Cape Town - The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation weighed in on the Rhodes statue debate on Friday, proposing that a statue of UCT’s chancellor, Graça Machel, could be erected on the university’s campus.
It added that a monument to the white UCT students who played a role in the anti-apartheid struggle should also be considered.
In a statement written by its executive director, Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu, the organisation credited students on campus for sparking an “important societal debate”. However, she said they had no right to destroy “our history, as some are threatening to do”.
Ire around the statue began around two weeks ago after a student threw faeces at the monument to Cecil John Rhodes, situated at the heart of the sprawling campus. Since then, some students, staff, political figures and celebrities have been vocal about wanting the statue either destroyed or removed.
Many students have taken over the Bremner Building on campus, where the university’s administrative offices are located. Over the past week they have used the space to hold meetings to discuss the future of the statue.
And while vice-chancellor Max Price has endorsed plans to move the statue, the decision is solely in the hands of the university council.
Tutu said students and staff had “every right to question whether it is appropriate that a statue of Cecil John Rhodes stand in a prominent position on their campus”.
“The statue was erected in a previous era to glorify a man regarded by many as among the most rapacious figures of the Southern African colonial era.”
She noted the duality of Rhodes’s impacton the country, saying that it is “his bequest that preserves the green beauty of Table Mountain” but that it was also his “greed that wrested the land from our aboriginal ancestors”.
“We cannot erase his impact. It lives with us still (and) will continue to do so for generations to come.”
She did not support the destruction of the statue, writing that “destroying statues erases history” and “obliterates a part of our common story”.
“We do not want to erase our history… We do not want to deny it. We do not want to forget what happened to us. Our past has made us who we are.”
In its proposal, the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation recommended that students should be discussing the installation of a new statue to pay homage to “one of the finest women on our planet”.
Machel, the widow of Nelson Mandela, is the fifth of chancellor of the university.
Leah Tutu described her as a “teacher, revolutionary, cabinet minister and former First Lady of two countries…
“She is one of very few people with the authority to stand in the General Assembly of the United Nations and chide the most powerful people in the world to their faces.”
She added that memorialising the role UCT students played in the anti-apartheid struggle should also be considered.
“Yes, those young people were overwhelmingly white and undeniably privileged, but they were prepared to put their power and privilege on the line to give birth to a rainbow nation.”
She said that “many people fought, bled, were imprisoned, tortured and died to create a fair, equitable, inclusive and united South Africa”.
“Our stories are rich, complex, and multidimensional.
“They are told in words and music, in symbols, landscape, structures and statuary,” she added.
“South African history is made up of all of our stories. We must not ignore our stories. We dare not erase our history.
“What we erase we forget, and what we forget we are doomed to repeat.”