CECIL AND PRECIOUS


RHODES MEMORIAL

Rhodes Memorial, Cape Town. © Sylvia Selzer 2009

 

‘Equal rights for all civilized men south of the Zambesi!’ Cecil Rhodes

 

I

 

Apparently, he loved the view from this spot –

the north east slopes of Table Mountain – indeed,

owned much of the foreground. The sycophants

of Cape Town built, with granite quarried

from the mountain itself, this monument –

with Doric columns and arcades (which he

so revered, apparently), bronze lions à la

Trafalgar Square and a pensive, almost

wistful, bust of Cecil, clergyman’s son,

diamond broker, chancer.

 

 

II

 

The wooden bench from which he so enjoyed

the view survives below the monument

and on which he might have preferred a brass plaque

but perhaps not. He bequeathed the mountainside

to the nation and so ensured its slopes

preserved. We brunched at the restaurant

among the pines. At the next table,

a Coloured waiter served an Asian man

and a Black woman Italian Tomato

Soup and Quiche of the Day.

 

The air was pellucid, alpine. Oddly,

a Marsh Harrier circled above us –

yet this was beautiful. The restaurant

suggested his wish had been achieved

though not, of course, quite as he intended!

Below were the airport, disused cooling towers,

the Guguletsu township and, out of sight,

beyond the mountains that bound the horizon,

his unrealised, longed for, imperial road

from the Cape to Cairo.

 

 

III

 

When we returned to our rented villa

in Newlands, Precious, our maid, was leaving

to catch her train for Guguletsu.

This was her first time at the villa

so she was nervous. She would be home before

nightfall but she must walk through the dark

in the morning, evading the tsotsis.

Her daughter had stayed on at school, planned

to go to Rhodes University, planned

to leave South Africa.

 

We could not assuage Precious’ fear. We thanked her

for looking after us. We became used

to the gratings on all of the windows.

We felt safe behind the garden’s high walls.

From the verandah, we watched the mist

pour down Table Mountain like dry ice –

and listened to a pair of Sugarbirds sing

in the Jacaranda. So nothing had changed

yet everything had changed.

 

 

IV

 

Someone in black spray paint had, as it were,

crossed out Rudyard Kipling’s words on the plinth

beneath the bust: THE IMMENSE AND BROODING

SPIRIT STILL SHALL QUICKEN AND CONTROL

LIVING HE WAS THE LAND AND DEAD HIS SOUL

SHALL BE HER SOUL. The same hand probably

had sprayed the plinth, at the foot of the steps,

with: ‘reject racist heroes’. It supports,

on a rearing bronze horse, a bronze horseman

looking for the future.

 

Note: the poem has subsequently been published at http://www.sylviaselzer.com/2015/06/14/the-rhodes-memorial-cape-town/.

 

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  1. #1 by John Chapman - September 24th, 2012 at 10:56

    And yet, still, black workers are gunned down for wanting to better themselves. No western intervention there, I notice, as a black government presides.

  2. #2 by David Selzer - September 24th, 2012 at 15:05

    The company refusing to improve the miners’ wages and thus preventing the miners from bettering themselves is British – please see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lonmin

  3. #3 by Ashen - August 18th, 2013 at 19:25

    You make it easy to step into the atmosphere.

    Kipling’s words make me pause – I’m not sure I understand them right.
    The brooding spirit … ? Her?

  4. #4 by David Selzer - August 19th, 2013 at 11:07

    Thanks, ashen. Here’s a link to the poem, about Rhodes’ burial, from which the words are quoted – http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/kipling/burial.html. You will see that ‘her’ refers to the land, to Africa, and that Rhodes’ soul will become Africa’s. An eye-watering combination of chuzpah and bull shit even for those sentimental imperial times!

  5. #5 by Ashen - August 19th, 2013 at 11:55

    Ah, I read one line like this … Shall quicken and control living.
    While Living starts at the next line, which gives it another meaning. Still, I can see why the paint was applied.

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