Ever since the brutal death of George Floyd, the #BlackLivesMatter movement against police brutality towards African Americans, has reignited with a vengeance not just in the USA, but globally. #BLM was initially created to protest police brutality, but in the past few weeks, the protests have transcended to being a post-colonial movement against systemic racism itself. An obvious starting point was tearing down statues of white supremacists, slave traders and imperialists after decades of begging for their removal because they symbolize racism.
Now my question is, why the hell do we still have symbols of colonialism in Zimbabwe, forty years after independence?
Cecil Rhodes, honey, can you hear me from the afterlife? Because I’m about to make you turn in your grave—your grave whose existence in the Matobo Hills is absolutely pointless, and downright disrespectful. Now, don’t get your knickers in a knot, Cecil; while I argue why your remains must be exhumed, you can be arguing with my ancestors wherever you are in the afterlife—they’ve probably been giving you a side-eye since you arrived there.
While Cecil is arguing with my ancestors, let me explain why his remains bother me, and why they should bother you.
The Matobo Hills are the place where Zimbabwe’s colonization saga began. King Lobengula and the Ndebele people lived there pre-colonisation, then Cecil arrived like that aunt no one likes but still comes announced and overstays her welcome. In brief, he breached his agreement with King Lobengula, and seized our land anyway.
People claim Rhodes’ grave is necessary because it’s part of history, and we mustn’t erase history. But do we not already learn about him and Zimbabwe’s colonization in primary school? Do we not already celebrate toppling his legacy every Independence Day? We must remember history”—then read a flipping history book. Exhuming him doesn’t erase history, it fosters acknowledgement of the devastation brought by a man who hated black people.
Rhodes’ grave does not acknowledge our heroes’ pain, it only glorifies his legacy. Those graves of Rhodes and his squad at Matobo are just a group selfie of white supremacists, being framed in a black person’s house.
While you’re smiling beside his grave despite him hating your blackness, he is sticking his tongue out at our ancestors in the afterlife. And they don’t even have a comeback for that one. Now imagine every rap battle between Sekuru Kaguvi and Cecil Rhodes ending with, “I’m buried in your soil and your great grandkids take selfies next to me, oooh!”
His remains should be burned and thrown in a river—ah, wait, no; that would be water pollution. I’d say burn his bones and scatter them in the wind but even the wind doesn’t deserve that. We could send them back where he came from, but seeing as #BLM has even the British taking down his statues—meaning even they see everything wrong with idolizing him—the most appropriate course of action is throwing his remains at a dumpsite where the other trash belongs.
Okay, maybe I’m being salty.
My solution is to exhume him then put his remains in the Natural History Museum with a full explanation of why he was exhumed. Harare has the Heroes’ Acre to acknowledge our ancestors’ contributions, it’s only right that Bulawayo as the host to colonisation’s genesis, must also monumentalize that pain. Letting children and tourists smile at his grave with no understanding of how abhorrent Rhodes was, is not education. An exhibition in the museum must be installed specifically to educate the ordinary person about how devastating colonization was.
Or perhaps, the National Archives of Zimbabwe which have records and photos of the entire saga with King Lobengula and Rhodes, could be expanded into a proper museum dedicated to the topic. Something like the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, because I have a problem with how the Rhodes exhibition at the Bulawayo Natural History Museum is more of a fond remembrance of his existence, than an educational exhibition fully explaining his horrendous acts.
We need to think about colonization with the same amount of remembrance and acknowledgement of the trauma it brought, that South Africa assigns to apartheid’s legacy. Colonialism was only forty years ago, yet in our heads, it’s a distant memory.
Keeping his remains at Matobo, with people taking pictures smiling beside his grave, trivializes the devastation he brought to Zimbabwe, trivializes the trauma he gave to our ancestors and trivialises our parents’ experiences as second class Rhodesian citizens. A respectful monument is not how we must remember this man whose private army (BSACP) systematically murdered approximately 60,000 blacks. We must never forget he grabbed our land with violence and installed a system that subjugated black people on our own soil.
Keeping him buried in Matobo is as good as Jews in Israel waking up like, “what a good day to dedicate a national monument to Hitler, the man who murdered 6 million of us and denied us human rights!” Even in Germany itself, the Nazi Swastika is banned, and every single monument dedicated to Hitler and the Nazis was removed, because his racism is not worth monumentalizing.
Keeping him buried at Matobo consolidates his illegitimate claim to Zimbabwe. It solidifies his entitlement to our soil when he grabbed our land. It symbolizes that even in his death, he still owns Zimbabwe. His grave being located where colonization began spits in the face of all the heroes who died during the First Liberation Struggle because of him. It spits in the face of Lobengula and the Ndebele who had to flee after being tricked and confronted with violence. It spits in the face of our ancestors whose land was violently dispossessed.
It’s even more disrespectful considering the spiritual significance of Matobo Hills to Ndebele and Kalanga people, and other practitioners of African spirituality who go on spiritual retreats to the Njelele shrine to ukuthwasa and rain dance. They say long ago, the Njelele spirit used to speak through the rock but went silent, and no one knows why. Heck, maybe it’s because our colonizer and his boy band are buried on ancestral soil.
The last symbols I’ll mention are Victoria Falls and David Livingstone’s statue there.
Victoria Falls was initially named Mosi-oa-tunya by the Lozi, but when David “discovered” it, he renamed it after Queen Victoria, the British queen who permitted Rhodes to colonise us. Isn’t that messed up? The name “Victoria Falls” must be scrapped completely and replaced with Mosi-Oa-Tunya, because Queen Victoria contributed nothing but colonialism to Zimbabweans. We can’t name Zimbabwe’s pride after Zimbabwe’s historical nightmare.
Livingstone did not discover Victoria Falls—archaeology says indigenous people have lived there since at least the 12th century. So really, what exactly is the point of his statue celebrating his “discovery”? I’d rather see a statue of the Lozi and Tonga people who originally lived there, especially within the context of their marginalization in Zimbabwe. History acts like there was a magical veil over the falls to which natives were oblivious, then David came with a magic wand and voilà!
The name “Victoria Falls” erases Zimbabwean ethnic minorities’ existence and cultural contributions. The Tonga living along Kariba had their homes destroyed when Lake Kariba was built, now their home’s true name, Mosi-Oa-Tunya (Shungu Namutitima in Tonga), has been diminished too.
Decolonization is more than being independent from our former colonial masters, it means removing every single way in which colonization pervaded and corrupted our society. If symbols are so unimportant, after independence, we wouldn’t have changed our national flag, coat of arms, our country’s name and renamed streets previously named after white supremacists.
We must decolonize our attitude towards history.
Exhuming Rhodes and renaming Victoria Falls is a starting point.
Cecil Rhodes, honey, are you still turning in your grave as I write this? Well, you won’t be turning in any grave after we exhume you.