Soapbox Speakers

The Rhodes Memorial, South Africa.

This granite memorial stands on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, at a spot where the mining magnate and former prime minister, Cecil Rhodes, used to admire the view. There are 49 steps, one for each year of Rhodes’ life, flanked by pairs of bronze lions. The top provides sweeping vistas to the Cape Flats and the mountain ranges beyond.

On the 19th November 1992, the Cape Times reported the appearance of soapbox oratory at Rhodes Memorial. Headline: Bronze lion ‘soap-box’ . The article read:

‘Cape Town’s own Speakers’ Corner, modelled on the original in London’s Hyde Park, got off to a small but noisy start at Rhodes Memorial yesterday morning. The setting was no less picturesque than that of the original, but yesterday’s “soap-box” (one of the bronze lions) made a grander platform.
  ‘Dr Clive McDowell, a consultant ecologist at the Institute for Plant Conservation, braved hecklers to tell a rowdy crowd of about 10 people that more should be done for the Western Cape Fynbos.’

McDowell described the Fynbos as “one of the world’s six floral kingdoms” and “a genetic botanic goldmine” with more than 8,000 species. Dr McDowell said the Fynbos was threatened by invasive vegetation. He cited Port Jackson willow, stone pine, Himalayan cedar and California redwood (“one of the main threats”) as being among the invaders that needed to be controlled.

The relevance of the setting did not escape Dr McDowell. “Rhodes was the father of all invasive plant species introductions to the Cape.”  He added, “Cecil Rhodes developed the pseudo-European landscape here.”

The Cape Times went on to explain that ‘Crazy Society’ chairman, Dr Arthur Parsons, whose group organised the event, said yesterday they planned to make Speakers’ Corner a regular event on the first Sunday of every month.

However, my research discovers that only a few meetings were held. That Speakers’ Corner was doomed, probably because of the long distance from the city.

Steve Maxwell.

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