A Tale of Two Countries

A brief comparison between Singapore and Zimbabwe.

In the last year or so there has been much discussion in various countries on the subject of statues of historical figures.

Recently I visited Singapore which was colonised by the British in 1819.  British control was established by Sir Stamford Raffles. Singapore became an independent state in 1965 and today is a global commercial, financial and transportation centre and one of the most prosperous countries on earth.  This is in stark contrast to Zimbabwe which has turned the well ordered state of Rhodesia into somewhat of a disaster and whose garden city capital of Salisbury has been turned into Harare now rated in the top 10 “least liveable cities” according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2019 survey of the world’s cities.

The reason I cite Singapore is that they honour their past including their colonial past.  Outside their parliament building and opposite the city centre is a prominent statue of the founder Sir Stamford Raffles!  Two of the major city roads are called Stamford Road and Raffles Avenue and of course there is the world famous Raffles Hotel.

This may be compared with what has happened in Zimbabwe where colonial statues have been removed and roads renamed.  Ignoring the fact that Zimbabwe inherited from Rhodesia almost every conceivable attribute of a modern state, nearly everything possible which was brought about by the vision of Cecil Rhodes, and subsequent Rhodesian leaders, has been disowned.  The difference in the post colonial development between Singapore and Zimbabwe is sad to behold.  It might be a better idea for Zimbabwe to build on what is good and not destroy it for ideological reasons. If appropriate, by all means erect new statues and name new roads after new leaders – but do not try to blot out history; rather learn from it.

Rhodesia was indeed the Jewel of Africa, as described by President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania in 1980, but there is no hiding the fact that the leaders of Zimbabwe have squandered their inheritance when they could have built on it as has been done in Singapore.

Here is my photo of the Raffles statue and the plaque which, as you may see, is attached on all four sides and written in English, Mandarin Chinese, Tamil Indian and Malay. And, I would add, all these communities live very amicably together.

Statue of Sir Stamford Raffles in Singapore.

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English version of the four plaques on the Raffles statue in Singapore.

On this historic site, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles first landed in Singapore on 29th January 1819, and with genius and perception changed the destiny of Singapore from an obscure fishing village to a great seaport and modern metropolis.

The present statue as shown was unveiled in 1972 by the independent state of Singapore in recognition of the significant role played by Raffles in the development of the country.  It is a copy of the original 1887 figure by Thomas Woolner RA which still stands not far away outside the Victoria Memorial Hall.

Statue of Cecil Rhodes in Main Street, Bulawayo as I snapped it in 1975 – but now removed.

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Which bold future leader of Zimbabwe will accept that the “genius and perception” of Cecil Rhodes similarly transformed Rhodesia into a modern state as inherited by Zimbabwe. In recognition they might do well to restore the statues of Rhodes and other leaders who developed Rhodesia and attach a similar plaque! And maybe with it achieve future prosperity for Zimbabwe?

© Colin Weyer

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Postscript

Another similar case

In 2020 BBC TV broadcast a travel programme about Malaysia. In it Michael Portillo correctly reported on the founder of Malaya: Captain Francis Light R.N. whose statue still stands in George Town.

The colony which Light founded started on the island of Penang and Light Street is named after him. It is the oldest street and remains a principal thoroughfare in the city which is the third largest in Malaysia. The old city centre is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Captain Francis Light, R.N., at Fort Cornwallis in George Town on Penang Island, Malaysia by Alexey Komarov (Wiki)
The above picture of Francis Light appears on Wikipedia and was taken by Alexey Komarov.

Despite the overthrow of Mugabe in 2017 by his erstwhile long serving henchman, and subsequent President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe’s economy continues to be an economic basket case. The thought of acknowledging the part played by Cecil Rhodes and other Rhodesian leaders in the inheritance received by Zimbabwe in 1980 still remains to be accepted.