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Rhodes Has Fallen [Photos]

On April 9, 2015, students gathered at a mass meeting at the University of Cape Town to see the statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes finally fall.

Photos: Sydelle Willow Smith


Today, after a month of demonstrations, the statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes was removed from the University of Cape Town. The statue, which was unveiled in 1934 and sits atop UCT's rugby fields and leads to the university's iconic Jammie steps– became the focus of protests and a countrywide movement after 30-year-old political science student Chumani Maxwele threw human excrement on the monument in a call for it to be taken down. "As black students we are disgusted by the fact that this statue still stands here today as it is a symbol of white supremacy," Maxwele told the Cape Argus. "How we can be living in a time of transformation when this statue still stands and our hall is named after (Leander Starr) Jameson, who was a brutal lieutenant under Rhodes?"

Earlier this week the student-mobilized Rhodes Must Fall Movement called for a mass meeting to take place on April 9. "The statue is only a single object that represents the colonial narrative of South Africa," the movement's Media & Communications Team wrote in a letter. "Its removal thus represents the narrative of decolonisation that has begun in our country." The meeting, they said, is about joint struggles against oppression. "Oppression in all it's intersecting forms: racially, economically, physically, sexually, geographically, politically and epistemologically," they wrote. A day prior to the meeting, UCT's Council voted in favor of removing the statue.

On Thursday, large crowds gathered at UCT's upper campus to see Rhodes finally fall. South Africa/UK-based photographer/filmmaker/researcher Sydelle Willow Smith was on the ground to document the mass meeting. She told us over email:

"This movement is heavily steeped in the need for decolonization and the need for black voices to be heard so I dont want to write too much as a white South African it is now the time for me to speak less and listen more.

I can only speak from where I stand. South Africa's wealth remains in the hands of a few mostly predominately white hands who have not had to do much to shift their approach or position in the so called New South Africa thus a statue that symbolises that oppression must fall in order to serve as the beginning of transformation at one of the top Universities in Africa that is Eurocentric in its knowledge production, its attitude and the symbols it holds up and memorializes. This fight these Rhodes Must Fall students have begun is incredible and must flow out into greater society because we cannot continue to sit in our mansions and positions of comfort in one of the most unequal countries in the world . Something has to give. History is part of that process and these students are writing it."

See photos from the mass meeting, shot by Sydelle Willow Smith, in the gallery above. What follows below is a full statement read prior to the removal of the statue.

The Rhodes Must Fall statement read out at the mass meeting and prior to the removal of the statue:

Exactly a month ago, the pain of one black student led to an action that implicated the university community and South African society as a whole; an action that called into question the neo-colonial situation and the rainbow nation mythology that is suffocating our country. The pain of a single black student, and the pain of millions of black South Africans has now culminated into the movement known as Rhodes Must Fall.

In the time we’ve spent at Azania House we have begun to understand the need for a new language that challenges the pacifying logic of liberalism. This logic presents itself to us in these ideas of ‘reform’ and ‘transformation’, which are legitimised by the Constitution- a document which violently preserves the status quo. Transformation is the maintenance and perpetuation of oppression, hidden within meaningless surface-level change. We have recognised that what is needed instead is the radical decolonisation of this institution, which is necessarily linked to the black condition both nationally and internationally. Our existence as black people is defined by a violent system of power. The university’s processes and language naturalises that colonial system. Therefore, if we wish to get rid of that system of power, we have to destroy the processes altogether. Decolonisation is this very destruction.

We have realised that the systems of exploitation which confront oppressed people at this institution cannot be tackled internally, precisely because they are rooted in the world at large. Black bodies, female bodies, gender non-conforming bodies, disabled bodies cannot become liberated inside of UCT whilst the world outside still treats them as sub-human. The decolonization of this institution is thus fundamentally linked to the decolonization of our entire society. Therefore when we say Rhodes Must Fall we mean that patriarchy must fall, that white supremacy must fall, that all systematic oppression based on any power relations of difference must be destroyed at all costs. These are battles that we cannot fight alone.

The removal of the statue by management is not something we should be grateful for. Management has undermined and antagonised us throughout this process. They described Chumani’s protest action as reprehensible, they insist on defending Rhodes’ legacy, and they have made it clear that they think that black pain is debatable. Last night, we stormed a meeting of Council and refused to leave, declaring that no decisions could be taken about us, without us. After insisting for an hour that the laws forbid a decision to be taken in the presence of uninvited visitors, management eventually realised that we were not going anywhere and promptly chose to make the decision in our presence. The fact that Council was able to contradict the same rules that they had just tried to use to exclude us, illustrates both their hypocrisy and the effectiveness of our radical tactics of engagement only on our own terms without compromise.

We must at no point forget that management are our colonial administrators, and their removal of the statue is merely an attempt to placate us and be perceived as sympathetic. Our freedom cannot be given to us- we must take it. We want to be clear that our only regret is that we did not take the statue down ourselves. Going forward, we will no longer compromise. Management is our enemy.

The next step to be taken by our movement is a three pronged approach, based on workers, academics and students. Firstly, we will be launching a campaign against the unjust exploitative system of outsourcing, used by UCT to cut costs and shirk responsibility at the expense of workers’ lives. Secondly, we will be launching a campaign around the financial and academic exclusion of black students. Thirdly, we will be focusing on the underrepresentation of black academics, which goes hand-in-hand with our continuing research into the development of a decolonised curriculum.

Finally, let it be known that Azania House is ours, and we will not leave.

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This Afro-Feminist Marching Band Is Challenging Negative Stereotypes of Black Women In Paris

30 Nuances de Noires is fighting the erasure of black women in public spaces one march at a time.

If you stroll through the streets of Paris and its suburbs and stumble across a parade of black women wearing shiny outfits, singing and dancing, consider yourself lucky: you've just come across the Afro-feminist marching band '30 Nuances de Noires' (30 Shades of Black).

The band was created by dancer and choreographer Sandra Rose Fanchine. Tired of the erasure of black women in the public space and of the negative stereotypes associated with them, Fanchine has brought women (and a few men) together in this project. Professional and amateur singers, dancers and musicians, they have all accepted to embark on this journey and use their talents to launch this much-needed conversation in France.

Sandra Rose FanchinePhoto by SEKA photography

The band's musical coordinator, Célia Wa, is a flautist, singer and composer. When Fanchine invited her to take part in the project, she was very enthusiastic to have the opportunity to play alongside other black female musicians and take part in something that portrays black women in a positive light and in a flamboyant way. She was also keen to play alongside other black female musicians and coordinate them, outside, in the public space, where music is accessible to everyone. But it wasn't easy going. "It's hard to find women who play wind instruments" she explains. "But especially black women. So, we decided to incorporate a few black men musicians—men who understand the meaning of the project and support us. They don't try to dominate the space, they wear dresses and headwraps, they really blend into the group."

Célia WaPhoto by SEKA photography

Wa hopes the project will encourage many young girls to become professional musicians by showing them that being a fulfilled woman, having a music career and a family life, is possible.

Awori is the singer of the band Kamiawori, and a singer and dancer in the parade. She accepted Fanchine's invitation to join the band because she realized a brass band made of women—especially black women—was something unique that she wanted to be part of. "Throughout history, women had been forbidden to play wind instruments because blowing into those instruments was assimilated to a sexual act", says Kamiawori. "As a result, nowadays, the majority of people playing these instruments are men, so the fact that Sandra was looking for black women only was really appealing to me".

Earlier this year the band had the chance to travel to French Guiana to do a performance with black Guyanese women. This is the kind of future she wants for the project. "I want us to go to places in France where there aren't many black people, as well as to the former French colonies and the French overseas territories," she says. She hopes the project will start conversations everywhere, and empower black women to talk about their issues in their own words and organize their own emancipation.

AworiPhoto by SEKA photography

***

Read on for our conversation with Sandra Rose Fanchine. This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Can you tell us about yourself and your background?

I'm 51 years old, I was born in Martinique and grew up in Côte d'Ivoire. I'm a hip-hop dancer and choreographer. I first came to France 22 years ago to study graphic design but along the way, I found hip hop and started dancing out of passion. With my background in graphic design, I knew I was going to be a choreographer eventually, I was convinced I could use hip hop beyond its performance aspect, bringing my visual artist's knowledge to it and using it to promote a narrative. So, when the age of maturity came, I became a choreographer. My first work considered the social construction of femininity, and I then created a piece which dealt with the memory of the black body. 30 Nuances de Noires is my third choreographic work.

Where did the idea of "30 Nuances de Noires" come from?

It came from my professional frustration as a black woman. When I was looking for a job after my studies, my graphic design work was very culturally influenced by my life in Martinique and Côte d'Ivoire. I was proud to show the aesthetics and the colors, to me it was beautiful but it wasn't seen as such, it was seen as something unworthy and my work was always devalued.

I also had to face that devaluation in my personal life. I wanted to partner up with a black man, but I could see that black men didn't value me, didn't give me space and in general chose to have solid relationships with white women. I am light-skinned so I used to pass black men's colorist filters, but this privilege stopped as soon as commitment was mentioned. I looked around me and saw a pattern in the way black men treated black women, in the way people in general treated black women, how we were looked down upon. I wanted to create something about that topic.

Photo by SEKA Photography

Why did you choose that name?

I chose that name to criticize the movie 50 shades of Grey, which from a feminist point of view is a sexist and misogynist movie, that glamorizes violence against women. Moreover, black women, in the global conception related to sexuality and sentiments, are continually eroticized in a very specific way: animalization, exotification and fetishization. I chose to reclaim these stigmas, just as Audre Lorde writes about in the chapter of her book Sister Outsider named "the use of eroticism, and the use of anger: the response of women to racism."

How did the people around you react to this project?

At first, I wanted to do a piece about sexuality, love and the neocolonial aspects of interracial unions but I faced a backlash from people in the cultural institutions and people in the hip hop industry. Whenever I talked about my project I was completely shut down and called a racist.

After all that rejection and denigration, I went back to university and studied gender studies for two years, and around the same time I became an Afro-feminist activist. In the meantime, the project evolved. I used to work at festivals where there were many brass brands and I already wanted to create a marching band with hip hop dancers so I just mixed the two ideas: highlighting black women's issues and creating a marching band.

After equipping myself with the relevant intellectual tools, surrounding myself with other black women and realizing we were all going through the same things, I was capable of demonstrating the systemic nature of what I was talking about and the barriers fell. I was finally in the right place at the right time. I found the artists very easily, the first musicians I met brought other musicians, the first dancers brought other dancers, it all happened very organically.

Photo by SEKA Photography

What type of women were you looking for?

I was looking for women who were strong enough to embody and address those issues unapologetically. They had to be capable of dancing on the streets with an attitude that says "I am standing up straight, I am black, I am glowing, I am shining and you will look at me and ask yourself how you really see me because I am not all those stereotypes you believe I am." Naturally, it first attracted feminists, women who were already aware of those issues. The women who later joined us and weren't aware of those issues are now more conscious and politicized.

What are the musical and aesthetic inspirations behind the project?

I really wanted visuals inspired by the aesthetics of the 70s and 80s because the dances present in the parade—locking and waacking—emerged at that time. For the musical aspect, I looked for songs that talked about black women and their issues: sorority, colorism, equality and resilience.

Photo by SEKA Photography

How do you see the project evolving in the future?

I want to do a world tour, I want us to dance with Beyoncé and Solange, I want to take this message of empowerment everywhere there are black women who need to exist, shine, go outside and assert their presence in the public space. Because of harassment, sexism and prejudice, it's still pretty complicated for women to simply exist. I consider myself lucky because I can see that the band does what I wanted it to do: it really empowers black women and seeing that happening gives me a lot of strength to take it further.

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Seyi Shay. Image provided by the artist.

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Talented Nigerian singer and songwriter Seyi Shay recently dropped her brand new music project, the Electric Package EP Vol. 1.

It's her first project in three years, since the release of her debut album, Seyi or Shay, in 2015. The EP, an intimate mix of different blends of afrobeats, contains six tracks, topped off at the end by the Gqom brand of South African house music.

The project features artists from different corners of Africa, including rising singer King Promise from Ghana, Afropop songstress Vanessa Mdee from Tanzania, and rapper and producer Anatii from South Africa, giving it a pan-African outlook.

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Join us on Saturday, June 2, from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at The Well in Brooklyn as we mark the occasion with music by DJ Tunez, DJ Moma and DJ Moniki. The vibe also includes art by Laolu Senbanjo, Nigerian cuisine, and a surprise performance by one of Afrobeats' finest.

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