‘Council has not deliberated on changing the name of Rhodes University’

2015-03-21 07:15

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Grahamstown -The debate about a name change at Rhodes University has not come up for debate, and as such will remain, Vice Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela has said.

This week, students staged protests, asking questions about the slow pace of transformation and inclusivity at Rhodes, City Press reported.

They also pressured the university’s management to consider changing the name Rhodes, arguing that Cecil John Rhodes, after whom the university was named, stood for racism, plundering, white supremacy, colonialism, pillaging, dispossession and the deliberate oppression of black people.

The protests culminated in a meeting between students and management last night.

Speaking to City Press on Friday, Mabizela said: “I have a view on the matter of name change. I have, however, assiduously and steadfastly refused to publicly declare my position on the question of the name of our university.  The reason is quite simple: given my position as the VC of Rhodes, if I were to publicly declare my position, that would be disrespectful of our council, senate and other constituencies. It would undermine any democratic process to resolve the name issue, should such process be set in motion, as my position would be seen as partisan.  Should the decision be that we engage in a process of consultation I wouldn’t like that process to be not clouded by my publicly declared position,” he said.

Of Thursday meeting, which lasted for more than four hours, Mabizela said: “It was a wonderful student forum. The students raised pertinent issues relating to the name change issue and transformation.”

While the student profile of Rhodes does reflect the demographics of the country, the university remains one of the least transformed in the country. Out of about 57 full-time professors, only seven are black. None of the university’s eight deans is black.

The university, he said, was dealing with issues of transformation.

Mabizela said while he felt that Rhodes should not be celebrated, it was equally important not to pretend that a pre-1994 South Africa did not exist.

“We haven’t given careful consideration about how to deal with our past. We must reconcile ourselves with our sorry past and move on.”

UCT debate

The debate about transformation at Rhodes spilt over from the University of Cape Town (UCT). Two weeks ago students tossed excrement at the statue of Cecil John Rhodes located at the foot of the Jameson Steps, and argued that it should be destroyed because it reminds them of Rhodes’ racist past.

Dr Max Price, UCT’s vice chancellor, asked the university’s council to convene an urgent meeting to discuss the future of the statue. On Thursday he told City Press that his personal opinion was that the statue should not be destroyed but should be moved to a different place at the campus.

Currently, he said, the statue is displayed in a prominent position, which gives the impression that Rhodes was a hero and that the institution admired him.

“We actually don’t,” he said. “The statue was erected to honour him and to show appreciation because he actually gave us the piece of land where this institution is. At that time he was thought to have been a great leader, but now …

“He saw it as his mission to extend the British Empire and civilise people in Africa. But today, we can say that he was clearly racist. He didn’t hesitate to kill people. So people feel that symbols like these remind them of conquests and how their land was stolen and how they were oppressed.”

As much as the university was transforming, Price said it had no plans to change its name.

» This article was updated since first published

Read more on:    uct  |  rhodes university  |  max price  |  port elizabeth  |  education  |  protests  |  monuments debate  |  racism  |  cecil john rhodes

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