Cape Town - The Cecil John Rhodes statue on the University of Cape Town's campus should not be destroyed, just moved, the institution's Vice Chancellor Max Price said on Thursday.
“I do not think the statue should be destroyed or hidden away. I just think it should not be there - it should be moved,” Price said in a statement.
“This will not compromise our ability to record and debate the role Rhodes played in the city's and continent's history.”
He said moving it would not change the institution's acknowledgement that it acquired its site from the Rhodes estate.
During a seminar on transformation at the university on Monday, the president of the students' representative council, senior staff and half the audience walked out, TimesLive reported on its website.
The seminar was held following protests last week that began when a student reportedly emptied a toilet on the Rhodes statue.
On Sunday, the statue was covered with black rubbish bags.
A “UCT: Rhodes Must Fall” Facebook group was created.
It had 3698 likes by 6.30pm on Thursday. The group described itself as “a collective student, staff and worker movement mobilising for direct action against the institutional racism of UCT”.
Rhodes, 1853-1902, was a British colonialist, businessman, mining magnate, and politician in South Africa.
He founded Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe) which was named after him in 1895.
Rhodes University is also named after him. Provisions of the Rhodes Scholarship are funded by his estate.
Price said the university council was the only body that could make a decision on whether to move the statue.
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande welcomed the calls for the removal of the statue.
“I welcome the struggles initiated by the progressive forces at UCT and Rhodes to drive transformation in our institutions, but also appeal them to ensure that their actions always remain disciplined and peaceful,” he said in a statement.
“It should be indoors, possibly in a museum.”
He said Rhodes had played a “significant - if brutal - role” in South Africa's history, but he needed to be remembered.
“History cannot be swept under the carpet... Rhodes accumulated a large fortune by exploiting South Africa's natural resources and its people.”
He said the issue of transformation went beyond the statue's removal.
“It should include changing the demographic composition of staff and student bodies as well as ensuring that curriculum reflects South Africa's development and cultural needs.”
He said the notion that expanding the proportion of black students and staff at the best institutions would lead to a drop in quality, should never be accepted.
“Such arguments only serve to defend privilege. In SA today, the job of good university leaders is to ensure that transformation and quality improvement go hand in hand.”
The Economic Freedom Fighters on Wednesday also threw its support behind the students.
“Rhodes can never be a symbol worth celebrating in a post-1994
South Africa,” national spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said in a statement.
“The EFF is not opportunistically raising the issue of Rhodes due to the momentum of students' and academics' demand.”
Ndlozi said the EFF had consistently called for the removal of symbols of colonialism and white supremacy.
“On various occasions, the EFF has demanded the complete removal and demolition of apartheid symbols, including the ones next to the Parliament of South Africa.”