UCT students continue Rhodes Must Fall campaign
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
After claiming victory yesterday, University of Cape Town students said their senate’s support to remove the Cecil John Rhodes statue from campus was just the start of transformation.
UCT spokeswoman Pat Lucas said late yesterday afternoon 181 senate members voted to move the statue, one person voted against its removal and three others abstained from voting.
“Senate has voted overwhelmingly in favour of recommending to (the university’s) council that the statue be moved when council holds its special sitting,” said Lucas.
“The proposal states that the senate recommends that the Rhodes 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.”
The university’s council would meet on April 8 to vote on the matter.
UCT student representative council president Ramabina Mahapa said the senate’s vote was an endorsement of the student-led Rhodes Must Fall campaign launched earlier this month.
“It is certainly a victory for us. Such a huge body has endorsed what the students are calling for. It means we are being heard by the larger community,” said Mahapa.
“Council will be influenced by senate. Council never really goes against senate. We are on the right side of things. Our calls will be heard.”
At the Bremner Building yesterday, which students have occupied since a campus protest last Friday, students were still camping out in top floor meeting room. They also rebranded the building Azania House and put stickers on the door reading ‘Under New Management’.
Postgraduate student Alex Hotz said their campaign “went beyond the statue” though.
“The statue must be removed from the campus completely. I’m sure council will vote for the statue to come down. Then the university needs to apply for a permit to remove it,” she said.
Hotz added: “The battle has not been won yet. It is a victory but we still have a while to go. It’s about transformation.”
Hotz said the transformation was also not about “changing the pigmentation of the (people at the) university”.
“You can have black people who are vice-chancellors, such as Mamphela Ramphele, but that doesn’t mean things become better for black people. We have to change the structures at the university and its processes. That will lead to transformation,” she said.
“And it’s not about white people. What we are challenging is a system of power. We are against white supremacy and white privilege. It is problematic when white people who have benefited from their privilege cannot recognise it. Blacks have suffered because of this privilege.”
Hotz said students are committed to occupy the Bremner Building, UCT’s administrative heart, until April 8 when council votes on the matter.
Greg Keal, a second-year politics and international relations student, was also part of the occupy movement. Keal is also a member of the student council.
“We have addressed all of these things over and over again. We finally realised nothing will happen unless we take back the university. We needed to protest,” he said.
“As a white person, I don’t think the intention of this movement was ever to make white people feel guilty for being white. It was to raise consciousness amongst white people they are privileged because of their history and because they are white.
“The statue is just one symbol of institutional racism at UCT. White people are always seen as superior everywhere on campus. That’s in people’s subconscious.”
He added: “Our university needs transformation.”
Meanwhile in Athlone, about 60 people gathered in the community hall for a public meeting about the Rhodes Must Fall campaign.
One of the meeting’s organisers, Kelly Gillespie who is an anthropology lecturer from Wits University, said they “have been inspired by the students”. She said she studied at UCT.
“We need a deep decolonisation of our society especially through our educational institutions. We need a decolonised Africanist,” she said.
“Cape Town still functions as a colonial city. It still has racial stratifications, with white privilege being at the centre of what happens in this city. We want to take the politics of the Rhodes Must Fall movement and use this moment to have a different conversation in the city.”
Bevil Lucas, a former UCT student from Woodstock, said the “students have had the courage to take up such a crucial issue”.
“They have been brave enough to say the colonial past does not represent their views in the modern period. It has remained untouched for too long,” he said.
“It’s an issue in our history that should have been attended to a few years earlier. But rather late then never.”
Arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa said on Thursday the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999 “stipulates particular technical as well as consultative processes that would be followed in the case of a removal and or relocation of a statue”.
Removing the Rhodes statue would entail a consultative process “where the applicant must notify all conservation bodies, including applying to the South African Heritage Resource Agency or relevant provincial or local structures”.
Mthethwa said: “As a government that promotes a transformative national agenda, we also accept that the past cannot and should not be completely wiped off.
“Thus we neither support nor encourage the violent removal of any statue because we do not encourage people to take the law into their own hands.”