Colonial history is part of our heritage as Africans; let’s keep it

Friday April 17 2015

By Fredrick Nsibambi

After attaining independence, many African countries have been trying to erase all traces of colonialism.

Colonial buildings, street names, statues of European explorers are some of the colonial legacies Africans are trying to get rid of.

The most recent and disturbing discourse is the one at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, where the university council voted to remove a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes that had become the focus of student protests.

Students have been campaigning for the removal of the statue of the 19th Century figure, unveiled in 1934. Rhodes was an Oxford-educated politician and mining businessman, who played a key role in the expansion of British rule in southern Africa. Students argue that his statue had become “a symbol of institutional racism”.

The example in South Africa is not a stand alone. Street names in Kampala and other African cities have been changed, colonial buildings have been destroyed, and in other cases, country names have also been changed.

Whereas it is important for us to be nationalistic and express the desire to be independent, we ought to note that our countries have rich and different layers of history and each layer is quite unique and important as it relays what a country went through at a particular point in time.


South Africa has had several layers of history stretching from the earliest representatives of South Africa’s diversity – the San and Khoekhoe peoples (otherwise known individually as the Bushmen and Hottentots or Khoikhoi; collectively called the Khoisan); to colonialism and the post-colonial periods.

No layer of history is more important than the other because history does not occur or is not written in single space and time. History is never frozen in space and one layer of history informs or takes you to another.

The history of Cecil Rhodes and the colonial era is quite important. For the case of South Africa and for most countries that were colonies at one point, foreigners opened new chapters in our history books; that was the time our countries were connected to the external world, formal education was introduced, medical facilities were constructed as well as modern transportation facilities.

It was also during colonialism that some form of unity and the desire for nationalism were realised as opposed to the pre-colonial era.

It is, therefore, ironical for students at the University of Cape Town, together with the university council, to look at Cecil Rhode’s legacy from purely a negative perspective so as to necessitate the removal of his statue. More so, at a time when the country is still recovering from the effects of apartheid. Actions of this nature leave many holes in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was instituted by the late Nelson Mandela.
As Africans, we need to value our history in its totality. We should know where we come from in order to figure out where we want to go. Removing Rhode’s statue will not at all erase or freeze his legacy and his contribution to the education system in South Africa and many African countries.

So as the world commemorates this year’s World Heritage Day tomorrow, let us learn to value our heritage, preserve and promote it.

Mr Nsibambi work with the Cross – Cultural Foundation of Uganda.