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Remembering the Rhodes Must Fall movement

By Andile Mngxitama

Today is the day the Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) movement was born in 2015 in UCT. Indeed the statue of Rhodes has fallen but his spirit lives on. The lessons of the RMF movement are many for the post 1994 resistance. The need for a clear ideological framework to understand the enemy and the objectives of the resistance was made obvious by the life of that student uprising. We also must reflect on how the movement shifted from the decolonial moment to a reformist Fees Must Fall turn. I still maintain that the Rhodes Must Fall moment was a revolutionary moment questioning the foundations of the anti black racist SA.

If we were to use a Marxist rubric, we would say it was a reversal of consciousness from revolutionary to reformism. The focus on the fees was more like a workers demand for a raise in the wage without ending the system of wage labour slavery. This turn to reformism has not been theorised and it may explain, apart from the transient nature of student activism, the petering out of the most vibrant and promising post 1994 movement.

There are two other related matters for consideration. Firstly the mismanagment of the historic letter from ASSATA SHAKUR. Secondly, the inability to hold onto the “blacks only” principle in practice. The movement was infiltrated by white liberals whilst it proclaimed a Black Consciousness idea.

Then there are my own issues with how I related to the movement. As I have said before, I felt like Louis Althusser who inspired the 1969 French students uprising but was rejected by the same movement to a point where he left Paris at the height of the uprising. He was depressed and possibly got another bout of madness.

We need to keep studying the Rhodes Must Fall movement and its evolution into Fees Must Fall and its petering out. We salute the student warriors who brought us close to free education in an anti black capitalist society.

9 March 2022

Andile Mngxitama is the President of Black First Land First (BLF), a radical black consciousness organization. When using any of Black Opinion’s content, partly or in full, kindly always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.