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