Following the fall of Cecil John Rhodes’s statue in Cape Town and talks of curriculum transformation at Rhodes University, SAfm initiated a dialogue with the Rhodes student body aimed at addressing the impact and significance of colonial symbols in South African Institutions, on Wednesday, 22 April 2015.
Distinguished Professor Paul Maylam, head of the History Department opened the discussion stating that prior to the institution’s establishment, the name was a core discussion. Prof. Maylam maintained the institution was named after Rhodes to gain financial support from the Rhodes Foundation at the time. In 1994, the Rhodes University Council discussed the possibility of changing the name, but the majority voted for the retention of the name due to its brand value. “The brand value, however, has become toxic,” said Maylam.
Sakhe Badi, 2013 Student Representative Council President and Student Union representative affirmed that Rhodes University’s history is that of segregation and racism and is synonymous with Cecil John Rhodes, and hence advocates for the name change. “We need to ask if we are comfortable with being associated with the name Rhodes, if not – it needs to be changed,” said Badi.
The Rhodes SRC’s neutral stance was praised but also scrutinised by many in the student body. Siyanda Makhubo, current Rhodes SRC President preferred to speak as a student not as the SRC President when asked if changing the name will bring transformation. “I was forced to debunk my lifestyle as a conservative person… to fit in with the rest of the people at Rhodes,” said Makhubo as he prompted that Rhodes’s social scene needs to be challenged.
A comment on the instability of the Rhodes SRC evoked a few laughs and a clap of hands by the student body. Makhubo defended his council by stating “We are the most legitimate and a responsible student council and attend to the student’s needs to our best abilities.”
Vice-Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela was also not prepared to take a particular position on the debate but upheld the view that an open discussion should not propagate tension but should instead promote engagement on the topic.
Krivani Pillay, SAfm producer and Rhodes University alum expressed her thoughts on the name change – stating that her generation wasn’t concerned with social activism and wishes more could’ve been done earlier.
“We must strive to create a shared future,” said Maylan as his concluding remark.