Words by Laura Richardson | Photos by Nompilo Ndlovu
In the past week, tensions between Rhodes University students have risen steeply in response to issues surrounding the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign being orchestrated by students attending the University of Cape Town (UCT). UCT students are calling for a statue of Anglo-imperialist Cecil John Rhodes to be removed from the university campus on the basis of Rhodes history as an advocate of racist ideologies and the oppression of non-whites. Rhodes Students have used a variety of platforms to debate the matter, with some students demanding that Rhodes University itself change its name.
Last week the Rhodes Student Representative Council (SRC) held a public meeting to address the issue. In response to this meeting the SRC have released a written statement on the topic of the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign. What follows is a brief five point summary of this statement:
- The Rhodes SRC supports the removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at UCT campus. Rhodes legacy negatively affected many South Africans and to remove his statue is to acknowledge the practical reality of institutionalized racism in our country.
- The continuing discrimination of various students according to race, gender, class, nationality and disability needs to be recognized. Forms of institutionalised oppression against these students need to be dealt with.
- The Students who advocate for name change have valid concerns, given Cecil John Rhodes legacy. However, some students also argue that the name Rhodes is associated with academic excellence and would be expensive to change. The SRC takes both of these views into account.
- The SRC encourages an ongoing dialogue on the issue of Rhodes name change and institutionalized racism on campus. They suggest instituting core courses on discrimination and privilege, as well as plenary group discussions.
- The SRC believes that change needs to take place within the university management in terms of curriculum content, expenditure and representation to resolve issues of institutionalized discrimination.
The SRC must be admired for the speed and efficiency with which they have tackled rising student tensions. That said, it is unclear whether the public meeting or this statement will have any effect on Rhodes culture of institutionalised racism. The challenge of institutionalized racism is its subtlety; it is a form of discrimination which has been normalized exists as part of a long established system. Many of the SRC’s aims are idealistic, and will be incredibly difficult to achieve in reality. As the old aphorism notes “you can take a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink”.