Cape Town - Nine past SRC presidents from UCT have added their support to the campaign to remove the statue of Cecil John Rhodes from the campus, but those wanting the statue gone were reminded on Tuesday that theirs was not the only voice.
Other students and some staff members want the statue to stay where it is, in its prominent position above the rugby fields, and this led to an altercation during a protest at lunchtime on Tuesday, which spread to the university’s Beattie building where students toyi-toyied and sang loudly.
Language lecturer Dr Azila Reisenberger found herself in the middle of a fracas when she emerged from her office in the Beattie building, with a poster reading: “Don’t raise your voice. Improve your argument.”
Reisenberger, who has been a lecturer for 30 years and has published award-winning books of poetry, caused an uproar among the students, although the arguments remained verbal rather than physical.
“For all they know, I can fully agree with their demands or I may not,” Reisenberger told the Cape Argus. “The only thing that I have an issue with is that these students must remember that they are among a select few youngsters in this country that attend a university. Instead of throwing a tantrum they should be discussing the matter in a proper dialogue.”
Mechanical engineering student Rhys van den Handel also believes the Rhodes Must Fall group’s actions over the past two weeks should have been conducted in a more democratic manner.
“This is only the tip of the iceberg. If they do get the statue taken down then what will be next? It is not like when the statue is gone then everything will be okay.
“I agree that change at the university has taken a long time, but what really will change when one statue has been taken away? Instead of complaining about a statue they should focus on other issues at the university that affect all of us, then they will get more support.”
When the protesting students arrived at the black bag-clad statue on Tuesday they were greeted by two posters taped to the back of the statue, saying: “Which black students are you representing? Do not throw away our history because of your anger!” and “What about other black voices that do not agree with you?”
One student, who did not want to be named, climbed the statue in an attempt to remove the bags but only managed to tear off a patch before the protesting students chased him off.
Protester Roscoe Jacobs took the posters down, saying other students should not piggy-back on their action.
“If there are other black students or any other students for that matter who are unhappy with the way we have conducted our business then they should speak out for themselves. We made our statement so if others have more to say then they should do so in their own way.”
Meanwhile, the protesters are garnering support from beyond the university, including the Economic Freedom Fighters and past SRC presidents.
Jerome September, Nqobizitha Mlilo, Andiswa Magadla, Zukiswa Mqolomba, Thulani Madinginye, Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, Lorne Hallendorf, Insaaf Isaacs and Nommangaliso Gondwe – who all served as SRC president between 1999 and earlier this year – have written an open letter to chancellor Graça Machel and other senior UCT members.
The past presidents said the issues surrounding the Rhodes statue were not new, and the time had come for the university to deliver on its transformation promises.
“Recent events only serve to confirm that UCT can no longer justify defending the statue’s existence, nor can it ignore its political significance. We also believe this is a poignant opportunity for the university to reaffirm its own stated aim of ‘making UCT a place that is owned by all its staff and students, and by the community’,” read the letter.
The letter goes on to reject the idea that the removal of the statue would erase Rhodes from the university’s history.
They said the university should not feel it owes the former statesman for the land because “it was not his to give in the first place”.
All nine past presidents said they were frustrated at the slow rate of the transformation at the university, and felt the removal of the statue would go a long way to proving to students the university’s willingness for change.
“We acknowledge that addressing the full legacy of centuries of racial bigotry will take time, and that removing the statue is not a panacea. Still, the statue’s removal presents an opportunity for progress, and we see no reason not to take it. This should not detract from the other dimensions of transformation to which the university is committed.”
In lending support to the students, the EFF said it continued its fight for the removal of all symbols of colonial South Africa.
* In Tuesday’s IOL news poll, we asked: Should the statue of Rhodes be removed from UCT’s campus? The results were: Yes 473 (23 %) and No 1620 (77 %)