UCT sees urgency for debate

2015-05-05 06:00

The Cecil John Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town was temporarily removed last week Thursday.

Liza van Deventer

The Cecil John Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town was temporarily removed last week Thursday. PHOTO: Liza van Deventer

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After a special sitting by the UCT Council the Cecil John Rhodes statue was temporarily removed last Thursday.

Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, chairperson of the Council, says it voted in favour of removing the statue from UCT’s Upper Campus last Wednesday.

Ndungane says this follows a month-long series of protests by UCT students which informed the debate around statues, symbols and the impact these have on the climate of inclusiveness on the UCT campus.

Andrew Hall, CEO of Heritage Western Cape, and Gerda Kruger, executive director of UCT’s communication and marketing department, confirm that a permit had been granted to UCT for the temporary removal of the statue.

Hall and Kruger say the permit for temporary removal grants UCT the right to legally remove the statue for storage at an alternative venue that has to be to the satisfaction of Heritage Western Cape.

Furthermore, a heritage architect will oversee the temporary removal.

Hall and Kruger explain that the permit for temporary removal is granted pending an application for permanent removal within 90 days. This will include a process of wider public participation.

Ndungane says although the vice-chancellor had announced a programme to review symbols and names in October last year, the depth and breadth of feelings on the issue unleashed by the student protest “challenged us to accelerate the consideration of the Rhodes statue, in particular”.

Ndungane says this process has been orderly and deliberative, canvassing the views of students, the Senate, academic, professional, administrative and support staff, the convocation, alumni and the public.

“It has certainly been enriched by hundreds of articles in the newspapers, discussions on radio and television and on social media.

“We have noted the extent of the support amongst all the groupings for removing the statue,” he says.

Ndungane further says this process has been vindicated by the number of people who entered the debates opposed to removing the statue and who have changed their minds as a result of the frank engagement on the issue.

“This is exactly how a university should work and we believe it is an example to the country in dealing with heritage issues,” he says.

Ndungane says the Upper Campus precinct is a declared provincial heritage site and is thus subject to heritage legislation.

“UCT will immediately submit an application to Heritage Western Cape to have the statue removed. However, in view of the Council decision we have concerns about the safety of the statue and believe that the only way to protect it while Heritage Western Cape is considering our application, is to temporarily remove it for safekeeping,” he says.

Meanwhile, the university will continue with the planned review of other symbols and names this year.

“Furthermore, the student engagement on this issue has added an energy and urgency to addressing many other aspects of transformation and has mobilised members of the university community not previously seized with the issue,” Ndungane says.

He adds that the university management will partner with the students, different staff structures and the UCT community to review and refocus their transformation plans

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