Cape Town - Student protesters escalated their “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign on Friday when they settled in for the night after storming and occupying the main administration building at UCT.
And they warned that their fight against racism in higher education institutions would be extended to take in the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, as well as Stellenbosch University.
At UCT on Friday, students defied vice-chancellor Max Price, cutting short his speech and taking over the Bremner Building where the university leaders have offices.
This follows calls by students over the past two weeks for the removal from the campus of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes. Students opposed to the statue said Rhodes reminded them of colonisation and what they said was institutional racism at the university.
Ramabina Mahapa, president of the student representative council, said they would occupy Bremner until Saturday night.
“We will be engaging on what it means to be black. We will also decide on a plan of action going forward. We are serious about our demands. We want a date for when the statue will be removed,” he said.
But the students were left angry when, during Price’s address, he told them he would speak to the university’s council on April 15 about the statue. The university’s leaders would decide only then whether or not it would be removed.
His microphone was switched off by protesting students several times during the address.
But Price did manage to tell them that he would try to persuade the university council to move the statue.
He warned, however, that the council “might not agree with my position”, which is that the Rhodes statue should be moved from its existing position.
Price also made it clear that not all UCT students felt the same way.
“Not all students have the same view as these students. Thousands of students who are not part of this campaign must be brought along and have an opportunity to express their views.
“We are going to organise a teach-in and get the students talking about what is happening,” he said.
Keenan Hendricks, speaker of the UCT student parliament, said the statue could be “put in a museum”.
“We don’t care where you put it. You can put it in your back yard. But it must go,” he said.
He said the furore was “not just about the statue... just because this statue will be removed, and it will be removed, doesn’t change the institutional racism at the university... it doesn’t change the fact that black voices are still undermined at this university”.
Hendricks said it also did not change the fact that “staff transformation is not happening fast enough”.
“We will no longer accept the terms of engagement dictated to us. We have decided this statue and racism must go.”
Naledi Maponopono, provincial secretary of the South African Students Congress (Sasco), said their campaign would extend beyond UCT.
“We don’t say Rhodes must fall. We say he fell a long time ago, but UCT resuscitated him from the dead and shoved him in our faces. We are clear that Rhodes is not worthy of being resuscitated from the dead,” she said.
“We will not be disgusted every day we go to school by the face of a racist, colonialist and murderer. We have caught the fever of transformation.”
Sasco would also lobby for the changing of the names of residences at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology which reflected “racists”.
“We want to tell Stellenbosch, don’t relax there. You are also going to fall,” she said.
Andile Lili, chairman of toilet protest group Ses’Khona, also addressed the students, saying they were there to support the fight against “discrimination and racism”.
“This institution has marginalised black students. It was meant only for white supremacy. We must fight against that tendency.
“Let’s take that statue (Rhodes) away from UCT. Let’s put people who fought for the people (in its place).”
Price, said UCT would not press charges against student Chumani Maxhele, who threw faeces at the controversial statue earlier this month.
Maxhele still faces an assault charge after he allegedly attacked a security officer in the fracas that followed the incident.
Meanwhile, hours before Friday’s protest action, Price told Weekend Argus the university could not make a unilateral decision on the fate of the Rhodes statue, but that “if we (collaboratively) decide to move it, it will be a very significant symbolic rupture with the past and will facilitate other debates about transformation, and force people who think everything is okay, to say, yes, there is a problem here about how people feel”.
The statue was “symbolic in multiple ways because of what it represents, but the action of moving it would also be symbolic because it would signal vigorous or renewed energy in tackling transformation issues”.
In an interview on the Rhodes statue, the university’s history and transformation on campus in general, Price said he had “no regrets that there is an enhanced and enlivened student activism” which had replaced an interval of “apathy”, or of students being “more concerned about career paths and personal issues”.
“There have been campaigns about transformation and other political and social issues, but not any that have really got students excited. To me, this is about active citizenship – so I think this is good.” - Additional reporting by Michael Morris