South Africa’s University of Cape Town removed a statue of Cecil John Rhodes from its main campus on Thursday following a month of student protests about the colonial-era figure.
Its removal today represents the successful conclusion of a process UCT started last month “to allow as many people as possible to express their views,” said the university, which is situated on land that Rhodes donated. The statue has been taken to a safe location and the university will now seek public views to help determine its final location, UCT said in a statement.
Rhodes was a British colonialist who seized land in southern Africa more than 100 years ago to further what was the British Empire. UCT students threw human excrement on Rhodes’ statue in March as they started protesting. Since then, four other representations of colonial or apartheid figures have been defaced, some of them by members of the Economic Freedom Fighters opposition party.
“The removal of the statues will, apart from polarizing society, remove forever the opportunity to place the statue into its historical context and remove the opportunity to help develop a common heritage,” Len Raymond, chairman of the Heritage Association of South Africa, said in an e-mailed response to questions Wednesday. Preserving South Africa’s past would “promote understanding of the dark side of the symbols of colonialism and apartheid,” he said.
Green paint was thrown on the statue of Paul Kruger in Pretoria on April 5. Kruger was president of the Afrikaner-led Transvaal Republic from 1883 until 1900, by which time the Anglo-Boer war had begun. Afrikaans singer Sunette Bridges chained herself to Kruger’s statue on Wednesday to object to the vandalism. The EFF said some of its members had defaced the work.
“The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign is really a trigger for broader concerns about transformation,” Adam Habib, the vice chancellor of Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “There is legitimacy to these concerns and we should not react defensively. Having said this, I do not believe that what was decided was necessarily the correct decision. I do not like the idea of wiping out history.”
The apartheid era, when non-white South Africans were hindered from participating in the economy, ended after the first all-race elections in 1994 when Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president.
Rhodes’ removal “is an important step towards the transformation of our public academic spaces,” the Economic Freedom Fighters said in an e-mailed statement. “The EFF has long held the conviction that it is these monuments that continue to inspire white people to think they are superior and have the right to celebrate their murderous and racist past even 21 years after 1994.”