Statue struggle rekindles bid to exhume Rhodes

A Zanu-PF official in Zimbabwe is pushing for the exhumation and repatriation to the United Kingdom of the remains of Cecil John Rhodes, saying the campaign is in solidarity with South African university students who are calling for the removal of the Rhodes statue from the University of Cape Town.

Rhodes is buried at Matobo outside Zimbabwe’s second capital city, Bulawayo. But the campaign to open his grave is expected to fizzle out as there is little expectation the political authorities will rescind a decision made in 2012 that, after similar calls, prevented the removal of the remains of the colonial-era leader.

Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, a Zanu-PF politburo member, academic and former information minister, told the Mail & Guardian on Tuesday that the ruling party’s highest decision-making body outside congress had previously advised President Robert Mugabe on how to deal with such calls pertaining to Rhodes, and that their advice remained unchanged.

“It was the collective responsibility of the politburo to advise the president, who makes the ultimate decision. After the war of liberation, we saw no value in targeting such sites as it would have played right into the fears of the last remaining whites. That is why a committee under home affairs, which looks [after] national monuments, sites, statues and graves, was set up to address all these things,” said Ndlovu.

Remains ‘serve no purpose’
In 2012, the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) blocked the calls made then by war veterans to have Rhodes’s remains exhumed. The veterans at the time had blamed his grave for the poor rainfall experienced in the Matobo area, saying the ancestors were unhappy over the continued presence of his remains.

However, the NMMZ argued that the remains were part of the national history and heritage and therefore should not be tampered with.

Now led by Zweli Malinga, a Zanu-PF member and former district party commissar, supporters for the removal of Rhodes’s remains said they served no purpose, save only to be a place his [Rhodes] white descendants visit to admire his land-grab conquests.

“We strongly support what is happening in South Africa. We are blacks who believe in amadlozi [ancestors],” Malinga told online news outlet NewZimbabwe this week

“We cannot stand seeing whites coming from abroad every day to honour and conduct rituals for their ancestor who is here buried on our own land … The sooner they take [Rhodes] to their own land the better. If they do not, we will do it ourselves.”

Tourist attraction
The gravesite is in the Matobo Hills, 35km south of Bulawayo in a national park administered by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

It lies at the summit of a hill known as the “Worlds View”. The site attracts a goodly number of tourists visiting the grave, charging locals $4 (about R48) and foreigners $10 (about R120) to visit, which is listed as a world heritage site. Visitors are allowed to photograph the grave or take photos of themselves next to it. The parks authority did not respond in time to questions over how much it makes from the grave entrance fees.

The grave is carved of granite and is surrounded by a natural amphitheatre of massive granite boulders. The only marker on the grave is a brass plaque that reads: “Here Lie the Remains of Cecil John Rhodes.”

The Matobo area, according to parks authorities, has great spiritual and cultural significance to the local people and important ceremonies still take place at many sites within the park.

Of great contention among those calling for the removal of Rhodes is that Mzilikazi, the founding Ndebele king, is also buried in a cave in the Matobo area.

Indelible if unsavoury
Political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe Eldred Masunungure told the M&G this week that history would remain intact and no publicity stunts by Zanu-PF activists would dent Rhodes’s contribution to the founding of Zimbabwe, formerly named Rhodesia after him.

“I sympathise with the sentiments around Rhodes’s grave and the statue. In the case of the Rhodes statue in South Africa perhaps it would makes sense to relocate rather than destroy it. History is history – we have to accept both the good and bad chapters as all this is a part of our heritage,” said Masunungure.

“In the case of Rhodes’s grave, the issue was dealt with by political authorities. It [grave] is not celebrated, but is being recognised as an indelible part of history… How will removing the remains solve the socioeconomic problems faced by the country for Zanu-PF?”

Tourism minister Walter Mzembi could not be reached for comment as he was said to be in a Cabinet meeting.

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Ray Ndlovu
Ray Ndlovu has been a correspondent for the Mail & Guardian in Zimbabwe since 2009. His areas of interest include politics and business. With a BSc honours degree in journalism and media studies, Ray aspires to become a media mogul.

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