In post-colonial Africa, the issue of decolonization is one that must be treated with pressing urgency. And in this, the spectre of Cecil Rhodes in Zimbabwe’s Matobo Hills continues to haunt the continent’s decolonization efforts in an uncanny manner. But it is a thorny issue that, as uncomfortable as it may be for some observers, needs to be confronted with candour, radical honesty, and serious political will.
The grave of Cecil Rhodes and the decolonization discourse
The fact that Rhodes’ grave is still tolerated in Zimbabwe without mass dissent brings to the fore critical points of discussion in which Africans need to confront the reality of their colonial history with an aim towards creating progressive decolonized mindsets divested from colonial thinking.
As the discourse of decolonization remains profoundly alive across the world, with calls to do away with the existence of colonial symbols in their various forms, it is imperative that Zimbabwe takes this seriously. The country must assiduously strive to remove the remains of Rhodes from the Matobo Hills/Matopos.
While others may push a narrative asserting that certain symbols of colonialism must be preserved as a “cautionary reminder of the past”, it is clear that such a view is disingenuous – such prevarications serve to conveniently circumvent the hard work of digging into the past with a critically-conscious mindset that helps us materially in the continuum of decolonization battles.
Cecil Rhodes is the epitome personification of brutal, dehumanizing colonial oppression. And his choice to be buried at the Matobo Hills cements this long-standing imperialist arrogance, with its nauseating obstinacy. His remains hideously gnaw into the consciousness of Africans with debilitating effects; a sort of historical amnesia on the part of the latter.
The sacred nature of Matobo Hills: Africans’ “spiritual headquarters”
The existence of Cecil Rhodes’ grave remains an abhorrent desecration of the picturesque Matobo Hills area—which holds sacred significance in Zimbabwean spirituality. The local name for Matopos (this being the ‘English version’ of Matobo), adorned with its breathtaking scenic beauty, is Njelele; which is also known as Matonjeni or Mabweadziva.
Most ethnic groups in Zimbabwe of the Mwari [the Creator/God] spirituality regard the Matobo Hills with great reverence—Njelele is a holy shrine that is extolled by the indigenous peoples as a place of unparalleled spiritual and existential significance. It is a sacrosanct place where revered ancestral spirits dwell. The holy shrine in Matopos, Njelele, is important for rainmaking ceremonies, and it is also the heart and soul of the Mwari spirituality.
Rich indigenous knowledge says that the “voice of Mwari echoes from [the] mysterious caves when consulted, although it has gone silent in recent years.” It is at Matobo Hills where “Murenga who is the High Spirit and founding ancestor of the Shona people of Zimbabwe” resides; and the holy area is also important as “as a place to receive guidance and instruction on matters of national importance.”
Therefore, Matobo serves as a “spiritual headquarters” in African spirituality and indigenous knowledge systems. The area holds priceless cultural, spiritual, and existential importance for Zimbabwean ethnic groups. It is at the core of their identity; of their Being.
What Rhodes Represents: Death, Dispossession, Dehumanization
In our contemporary times, Zimbabweans seem to be in a love-hate relationship with the ostensible permanence of Rhodes’ remains at Matopos. It is lucidly beyond any contestation that the grave of Cecil Rhodes at Matopos — which holds supreme spiritual, cultural, and existential importance for Africans — constitutes “cultural blasphemy of the highest order”.
The cultural aggression imposed on Africans by the grave of Rhodes continues to signify the imperialistic victory of the colonizers — it is an imposition of coloniality and “European values/modernity” as an immutable rubric of everyday life. Cecil Rhodes was an incorrigible racist, capitalist, patriarchal imperialist whose business and political ventures (infamous for his ‘Cape to Cairo’ ambition of barbaric avarice) resulted in the dispossession, death, and dehumanization of African peoples in the southern African region.
He represents everything loathsome and repulsive with colonial rule, a blight on Africans’ being that has regrettably continued unabated in post-colonial Africa. The coming of colonialism violently obliterated African indigenous knowledge systems: cultures, beliefs, spiritual practices, socio-economic and political relations/modes of production, and histories.
Africa came off as a “dark continent” with savages that needed to be saved by the “finest race in the world” through Christianity, education, and commerce — what the likes of Rhodes and his cronies termed “civilization”.
Africa had to be “civilized”. But of course that was a preposterous racist justification to brutally exploit and oppress Africans, using their free/cheap labour, for capitalist profits. White supremacy needed capitalist profits.
And this is what Cecil Rhodes represents. It was Rhodes who founded the De Beers diamond company, which continues to steal African diamonds for the enrichment of an elite few which upholds imperialist white supremacy while Africa remains impoverished.
The Indispensable Need to Decolonize: Remove His Grave
His legacy has been whitewashed by the disingenuous insistence on his philanthropic efforts, most notable in education. He left some of his illicitly-obtained rich earnings to create the Rhodes scholarship. But such should not blind Africans from realizing the true meaning of what Rhodes represents — murder and plunder — and the inescapable task of self-cleansing and redemption called decolonization.
Rhodes’ grave embodies the continuum of colonial domination where white supremacist ideals of globalized patriarchal capitalism — imperialism — dominate the world as the prevailing hegemonic order.
Removing his grave is a revolutionary act of decolonization: it becomes the radical chance for Africans to reclaim their knowledge, culture, history, and spirituality. Removing his grave means Africans finally reclaim their space, their Being. Their sense of identity. And cultural pride.
The way that colonial symbols (such as statues) memorializing the brutal legacy of Rhodes have been denounced — most notably South Africa’s #RhodesMustFall movement — is the same way that Zimbabweans must call for the exhumation of Rhodes’ remains. There is no reason why the hideous monstrosity of imperialism and white supremacy must continue lying in our most sacred space.
Conclusion - The grave must go; that is non-negotiable.
Arguments that Matopos, which is a national park, serve as an economic anchor for Zimbabwe’s ailing economy through tourist earnings circumvents the fact that the removal of colonial symbols transcends such ephemeral concerns.
The removal of Rhodes’ grave is a radical act of decolonization: it is redemption and cleansing of Africans’ psyche. It is counter-hegemonic. It is a bold statement portending our defeat of slavery and colonization. Of physical and mental domination — which continue today as neocolonialism.
Instead of valorizing Rhodes and colonial domination through the continued preservation of statues and graves, thus placing unpropitious salience on European history, we should start teaching each other more of African history.
That despite the epistemicide brought by Rhodes and his cronies, Africa has its history, culture, and spirituality. This issue, which portends serious decolonization, is non-negotiable—the grave of Cecil Rhodes must go.