cape town- 140522. The plinth under Cecil John Rhodes' statue located at the foot of Jamieson's Steps at UCT was found defaced by graffiti painted with the aid of stencils today .Pic: jason boud

Cape Town - A band of “tokoloshes” desecrated a statue of Cecil John Rhodes at UCT early on Thursday - on the eve of a debate about whether Rhodes’ statue should be removed from its current location at the centre of the university’s Upper Campus.

Tokolos Stencils, a collective of anonymous graffiti artists in Cape Town, claimed responsibility via their website on Thursday. The collective challenges the status quo of inequality in South African society, and aims to motivate ordinary citizens to “fight” for “freedom and justice”.

Their trade mark stencil consists of the words “Remember Marikana” and a reproduction of an iconic image from the strikes which led to the Marikana massacre.

The image is that of Marikana workers’ leader Mgcineni Noki (popularly known as “the man in the green blanket”) who was killed by police along with 33 other strikers in August 2012.

The stencil was also splashed outside Cosatu’s provincial headquarters in Salt River and the ANC’s offices in Mowbray, on Thursday. Tokolos considers Cosatu and the ANC to have been complicit in the massacre of miners at Marikana.

In a statement claiming responsibility for the UCT vandalism, Tokolos wrote: “In honour of all black UCT students whose land was stolen from their ancestors and whose natural re-sources were privatised by one Cecil John Rhodes.

“Tokolos reminds us that colonialism and the massacre at Marikana are not only interconnected but part of a long history of disposession, exploitation and murder of blacks (and especially poor blacks).”

UCT was outraged by the grafitti, saying that it was an “insult” to students and staff.

“UCT is investigating an act of vandalism and if we find the perpetrators we will take legal steps against their unlawful behaviour,” said media liaison Patricia Lucas. “Cecil John Rhodes is remembered at UCT for donating the property for our campuses. As much as he may have been a controversial historical figure, UCT is here because of his generosity.”

Rhodes was a businessman, mining magnate and politician who made a fortune in South Africa’s diamond mines and furthered Britain’s colonial project in Africa.

In a downloadable “heritage trail” document on the university’s website, a blurb about the statue admits that “his imperialist and racist attitude to Africa causes much controversy and resentment today”.

On Friday, in an event officially supported and encouraged by the university, students and staff will debate whether Rhodes’ statue should remain on campus. The debate is scheduled for 4.30pm (at Leslie Social LT1A).

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Cape Argus