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Make Cecil John Rhodes repay in death what he stole alive

By William Muchayi 

Zimbabwe’s predicament, a tragedy that mirrors Africa’s diminishing fortunes is and has never been a product of predestination, nor is the impoverished Southern African state a victim of foreign machinations as Robert Mugabe parrots in public.

Cecil John Rhodes's grave
Cecil John Rhodes’s grave

Rather, the damage is self-inflicting with the nonagenarian at the centre of the decay. The genesis of this precipice is rooted in the fact that the impoverished state is in the hands of those whose ignorance far outweighs their purported wisdom.

This sad truth is exposed when Robert Mugabe seizes the ‘’Rhodes Must Fall Campaign’’ debate on his recent visit to South Africa.

As a self proclaimed champion of anti-imperialist rhetoric on the continent, the nonagenarian sarcastically attacks Harare and Pretoria for harbouring Cecil Rhodes’ remains, with the former having his corpse on the Matopo Hills while the latter has his statue at the centre of protests at Cape Town University.

Not to be outdone , Mugabe vomits bile,’’ I don’t know what you want us to do with him (Rhodes)….do you think we should dig him up?……but perhaps his spirit may rise again,’’ he thunders, with his voice drowned by wild cheers from the audience .

Indeed, resentment over Rhodes’ grave in the Matopo hills is not a new phenomenon but what is laughable is Mugabe’s opportunistic behaviour in capitalising on this wave of discontent for his personal and selfish interests. It is undisputable that Cecil Rhodes epitomises the colonial legacy which manifests itself in oppression, racism and alienation.

Not only that, the indigenous people are opposed to the location of his grave on top of the Malindidzimu Shrine (resting place of the spirits) in the Matopo hills, a place highly revered in local traditions.

As if this insult isn’t enough, the grave is guarded 24 hours a day while in contrast, Mzilikazi’s grave at Entumbane also in the Matopos is not protected at all, a clear indication that Mugabe does not value his own in comparison to the respect he gives to foreigners in spite of his anti-imperialist rhetoric.

It is within this context amid a wave of protests across South Africa that targets statues of colonial luminaries and apartheid-era figures that the debate on Rhodes’ grave is opened afresh which Mugabe seizes.

Indeed, equipped with this pseudo and misguided nationalism, with the blessings of politicians, it is not surprising that of late, calls to exhume Rhodes’ mortal remains and ship them back to Britain or scatter them in the Indian Ocean has gathered momentum.

It is important to realise that however insignificant this controversy might appear on face value, it sadly reflects the grave underlying problems that define the psyche of Africans as a people and their leaders in particular, flaws at the centre of the continent’s demise.

In Cecil Rhodes’s grave on the Matopo hills, Africans only see remains of a mortal being whose peace shouldn’t be disturbed for fear of avenging spirits without any economic intrinsic value attached to it, hence calls to exhume the grave of the Oxford-educated mining magnate.

It is this flawed mentality that shaped Zimbabwe’s dealings with diamond barons at Chiadzwa much to the benefit of Dubai and Surat at the expense of the indigenous people who wallow in eternal poverty. All these scenarios reflect a chronic failure by African leaders to attach value to the treasure they sit on while they carry begging bowls abroad in search for aid.

Africa gets defined by poverty not as a result of some external conspiracy or through mere coincidence but because her leadership fails to keep pace with global economic trends that have drastically transformed the economies of several countries.

In the age of dark tourism, Mugabe and his lieutenants fail to realise that Cecil Rhodes’ grave is as precious as the diamonds being looted at Chiadzwa. Isn’t the town of Oswiecim in Poland where the Auschwitz extermination camp is located has its economy revolve around tourism, with the UNESCO World Heritage site visited by millions of tourists each year with the proceeds ploughed back into the Polish economy?

This is despite the fact that as one Polish tourist guide described Auschwitz, ‘’there is not one spot of ground one can walk without stepping on the ashes of cremated prisoners.’’

In spite of the fact that over one million Jews were murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz, Polish people have refused to be trapped by history as they converted this tragedy to a positive for the benefit of their people, present and future generations who are to learn about the horrors of war.

Of late, a German museum has decided to build Adolf Hitler’s bunker so that it becomes a tourist attraction and that site will generate millions of dollars that will be ploughed back into the country’s economy. This is so in spite of the known atrocities committed by the Fuhrer.

In the same token, after realising the commercial value attached to Adolf Hitler even in death, the Ukrainian government plans to open a museum on the site of a bunker once used by the dictator at Wehrwolf, five miles outside Vinnitsa which was constructed as Nazis’ military headquarters on the Eastern Front.

In death, Hitler just like Cecil Rhodes can repay the living for the crimes they committed provided the latter has the brains to force the former to do so. On this premise, what will Zimbabweans benefit by exhuming Rhodes’ remains and ship them back to London?

Isn’t it wise to at least make the fallen imperialist repay in death what he stole while still alive? It is foolish to be of the opinion that by sending back Rhodes’ remains to Britain that would be victory on the part of Africans. In contrast, the British are even eager to have their son back to the motherland who will be a precious tourist attraction for millions of visitors.

If the British can go to the extent of exhuming King Richard 111, 500 years after his death, what will stop them from celebrating Rhodes’ exhumation for commercial reasons? In contrast, Africans only attach value to hard cash but can’t realise the value of Rhodes’ grave in the Matopos as they globe trot begging for aid.

Likewise, the Cambodia killing fields, Hiroshima and Chernobyl have become major tourist attractions of late, generating millions of dollars annually for respective countries. In Scotland, Loch Ness attracts over one million visitors each year, with the value to the economy worth about £25 million and more than 85% of the tourists are attracted by the phenomenon of the Loch Ness Monster.

And, of late, plans are underway in Uganda to market the country on the global arena using Idi Amin after the realisation that the dictator is more famous to foreign tourists than the country of Uganda itself.

At a time Africans raze down statues of Cecil Rhodes, David Livingstone and Paul Kruger with the vigour of ISIS in Iraq guided by pseudo nationalism, the British erect those of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi in London attracting millions of tourists and the proceeds are ploughed back into the economy.

No wonder why Africans thrive on begging while sitting on treasure which they don’t realise. This misdirected anger generated by Rhodes’ grave in the Matopos is summed up by one furious war veteran who fumes arguing that ‘’ we cannot stand seeing whites coming from abroad every day to honour and conduct rituals before their ancestor who is buried on our land.’’

In fact, it is worth to note that Africans should learn to love and respect themselves first before they expect others to reciprocate that gesture. In any case, how many indigenous people ever bother to visit the graves of Mzilikazi, Lobengula or even Tshaka the south?

And, why is it that Mzilikazi’s grave is not protected in the same way Rhodes’ is in the Matopo Hills? For, the indigenous people should attach value to their heroes first before outsiders reciprocate that gesture.

In 2009, a descendant of Lobengula, Prince Zwidekalanga Khumalo was furious over the government’s decision to take the visiting Swazi King Mswati 111 to Cecil Rhodes’ grave in the Matopos instead of King Mzilikazi’s grave located at Umhlahlandela in the same area.

If Africans fail to market their own fallen sons and daughters as tourist attractions on the global arena for the benefit of the continent, who will do that for them? It is one thing for the locals to demolish statues of colonialists and another to overcome the barrier that prevent them from recognising the fortune they sit on.

Even feeble attempts to change colonial names to local ones will be doomed unless the continent’s people realise where and when the rain began to beat them.

In spite of Mugabe’s self proclaimed status as champion of anti-imperialist rhetoric, it is only fools who will believe him more so when he flies to Singapore or London for medical treatment had it not been for sanctions leaving Parirenyatwa and Gomo hospitals in ruins. Indeed, the continent doesn’t deserve financial aid as she sits on treasure but chooses to defecate on it.

William Muchayi is a pro-democracy and political analyst who can be contacted on wmuchayi@gmail.com