Nduduzo Tshuma, Political Editor
THE death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer sparked widespread protests in the US and other countries over the racial abuse suffered by blacks but as they continued, morphed into an attack of the very symbols of years of black oppression.
On Sunday, demonstrators in Bristol, London, pulled down the statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston erected in 1895 before dragging it on the streets and threw it into the harbour.
That was not before one of the demonstrators knelt on the neck of Colston’s statue the same way former police officer Mr Derek Chauvin did on Floyd on May 25 leading to his death by asphyxiation and sparking the demonstrations.
Elsewhere, protesters in Belgium on Tuesday defaced the bust of former Belgian King Leopold II, accused of orchestrating the colonial genocide of 10 million Congolese people, in Ghent with red paint in what reports said symbolised blood and a message referring to Floyd’s death.
On Sunday, a crowd of demonstrators climbed on the statue of King Leopold II in Brussels, shouting “Murder! Murder!” while waving the flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Authorities in the port city of Antwerp yesterday removed the defaced statue of King Leopold II.
In the US confederate monuments across the country were either defaced or pulled down with authorities giving in on demands for their removal. Statues for other known violators of the people of colour like Philadelphia’s former mayor and police commissioner were pulled down.
The National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo (NAGZ) director Mr Butholezwe Nyathi said the retaining of monuments depicting known violators of the black race in public spaces creates an impression that their activities are still valorised.
“If placed in a public space, it’s problematic but if you remove and place in a museum it’s a different matter so location also matters because if placed in a vantage position, it’s as if you are valorising what they stood for and its very problematic in the contemporary era where grievances are still perpetuated which is why in Bulawayo in 1980, when we attained Independence, the statue of Cecil John Rhodes was removed from Main Street (now Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Street) and put at the museum,” said Mr Nyathi.
“The new political leadership appreciated that Rhodes, yes, is a fixture of our history but what does he represent to continue occupying that prime spot on Main Street which is why Joshua Nkomo now enjoys that vantage location. So, with any political transition, public memory making assumes the political character of the new order.”
The Zimbabwean Government has also renamed streets and prominent buildings after liberation luminaries and other notable members of society.
Mr Nyathi said what happened in Bristol in particular is historical precedence, Rhodes Must Fall goes for the institutions that represents characters they can’t now touch and attack in defiance of what they represent.
“It’s not surprising, it’s what we expect but of course it is just the public spectacle but the real stuff is with the institutional reform that is expected but what is within the immediate reach of the aggrieved people is brought down,” he said.
Political analyst Mr Richard Mahomva said the developments are testimony to the long-held anger against dehumanisation of blacks.
“The dismantling of these symbols of imperialism represents the unattended psychological restitutive path for humanising the dehumanised. In destroying the symbols of global tyranny, we are reclaiming the long vandalised memories of our being in the fringes of imperial marginalisation.
“The on-going global memory of Floyd by means of pulling down these statues is evident of the many centuries of the oppressed’s anger against imperialism, colonialism, apartheid and fascism,” said Mr Mahomva.
“Now Floyd’s shed innocent blood represents the cleansing of the world from the prejudices of imperialism. Floyd thus becomes a modern messiah. Floyd’s celebrated life through the demolitions of the symbols of the empire invites all the previously disenfranchised of the world to continuously fight for the creation of a new humanity.”
South Africa-based academic Mr Khanyile Mlotshwa said it was time to complete the process of decolonisation by getting rid of imperialist images in public spaces.
“The way the protests sparked by the arrogant murder of George Floyd has played out seemingly climaxing with a direct challenge on imperialism and coloniality seems to replicate the way the Rhodes Must Fall movement morphed into the Fees Must Fall, and later the Fallist movement, challenging the colonial curriculum.
“In the symbolism of taking down and vandalising statues, the current global pro-black lives matter protests are linked together by the desire to challenge the global imperialism. Global imperialism is anti-black. As Julius Malema said it yesterday that the BLM (Black Lives Matter) protests need support from Africa to upscale their intensity, the African continent has to join the protests in a significant way beyond Press statements by presidents,” said Mr Mlotshwa.
“It is time to confront imperialism and complete the project of decolonisation and the starting point is to rid our public spaces of all colonial images. Just as the university students started by taking down the statue of chief imperialist, Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town, inspiring a global movement that reached even Oxford University, Africa must seize the moment and show leadership.”