The global protest movement to tear down urban memorials that reinforce racism is rewriting the very story of our cities. Should any monument be safe?
Cape Town was the first. In March 2015, a student named Chumani Maxwele brought a bucket filled with shit to the University of Cape Town, where there stood a statue of Cecil Rhodes, the British diamond magnate, colonial politician and avowed white supremacist. “There is no collective history here – where are our heroes and ancestors?” Maxwele announced. He splashed the contents of the bucket over the monument.
The incident attracted national attention and within days had grown into a full-scale protest. Students covered the Rhodes statue with graffiti and plastic bags, and promised to demonstrate until it was removed. The statue had drawn criticism before, but none of such sustained anger, even though there was no mistaking what the Rhodes monument represented. Erected in 1934, it occupied the very centre of the campus, the bronze Rhodes gazing out over the city as though contemplating creation: his and, perhaps, God’s.