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Cecil Rhodes' statues and monuments get respite

MARCH 26, 2015
Cecil Rhodes' statues and monuments get respite

Thursday marks 113 years after the death of Cecil John Rhodes and these past few weeks he has managed to become a topical debate across South Africa and Zimbabwe. While there are increasing calls to remove his statues and other memorials, the late British imperialist could have received an indirect respite.

Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa on Wednesday said in a statement: “We neither support nor encourage the violent removal of any statue because we do not encourage people taking the law into their own hands.

“As government, we encourage citizen participation in efforts to find an amicable resolution to this matter through dialogue and negotiation.”

Mthethwa said any entity or community that wanted to move or remove the statue would need to undertake a 30-day public consultation process, with notifications that included presentation to the authorities and inviting comments from affected and interested parties. He said that his department had not received any formal application for the statue’s removal. 

In Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, where some have called on the government to have Rhodes’ remains exhumed and repatriated to Britain, the authorities maintain that they will not take down colonial monuments – which means the statue of missionary David Livingstone, overlooking the Victoria Falls, will also stay put. 

"History is history, heritage is heritage. You cannot edit certain parts of your history because you do not like that history you then create gaps within your story.  We are now Zimbabwe but we were once a Rhodesia and there was once a colonial episode that we might not want to occur in the future, because we forgot about it the first time it happened," says Director of National Museum and Monuments Dr Godfrey Mahachi. 

Three years ago, President Robert Mugabe refused to have Rhodes’ remains send back to Britain.

"The tourists that visit his grave will now pay for him. So Rhodes must continue to pay his taxes that way. He never paid us taxes while alive, but now he can pay taxes. He never paid his dues while alive, but now we take money from the tourists that come to visit his gravesite," he told the Zanu PF congress in 2014.

For now, the voices from within Zanu PF and the war veteran movements appear to be a fringe minority and Rhodes’ grave is to remain.  

Rhodes died in South Africa on 26 March 1902, but chose to have his remains buried atop the scenic World's View in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. 

Zimbabwe has also grappled with the very debate raging in South Africa on how to remember the past without necessarily celebrating it.

University of Cape Town

UCT Vice-Chancellor, Dr Max Price, said his institution was moving towards removing the statue after its deans agreed with calls from UCT students. He said that the demands of students calling for the removal of the statue will be referred to a special sitting of the university's council next month.

“We will be meeting with the senate, the non-academic staff, we are going to be meeting with convocation. In two week time this will go to the council, the council will listen to all these arguments. Feedback from the public over 900 emails already our proposal is that they should move the statue.”

UCT students argue that the statue represents white supremacy and that his legacy is steeped in the oppression of black people in South Africa. They also say that there is an urgent need for the transformation at the university.

A group of students also occupied the administration building of the institution demanding a date for the fall of the statue of Rhodes.

However, others say removing the statue would be erasing a part of history.

UCT ran a poll for the last few days and out of 2700 students who participated - 60% said no to the removal of the statue.

Rhodes University

Meanwhile, Cecil Rhodes is also now fighting for his legacy at Rhodes University, in Grahamstown, which was named after him.

Rhodes University students want the university's management to consider changing the name of the institution and have delivered a memorandum to the university's council

They also say Rhodes stood for white supremacy and oppression of black people. The students also insist that there is a slow pace of transformation at the University.

Students at Rhodes University say the profile of the institution does not reflect the demographics of the country and it remains one of the least transformed. Out of about 57 full-time professors, only seven are black and none of the university's eight deans is black.

Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, who has said the university will not change its name, says the students have raised pertinent questions.

“I really appreciate them raising important and uncomfortable issues that is what a university is about, raising important and uncomfortable spaces. For me what is happening at UCT and Rhodes is something that should happen right across the country and in every institution of higher learning. We must create avenues for us to engage in courageous conversations. We as nation do not engage in courageous conversation.”

Rhodes SRC Chairperson, Siyanda Makhubo, says there are deeper structural issues within university.

“The  curriculum needs to speak to our past and it needs to speak to our present and future aspirations like the fact that we not learning about the likes of Steve Biko in sociology or the fact that we not learning about Oliver Tambo in politics is a major problem,” he said.

Black Student Movement member Thembani Ngonceya says that changing the name will start the transformation process.

“Our stance in this is that as much as we are saying that the name must change, we are also saying during this process let us work in transformation because within this process of changing the name let us rebuild the university let us change the culture.”

Rhodes University management will be in robust discussions with the university council members on the name change. However, it is expected to be a lengthy process as the University now stands a chance to shed a significant part of its colonial history.

Univesity of KwaZulu Natal

Under the hashtag #Kinggeorgemustfall some Univesity of KwaZulu Natal students have also begun calling for the statue of King George to be removed from the university's grounds.

However a Tweeter user, [email protected] tweeted; “South Africa will remain statueless. With all this, #RhodesMustFall  #KingGeorgeMustFall #GhandhiMustFall. Next up idiba!!”


Additional reporting SABC.

Image: UCT.