“First Rhodes, now they’ve defaced Gandhi as well.” Gertruida sighs as she folds the newspaper. “Called him a racist, and poured paint over the statue. I know he used the maligned K-word, but so did the rest of the world in the 20’s. I’m not saying it’s right, but context is important. There is no question that racism was the norm in earlier times – it is not logical to apply today’s norms to the years when the world still struggled with the concept of equality.”
“It is strange,” Boggel adds, “that races have taken such a long time – centuries – to get to this point in time. Even now the system is flawed. Previously, Whites were in charge. Now the pendulum has swung the other way.”
“But why use skin colour to define identity? Look at us – we’re a mixed lot. Sammie is a Jew, with his own culture and beliefs. Mister Stevens is more English than a cup of tea, and he doesn’t know a Marino from a Dorper. The fact that he shares the same amount of pigment we have in our skins, doesn’t make him sing De la Rey all day.” Shaking his head, Vetfaan signals for another beer. “One day people will identify with their culture – not their skin. That’ll be the start of real democracy.”
“Ag, Vetfaan, then they’ll start saying the Xhosas are better than the Vendas, or the Zulus are superior to the Sothos. Culture or skin, it doesn’t matter. It is human nature to want to be at the top of the ladder. Any excuse will do…”
“So – for now – we’ll just sit back quietly while they take down all the statues? First Rhodes, but soon Paul Kruger, Botha and dear old Queen Victoria?”
“Well,” Gertruida puts down her glass with a thump. “The Americans can be glad they don’t have the same situation over there. Remember Abe Lincoln? He made a speech in 1858, saying: ‘I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races.‘ His statue would have no chance over here!”
“Ja,” Oudoom agrees, “Woodrow Wilson was a segregationist and Reagan supported the Apartheid regime. If you want to talk about a flawed past, America is a good place to start.”
“Don’t forget about England. Or Germany. Or China…I can go on and on. There is no country with an unblemished past” Oudoom sits down gratefully, accepting the beer Boggel slides over the counter. “You know, I think God created diversity with a purpose. Instead of creating a one-dimensional herd of humans, He made us into a multitude of many-faceted societies, so that we can build on our strengths. What do we do? We use diversity to weaken. We emphasise differences of ideology and appearance in an attempt to prove superiority. A wise man once said it’s only a fool who judges history – the wise will learn from it. We simply fail to grasp that simple fact.”
“So what do you suggest, Oudoom? That we retain the statues that are offensive to others?” Gertruida smiles – there is no correct answer to the question, is there?
“I’m saying,” Oudoom says after thinking a while, “that we should either have statues…or not. In a hundred years or so, todays heroes may be seen as villains. And the outcasts of today might very well be seen as people who stood at the forefront of progress. Who knows? The point is that history will always be a subjective subject. It depends on the individual observer. Today we have the King Shaka airport – but in the future somebody will remember that his hands weren’t clean at all. Some ascribe the worst atrocities and human rights violations to the great Zulu king. Remember the mfecane?”
“So…no more statues? No more streets and towns named after struggle heroes?”
“History is a fickle thing, Gertruida. One should never forget that it is virtually impossible to reflect all sides of all stories in the past. Yes, there have been villians. We certainly had some very bad men and women who shaped the history we have to live with. But…that’s where the point about context comes in. Only when you consider all the angles of a specific event, can you judge people like Abe Lincoln or Paul Kruger or Ghandi. And, surprisingly, not only will you find that they did what they had to do, but that they may have contrinuted in some small way to a better world.”
“So you’re saying….?”
“Let those of pure mind cast the first stone. I mean, labelling Rhodes as a colonialist, sounds a bit racist to me…”
And so the discussion goes on and on. In the end they decide, quite wisely, not to erect any statues in Rolbos. The cost of removing such monuments could be spent much more wisely over the counter of Boggel’s Place. Peach brandy and peace are surely more acceptable than fighting over a piece of bronze.