In the 10th Annual Helen Joseph Lecture last month, Prof Njabulo Ndebele, the Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, mused about the burning earlier this year by UCT Rhodes-Must-Fall activists of portraits and commemorative objects symbolising the university’s “colonial” past. One of the objects was a plaque honouring Jan Christian Smuts. At first, Ndebele was shocked by this “burning of memory”.
However, after he had ‘mediated’ his thoughts, he saw the incident in a different light. It represented instead a clash between two historic periods – on the one hand “the legacy of the history of conquest” represented by Smuts – and on the other “the nascent moments” of the history that had begun in 1994.