George V statue - 48-hour demand
Durban - The SA Students Congress (Sasco) has given the University of KwaZulu-Natal 48 hours to remove symbols of “white minority rule” from its campuses, as UKZN commits itself to reviewing the status of statues on its premises.
On Thursday morning, students arrived at the Howard College campus to find the statue of King George V defaced with white paint.
Pasted on to the statue were signs which read “end white privilege”, “the white race is the chosen race and blacks will work for us forever” and “we rule universities as whites and all of the blacks are our servants”.
When The Mercury arrived at 8am, students were milling around the statue. A few snapped selfies before security personnel cordoned off the area with red tape. A few of the students said they did not know who King George V was.
A pair of first-year students, who did not want to be named, said they had not thought critically about what the statue of George V represented until the protests against the statue of Cecil John Rhodes began at UCT. The pair suggested the statue of George V be removed and replaced with one of Steve Biko or Nelson Mandela.
“It was probably not something which had bothered many students before the University of Cape Town campaign,” said a third-year social sciences student. “However, I believe it has triggered a conversation that as a country we have never dealt with. The vandalising of the statue reflects how society is divided. We can’t say apartheid is behind us if we are still praising the symbols of the past.”
A second-year law student, who also did not want to be named, said of all the campuses in South Africa, Howard College was “the least racist”.
“We have fairness in everything. We have lecturers of different races, everything is equal. So this is absolutely pointless. There is no such thing as white privilege. Everybody has equal privilege on campus. Those who did this were just trying to cause a commotion and get attention … He (George V) must have meant something to the country at one time,” she said.
Tyler Da Silva, a fourth-year civil engineering student, said the defacing of university property was “despicable” and “it is cowardice to come in the middle of the night and do this.”
Da Silva said that in the past, peaceful protest – in which students of all races participated – had had a greater impact in getting students’ grievances addressed.
The central president of UKZN’s student representative council, Dithobe Mosana, said the vandalising of the statue was not co-ordinated or supported by the SRC.
While the KZN chapter of Sasco denied responsibility for the defacing of the statue, it said on Thursday the call for the taking down of symbols which celebrated “white supremacist rule” was part of “the winds of change” sweeping through the country.
“Universities are refusing to transform and they must be forced. For 21 years we have been begging them to, and we have run out of patience,” Sasco KZN secretary Pinda Mofokeng said.
Sasco said it was giving UKZN 48 hours to remove “symbols of white supremacists” and to initiate a process of renaming university buildings to reflect a democratic South Africa. “George never played any role in the liberation of South Africa, hence there is no respect or status that he must be accorded.”
Later, Mofokeng said Sasco was confident UKZN’s leadership was willing to speed up the transformation process and did not anticipate having to resort to protest action.
Sasco also has the renaming of the E G Malherbe Library in its sights. It was named after the university’s first principal.
“The university supports the students’ rights to exercise lawful freedom of expression and encourages open debate and discussion. However, it does not condone any form of unlawful behaviour,” said UKZN spokesman Lesiba Seshoka.
Seshoka said an urgent meeting of UKZN’s naming committee would be convened.
Who was King George V?
He was the husband of Queen Mary and reigned from 1910 to 1936, when he died, according to the official website of the British Monarchy.
Two professors of history at UKZN say he never visited South Africa. The book A History of the University of Natal by E H Brookes says the statue was the contribution ofT B Davis, the Durban businessman whose donation made the building of Howard College possible, according to the KZN heritage body Amafa.
Howard College was opened in 1931.