Remove Rhodes statue, address transformation, says UCT head

2015-03-18 15:40

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University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Dr Max Price said he would like to see the statue of Cecil John Rhodes removed from its current position, but not destroyed.

The statue has brought transformation at UCT into sharp focus and created a public relations crisis for the institution, which has been forced to explain why it has not been removed, 20 years after democracy.

Over the past two weeks students have staged a number of protests, demanding the removal of the statue, arguing that it symbolises racism.

Voicing his personal opinion for the first time on the drama, which has generated a huge debate about Rhodes’ legacy and transformation at UCT, Price said.

“I do not think the statue should be destroyed or hidden away. 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 that it has made to our institution and its students.”

Another option, he said, is to leave the statue as is but place a plaque detailing the evils which Rhodes visited on the people of the continent. However, he said this doesn’t look like it will work.

“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. It is because the brooding presence of Cecil John Rhodes is located in pride of place, at the focal point of the campus, that it acquires the connotations of founder, hero, patron, role model, and embodiment of UCT’s heritage.”

Price has requested the university’s council to convene an urgent meeting to discuss the statue and broader transformation issues.

“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.”

Students, he said, are frustrated that they are not being heard when they complain about institutional racism. A number of staff, he said, have also complained about similar experiences.

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