Western Cape / 18 March 2015, 1:25pm / Kieran Legg and Junior Bester
Cape Town - UCT vice-chancellor Dr Max Price believes the controversial Rhodes statue on campus should be moved.
He has also called for a special meeting on Friday to discuss the future of the statue following picketing and protests.
In a statement released by Price on Wednesday, the vice-chancellor said only the university council could take the decision to move the statue and it would first have to seek approval from Heritage Western Cape to do so.
“I believe that there is a significant view that the statue should be moved. However, as suggested above, there has never been any formal consultation or organised discussion on this matter, and it would not be appropriate for the UCT executive, or council, to make such a recommendation without undertaking such a discussion,” said Price.
The meeting is set to take place on Friday. it is understood that protesting UCT students also plan to march on a university building on that day.
Price said he believed the statue should be moved, rather than destroyed or hidden away. He said the statue’s position at the focal point of the university had attracted connotations of being a “founder, hero, patron, role model and (an) embodiment of UCT’s heritage”.
“I just think it should not be there - it should be moved. This will not compromise our ability to record and debate the role Rhodes played in the city’s and continent’s history. And it will not change our acknowledgment that UCT acquired its site from the Rhodes estate, and the positive contribution it has made to our institution and its students.”
He said another option was to leave the statue standing where it is but include a plaque at its base which in writing will acknowledge the “injustices of colonial conquest enacted under Rhodes’ watch”.
“This might be accompanied by another artwork to be located alongside Rhodes, to ‘speak back’ by way of alternative values and convictions. However, it is, in my view, the particular location and setting of the Rhodes statue that is the problem and it cannot be addressed by contextualising the statue or installing alternative icons.”
Price said Friday’s meeting was part of the university’s plans for addressing various transformation issues this year.
He said they had initiated a process to review statues, building names and other symbols that affect the “institutional climate” of UCT and how these may affect the “sense of inclusiveness or alienation felt by staff and students”.
Meanwhile, nine past SRC presidents from UCT have added their support to the campaign to remove the statue, but those wanting it 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. “Instead of throwing a tantrum they should be discussing the matter in a proper dialogue.”
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. They said the issues surrounding the statue were not new, and the time had come for the university to deliver on its transformation promises.
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”.