to numerous classmates who always end their question with “So how did you end up HERE for law school” I am more assured that I am at least on the right path.

Through my quarter life crisis years, I spent a lot of my time thinking about my professional life. How I wanted to earn an income and spend my life. I battled with what would make me the happiest, and how to realize my materialistic desires – I’m coming for that Mercedes SLR McLaren. Sidenote, not all my materialistic desires are that egotistical. I have determined that I, like most people of the world, want to be my own boss and what that means for me is, I want the freedom to regulate my working hours on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. I want the freedom to be able to take a month off and not worry if I would still have a job or money at the end of it.  I already see your “oh honey child” eyes piercing at me trying to tell me that I am being idealistic, I know. Just understand that this is my goal, and I will work towards achieving it. So at least walk with me through these next three years. And now that I have the professional side sort of on the mend, I now worry about operation 2016 😉