Thursday, October 23, 2003

At last I have stirred a modicum of controversy and interest! Following my entry that it had never seriously been put to me that I should decline the Rhodes on the basis that it is tainted money, fellow South African Rhodes Scholar Trudy Makhaya -- presently pursuing a high-flying and well-deserved career in Johannesburg -- sent me the following e-mail:

'I was very surprised to read that it had never been put to you to decline a
Rhodes scholarship on the basis of the tainted money. People bring it up with me
quite a lot. Not suggesting that I should have declined as such, but people
often ask how I feel about being associated with the scholarship, why I applied
and questions like those. When I got it, two (white) professors in my department
hinted at the same issues, and then one of them said - oh, at least for a change
they gave it to the right person (referring to race). Another time I was
discussing with them the suggestions that had been put to me about how to use
the scholarship (in terms of courses) and they reminded me that the money is the
blood and sweat of black miners - or something along those lines. These two went
out of their way to always remind me about the source of the money. But it got
worse just before I left - a certain publication got in touch with me to ask to
interview me and I said yes. Then someone called me to alert me about a
full-page article the paper had on that very day they called me - and it was
trashing Rhodes the man (I see nothing wrong in that), but there was a swipe at
the scholarship as well. It was clear to me the tainted money issue would come
up so I withdrew from the interview because I was still dealing with these
issues myself. And I thought they were being manipulative in the way they set
the whole thing up. Maybe they thought they could use me to show that the
scholarship had come a long way, to balance their previous article, but I just
wasn't happy with the way they went about it. Plus I am not sure if interviewing
a black, female scholar automatically paints a better picture of the
scholarship. I tell you the details to show how much that question comes up to
me and I wonder why it has never been put to you before. Could it be that given
my background, people think I am more conscious of the issues? It's very
strange. I think the tainted money issue is valid, and I have no problem with
people pointing out the flawed source of the money and the deeply flawed man
behind the money, but I think the scholarship has developed into something else,
something special and that should be celebrated.'

I don't really have anything to add, except that its interesting how race continues to condition our attitudes in South Africa. Should I be less concerned about the origins of Rhodes' money, just because I'm a white male of English origin? It also seems that Trudy and I agree on the fundamental point, namely, that, however Rhodes made his fortune, what the Scholarship has become -- what Scholars have contributed to South Africa, plus the formation of the Mandela-Rhodes Trust -- provides an answer to its critics.

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