Ricochet News

No name change for Rhodes University, despite consensus on Cecil John Rhodes

Dec 7, 2017
No name change for Rhodes University, despite consensus on Cecil John Rhodes

Rhodes University will continue to be known by this name for some time to come after the institution's Council voted against changing the name of the university at its last Council Meeting of 2017.

In a statement, following the meeting, which was held on the 30th of November, the insitution went to great lengths to explain that it is facing resource constraints and cannot fund the expensive exercise of a name change.

"Since the issue of the name of the university came to the fore in 2015, strong views have been expressed in support of, and in opposition to, its retention. It cannot be disputed that Cecil John Rhodes was an arch-imperialist and white supremacist, who treated people of this region as sub-human.

"There is also a general consensus that there is not much to celebrate about him and the way he went about doing things… It is worth noting, however, that there is consensus about what Rhodes University has come to represent in terms of academic excellence and the brand it has developed to stand out amongst the best universities in the world. This point is held both by the proponents and opponents of the name change," the university said.

In the end, the university said that out of 24 members of Council, who were present and eligible to cast a ballot on this motion, nine members voted for the motion and 15 voted against the motion to change the name of Rhodes University.

"The matter of the name of the University has been taken very seriously by Council. It set in motion processes that would facilitate its speedy resolution," the university said.

"Given the University’s precarious financial position and the need for the University to prioritise transformation and be responsive to the challenges facing our society while maintaining its enviable academic credentials, the University cannot embark on a process of changing its name that will divert the limited resources it has."

The university further said that this "has been a difficult decision to make and, regardless of the results of the ballot, there are no winners from this process".

"While democratic decision-making is, and must always be, respected as a cornerstone upon which we build the University, Council accepts that further actions must and will be taken to ensure that appropriate recognition is given to the hurt generated by the legacy of Cecil John Rhodes," it added.

The university said it remains committed to redressing the wrongs of the past and to building an even stronger institution that every African, including all the residents of Makana local municipality, can be proud of.

"It is incumbent on us to accept that, as is the case with many great institutions founded in the 19th century or earlier, contradictions have enabled positive changes that have sustained Rhodes University as the place 'where leaders learn'.

"It was at Rhodes University, in 1967, that Stephen Bantu Biko led black students out of the National Union of South Africa Students (NUSAS) slating, amongst others, an incomplete integration of student politics," the university said. 

"In 1991, again at Rhodes University, the South African National Students Congress merged with NUSAS and formed the South African Students Congress. In Steve Biko’s honour, the Rhodes University student union building now bears his name."

Rhodes University said there were many other South African liberation struggle icons, who have been honoured in different ways at the institution, including through naming buildings and academic programmes after them.

It said that the families of Enoch Sontonga, Charlotte Maxeke and Robert Sobukwe recently agreed to the use of the names of these icons in the renaming of some of the buildings on campus.

"These new names were approved by Council following requests from the students, who live at the respective residences."

It said that further announcements will be made at the appropriate time on additional actions to be takento ensure that, while acknowledging our historical contradictions and the pain caused, the University continues to deepen the decolonisation and advancement of the institution.