Dear Dr Mabizela
I am so sorry not to be able to join you for the transformation consultations and to hear you speak about this topic, as well as to reconnect. I am passionate about transformation and also about Rhodes. But I am white. So in a climate of political uncertainty, I am not sure if my opinion is welcome… but to silence one perspective and remove their voice repeats the mistakes like when not all people could use their voice to vote. We can listen, but when one stops caring, do they really hear? I have great hope for our country and see the potential in the children of the next generation, and I hope that this process builds and unifies our alumni base and nation.
In terms of the name, I feel that it represents something different to every person. Our experiences memories, the feelings that get stirred up when we hear the name, the integrated Res system, diverse classes and teachers, who were there because they earned it (as opposed to racial profiling), and were the very best in their field, because Rhodes was the best, obviously. If individuals have feelings of oppression, control, inequality and judgement, then I support getting to the root of these problems but am not sure that changing the name of the institution does that. I can’t imagine thinking of Cecil John and associating my alma mata with a man who lived a hundred years ago; who was he anyway?! I didn’t know him, but I know how Rhodes made me feel.
Thus, if it is welcome, I feel that the name Rhodes University should not be changed. I will, however, support the change should it be the outcome of the democratic process, especially now that I have had the opportunity to voice my opinion. Of course I am a little concerned about the value of my degree should Rhodes University suddenly cease to exist, which pales in comparison with the personal value of someone who feels offended by the name. I do think that this is distracting us from the bigger issues that we should be concentrating on, but if the process brings about unity and that third perspective that is not mine or yours, then it has been well worth it. I also hope that we learn from the history that we are making and do not find ourselves in the same place of renaming as the leadership and generations change, but are rather focused on more important things that bring us together as one nation looking forward.
My hope is that the administration of the institution remembers the people on the ground, giving the teaching but especially all those who support the system in admin, sport, res and grounds. If they feel oppressed and bullied, the pattern shows that this behaviour is carried out on others. In order for the students to be fairly treated with all voices heard in harmony, the same first needs to take place in the staff body. It is those people on the ground who engage with students and build the memories and feelings that they will in turn associate with Rhodes. Or any other name.
I think we need to experience the change on the inside; the label on the outside is neither here nor there. We need more grace and mercy for ourselves and others, grace we receive despite not deserving it, mercy we don’t receive what we do deserve.
I wish you well for the engagement process across the country, what an exciting time we live in.