CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa’s University of Cape Town decided on Wednesday to remove a contentious statue of British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes which has triggered protests from students over the past month.
The statue of a seated Rhodes overlooking the main rugby fields of the university, one of Africa’s top academic institutions, has been covered up for the past few weeks as students, both whites and blacks, regularly marched past with placards calling for its removal.
They insist the statue, unveiled in 1934, is a symbol of the institutional racism they say prevails in South Africa two decades after the end of white-minority rule which marginalised blacks.
It is one of three monuments to the arch-imperialist erected around Cape Town, including the massive Romanesque granite Rhodes Memorial on the slopes of Table Mountain overlooking the university.
A special council set up by the university to decide on the issue said the statue may suggest that the university adheres to Rhodes and his values, which are inconsistent with the university’s commitment to providing an inclusive environment for all its members.
The protests against the statue have triggered similar reaction at other institutions of higher learning in South Africa and other symbols, with a statue of Afrikaner Paul Kruger in the capital Pretoria vandalised with green paint recently.
The council said the Rhodes statue would be taken down from Thursday to protect it, and kept in storage pending a decision from heritage authorities on its final resting place.
A small but vocal group of around 60 mostly black students stormed the special council meeting on Wednesday evening, demanding that they be heard on various other issues as well, including on the curriculum and the racial composition of university staff.
”We know that this issue is beyond the statue. It speaks to institutional racism, it speaks to a curriculum which is poisonous to an African child and speaks to black people at UCT who still feel they are a problem,” student protester, Masixole Mlandu, told Reuters.
Born in England in 1853, Rhodes made his fortune with his De Beers mining company and used his vast wealth to pursue his dream of expanding Britain’s empire in Africa, annexing Mashonaland - present-day Zimbabwe - and naming it Rhodesia after himself.
Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Susan Fenton