Cape Town - Posters of Adolf Hitler and swastikas were put up around the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) landmark Jameson Hall in the latest salvo in the ugly spat around the fate of the contentious Cecil John Rhodes statue on the campus.
Meanwhile, the ruling ANC has expressed its support for the student-led campaign in the latest turn of events which have rocked UCT in recent weeks.
“We had hoped that by putting up symbols of evil relatable to the majority of society, we would have activated people to feel what we are feeling and to see what we see,” said student activists grouping Black Monday in a release on their Facebook page on Wednesday evening. “Hitler committed a gross crime against humanity, and equally, Rhodes committed a gross crime against humanity.”
The statement by the group came as a result of complaints lodged to UCT’s Student Representative Council (SRC) over the use of the Hitler and swastika imagery.
The SRC deemed the protest in “ill-taste”, but Black Monday stated they were not anti-semitic and condemned the use of the swastika to incite violence. However, they argued the use of the symbol was needed to garner support for the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign.
“We believe this is a defendable cause that should be supported by society as a whole; however, we have been met with apprehension and division along racial lines,” said the group.
“We wanted people to walk to campus and see symbols of evil. We wanted them to feel uncomfortable and to complain. But mostly, we wanted people to empathise with our cause. To ask themselves why they are not uncomfortable with the statue of Rhodes and why they do not complain about these issues,” the group said.
Kgotsi Chikane, organiser of last week’s protest gathering at UCT and president of youth-led movement Inkhulufreeheid, condemned the actions of Black Monday.
“Using Swastika’s to prove a point is senseless to say the least. The whole act lacks strategic foresight and pushes to exclude rather than include,” he said on his Facebook page.
“It in fact divides black people in particular because it forces you to take a side that is unrelated to your original goal. It clouds your end goal by making your debate a debate about other issues… It’s time-consuming. Time we simply don’t have”.
University spokesperson Pat Lucas was unable to provide comment on management’s response to Black Monday’s actions.
However, the group reported they were, within 30 minutes of the posters going up, called into a meeting by UCT management.
“Let us expose UCT management for their hypocrisy. For more than a week, students have been campaigning about the removal of the Rhodes statue yet we have received an inadequate response that came in very late; whereas the University has been very efficient in responding to bad press. In just 30 minutes of the Hitler and swastika poster going up, the University called Black Monday to a meeting to account. This inconsistency highlights UCT’s embedded institutional racism,” claimed the group.
For the rest of the week, the group would continue putting up symbols of Adolf Hitler, the Ku Klux Klan, the Confederation Flag, and the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging.
Meanwhile, the ANC released a statement on Thursday expressing their support for “the courageous efforts and campaign by the progressive students of UCT, under the leadership of the SRC, to transform the institution – including removal of racially offensive symbols.”
The statement came in response to the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) call in National Assembly urging all to support the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign.
Although the ANC did not agree with the manner in which the EFF’s call was made, they since communicated alignment with the students’ campaign.
“Rhodes’s name is synonymous with the darkest era of our country’s history, in which black people were subjected to a murderous, unjust, inhumane, criminal, and oppressive system on the basis of the colour of their skin,” said a statement from the office of ANC Chief Whip Stone Sizani. “Having monuments glorifying the legacy of such individuals who embody such an evil system undermines our ongoing endeavour for national reconciliation and unity.”
The ANC said it was aware the removal would not bring “overnight transformation” to UCT but would serve as a powerful gesture by university management.
“We agree that such historical monuments serve as a reminder to the nation never to forget our collective history and to value the future we have. However, their location should not be offensive or make other races feel unwelcome in the country of their birth,” said the ANC.
The ANC would, in the near future, table a proper parliamentary motion on the matter, it said.