University of Cape Town (UCT) campaigners who were involved in the RhodesMustFall movement are surely on cloud nine following the approval of the permanent removal of Cecil John Rhodes’ statue from the university campus.
UCT has revealed that “Heritage Western Cape’s Built Environment and Landscape Committee gave unanimous approval on 31 October to UCT’s proposal for the permanent removal from campus of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes”.
The statue was removed from the plinth located at the bottom of the Jammie steps in April 2015, and it was taken to a private location for safe storage after intense demonstrations against its existence on campus.
The statue of the British imperialist and racist caused an outrage and students argued that the continued existence of the statue was an implicit honour and veneration of Rhodes. The protesters called for the statue to be taken down arguing that it was a painful and constant reminder of the subjugation of Africans, heinous acts committed in the name of British imperialism and the massacre of thousands of Africans. The students also argued that the colonial statue was a symbol of white oppression, which had to be obliterated.
The RhodesMustFall campaign divided opinion both at UCT and in the country, with some students campaigning for the statue to remain, insisting that the statue is a part of history, which must be kept alive. However, the RhodesMustFall protesters argued that the existence of the statue was an insult to their memory and the statue communicated that Rhodes was emblematic of UCT, and thus had to be removed.
With the permanent removal of the statute the protesters have surely triumphed and the statue which was taken to a private location for safe storage will not return to the university campus. UCT says separate application processes will be followed in due course for “approval by Heritage Western Cape for any conservation work on the statue, its final relocation, as well as the future of the plinth”.
The debate on the presence of colonial era statues in South Africa in the context of the need for transformation and redress since the end of apartheid spread across the country following the Rhodes Must Fall campaign. The country has struggled with transformation particularly at its institutions of higher learning.
Racial discrimination in universities and other educational institutions has become commonplace. Research on various institutions of higher learning in South Africa has often argued that whiteness has continued to successfully contest ownership of university institutional spaces, thereby invisibly perpetuating its hegemony. As a result, black students and lecturers have struggled with cultivating a sense of belong and they often feel excluded on the grounds of language, race and class.