Rhodes statue will move… eventually

YAZEED KAMALDIEN and ZENZILE KHOISAN

Rhodes Must Fall campaigner’s patience would be tested a bit longer as government bureaucracy determines when the Cecil John Rhodes statue would be removed from the University of Cape Town (UCT) campus.

The university’s senate on Friday afternoon recommended removing the controversial Rhodes statue.

The statue of British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes is covered with a black plastic bag. Students at the University of Cape Town have called for its removal. Picture Yazeed Kamaldien

The statue of British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes is covered with a black plastic bag. Students at the University of Cape Town have called for its removal. Picture Yazeed Kamaldien

This followed almost a month of the student-led Rhodes Must Fall lobby to have the statue of the English colonialist removed. The senate’s recommendation would inform the university council’s vote on April 8.

It is believed the council takes lead from the senate and students this weekend claimed victory in their battle.

The government’s art and culture minister Nathi Mthetwa has said the statue’s removal should adhere to the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999.

He said this “stipulates particular technical as well as consultative processes that would be followed in the case of a removal and or relocation of a statue”.

Mthethwa’s spokesman Sandile Memela told Weekend Argus the senate’s decision was a “significant and most welcome step in the right direction”.

“It sends a resounding message that acknowledges the sensitivities around colonial symbols and the urgent need for all of us to embrace a transformative agenda,” he said.

“The next best thing will be to do the paperwork that gives legitimacy to the process. We believe the university authorities and students understand how to take the process forward.”

Memela said the ministry would not decide on what should be done with the statue though.

“It will be decision of all the parties to determine its relocation,” he said.

Velizwa Baduza, newly appointed chief executive of the South African Heritage Resources Agency, said she understood the urgency of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign.

She said students needed to understand the prescribed process on articles that are “part of the national estate” could not be sidestepped.

“Due notice is given and a 30-day consultation period takes place,” said Baduza.

UCT spokeswoman Pat Lucas said they had started the process to ensure compliance.

“We are currently in the process first of engaging with the campus community in the lead-up to the special meeting of council on April 8. If council agrees to the proposal to move the Rhodes statue, then UCT will begin consultation with government,” said Lucas.

She said there was currently no plan on what to do about the space once the statue was eventually removed because “this will be a matter for future consultation and engagement with the campus community and other constituencies”.

Heritage consultant Ron Martin explained that Heritage Western Cape, the authority responsible for provincial heritage landmarks, would first have to issue a notice and then “begin focus group consultations to determine how and where or whether the statue should be moved or scrapped, as also which entity would be contracted to execute this task”.

Political scientist Keith Gottschalk, a leader of the UCT Alumni Association, heralded the senate’s decision.

He said the current debate on what to do with the Rhodes statue was an opportunity to undo the “brainwashing” around the legacy of this controversial figure.

“The issue of removing Rhodes is not a new question, as I and others raised it 35 years ago in the UCT student paper,” he said.

He said Rhodes built his wealth by deliberately underpaying workers in Kimberley diamond mines.

“This is exactly what is meant by his (Rhodes) statement at the time, that he would ‘build a university out of the stomachs of niggers’,” said Gottschalk.

Lucas said UCT senate “voted overwhelmingly in favour” of removing the statue.

“Senate recommends the statue be removed from the campus permanently; that it be handed over to the government heritage authorities for safe custody; and that the statue should be boarded up with immediate effect until it is removed from the campus,” said Lucas.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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