University council to vote on Rhodes statue

Yazeed Kamaldien

The fate of British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes’s statue will be decided this week when the University of Cape Town’s council votes on the matter.

The 30-member council is set to meet on Wednesday to decide on whether or not the statue should be removed from campus. A group of students last month formed the Rhodes Must Fall campaign calling for the statue’s removal and for UCT’s leadership to address transformation within its halls.

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

UCT senate last month recommended to move the statue. The council takes its recommendation from the senate, and usually votes along its views.

UCT’s website informs the council “consists of the executive officers, other employees of the institution, students and persons not members of staff or students of the institution”.

“Its responsibilities include determining the mission, objectives, goals, strategies and policies for the progress of the institution,” says UCT.

“In addition, it has the responsibility of maintaining and ensuring a financially secure, healthy and viable environment and accounting for all decisions taken at UCT.”

Among council members are former Robben Island prisoner and retired Anglican bishop Njongonkulu Ndungane; retired judge Ian Farlam; UCT vice-chancellor Max Price; and UCT student council president Ramabina Mahapa.

Councillor Garreth Bloor, the City of Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for tourism, events and economic development, is also on the council.

A wider conversation about UCT’s transformation meanwhile continues beyond calls for the statue’s removal.

Price and Ramabina are on a panel to discuss transformation at UCT’s Kramer Law Building this week Tuesday. The UCT Association of Black Alumni is organising the event.

Other panelists include Iqbal Surve, past chairperson of the UCT Foundation and the Graduate School of Business, as well as UCT lecturer Shose Kessi who has researched black student’s experiences of racism at the institution.

The discussion will focus on “UCT’s admissions policy, employment practices and its institutional culture”.

Earlier this week, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation said it stood “in solidarity with Rhodes Must Fall and related movements”. In a statement, it supported the removal of the Rhodes statue.

“We recognise this movement as a call for more urgent and meaningful commitment to national transformation; of physical spaces, institutional access and employment equity, amongst others,” it said.

“South Africa’s Constitutional vision of a non-sexist, non-racist society cannot be realised until we, as a country, and the African continent as a whole, more deliberately challenge the lingering effects of slavery, colonialism and apartheid.”

It added: “It is increasingly clear that violent and divisive legacies of oppression persist to a larger degree than previously anticipated. More than two decades into democracy, the youth has now taken the lead in challenging symbolism that continues to reinforce the pain associated with our past.”

US-based universities this week also launched a petition supporting calls to remove the Rhodes statue.

Students and staff members at Columbia, New York University, The New School for Social Research and City University of New York said in a joint statement the Rhodes statue “in its current position… glorifies an arch-imperialist who made his wealth from the exploitation of black labour, and represents the alienation and exclusion that many black students feel at UCT”.

“We support the demands to remove it and in doing so problematise UCT’s colonial past, and ongoing institutional racism,” read the statement.

“We understand that these calls are about much more than just the statue itself. They are about a lack of transformation at institutions of higher learning in South Africa, especially institutions like UCT.

“When the majority of the academic staff are white, black workers remain outsourced to exploitative companies, and admissions policies are working against the radical transformation of the student population, there is a major problem.”

It continued: “We call on convocation and the university executive council to respond to the call to remove the statue of Rhodes at UCT, and thereby begin the long overdue process of substantive and meaningful transformation at UCT.

“We support the struggle of the UCT students, workers and academics who have brought this issue to light and stand behind their efforts to affect meaningful change in South Africa.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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