Caribbean readers may be unaware, but one of the most progressive sections of the global anti-imperialist movement can be found among the students movement of South Africa. Twenty years after the formal end of apartheid, the youth are now insisting the “democratisation” and “decolonisation” of education. Their dual aims are encapsulated in the slogan “Rhodes Must Fall! Fees Must Fall”!
The “Rhodes Must Fall” demand reflects the students’ insistence on the removal of the lingering vestiges of white supremacy. They demand the toppling of all statues of British super-imperialist Cecil Rhodes who was responsible for colonising much of Southern Africa. Relatedly, “Rhodes must fall” embraces the “decolonising the curriculum”. The students insist on the transformation of the curriculum away from its colonial agenda towards the promotion of national independence, Afro-centricity and overcoming the European-imposed notions of identity.
The “Fees Must Fall” campaign is closer to the current Caribbean situation in which poor students are grappling with the state’s reversal of their previous levels of state funded education, leaving them at the mercy of the market. In the context of several centuries of colonialism and several decades of apartheid, the students rightfully see their free access to tertiary education as a necessary aspect of true decolonisation.
All of this is of direct importance to the Caribbean.
Apart from the obvious commonality in the “fees must fall moment”, our regions have now reached a stage when our students must themselves begin to make the demand for the decolonisation of education.
As an intellectual leader in the region, there is no better place for the initiation of a movement similar to South Africa than the University of the West Indies.
In this regard, a useful place to start, and this might perhaps be a political project for the UWI students’ Guild, led by the St. Augustine campus, should be for the name of Alfred Milner to be removed from the students’ Hall of Residence. Just as Rhodes must fall, then so must Milner fall.
Milner was one of the staunchest ideologues of British imperialism, one of the main architects behind the Brutal Boer War and a close advisor to Cecil Rhodes. He was a racist who unashamedly described himself as “British Race Patriot”. His name should not grace the walls of a UWI hall in the Twenty-first century.
As a start, I strongly propose that Milner’s name be erased and replaced by JJ Thomas, the Trinidadian son of enslaved persons who grew to become the first English-speaking Afro-Caribbean intellectual and academic, famous for his book “Froudacity”, in which he put the British racist Historian John Anthony Froude in his place. There is currently no monument or memorial for JJ Thomas anywhere in the Caribbean, of which I am aware.
Milner must fall, so that JJ Thomas can earn his rightful place.
By Dr. Tennyson S. D. Joseph