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Behind the Scenes with
Jean Shields Fleming

Interview | The editors of Moxy Magazine asked me a few softball questions...

Published by Moxy Magazine


Your piece The Land Where Rhodes Fell saw you travel to the grave of Cecil Rhodes and reflect on his legacy. Do you think campaigns such as Rhodes Must Fall can be reconciled with the view of Robert Jenrick, UK Communities Secretary, that statues of such people ‘are almost always best explained and contextualised, not taken and hidden away’?



What to do with monuments when they’re no longer monumental? It’s an ongoing dilemma. French cathedrals are lined with stone saints and long-forgotten church fathers, all headless. Decapitating statues was as popular during the French Revolution as guillotining the gentry.

Statues reflect values. That is why they generate such heat.

Yet, if the arc of history bends toward justice – and there is evidence that it does – then we must be willing to reexamine what we choose to memorialize in order to come closer to the mark.

Rhodes earned his pedestal for bringing “Anglo Saxon values” to Africa – and the continent’s wealth back home. To disseminate these values, he built a vast legal apparatus that oppressed millions and set apartheid in motion. These injustices cannot be undone, but they can be rectified.

But – sorry, Secretary Jenrick – a posted placard won’t cut it.


To fully grapple with Rhodes’ legacy, I would argue that tearing down systems that codify inequality – the very ones he set up – is the more important work. That, and returning that enormous wealth to the people from whom it was taken.

All of which is much harder than dickering over a statue and needs more than conservative resolve or revolutionary zeal to accomplish. It requires dialogue, compromise, and empathy. This is the glorious invitation of our moment. How will we respond?  

As to Rhodes’ grave hewn into the rocky soul of the country he pillaged – its fate must be determined by the people of Zimbabwe.

Still, symbols matter.

On that point, perhaps the artist Kehinde Wiley has the best response. Use the pompous, monumental forms of triumphal art to raise up every day people, the ones you’d never expect to see sitting astride a rearing horse.

Personally, though, I’d rather just see the horse.

The image of a road opening up with a pen.
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