The Cecil John Rhodes statue has sparked diverse responses from the staff and student body over the last two years. This has reached a climax over the past two weeks. A catalyst of this call for the removal of the statue has been one student who protested on his own, this was followed by student movements which have arisen and have subsequently been supported by student organisations including, but not limited to, the Students' Representative Council (SRC) as well as some progressive staff unions and bodies such as the National Education Health & Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) Western Cape which has released a statement supporting this call as well as the broader issues of transformation which this call is symbolic of.
In light of this the Student Parliament Management Committee (SPMC) decided to propose that the Student Parliament (SP) decide on an official stance on whether the statue should be removed. It must be noted that the SP is the official structure for debate in Student Governance at UCT and is representative of all student structures at UCT including the SRC, Societies, Faculty Councils, Residences, Day Students, International Students, Sports and Development Agencies. The sitting took place on 19 March at 18:30 in the Kramer Law Building.
After hours of robust discussion, debate and contentious points raised, a motion was proposed 'for the support of the removal of the Cecil John Rhodes statue'. This was then put to a vote. The result was that the House overwhelmingly, 80%, supported the motion. This is in the context of both member and observer, who were staff and students, attendance being the highest it has been in a number of years. It was also decided that the Student Parliament will be having a special sitting on Institutional Racism. The broader university community will be invited to this sitting.
It is important to note that the statue is simply a symbolic physical representation of institutional racism. Issues like the transformation of the curriculum, which is Eurocentric and undermines black voices, as well as staff demographic transformation are at stake. It must also not be forgotten that there are many axes of oppression and that black female workers face a great deal of oppression. These workers are often overlooked by many of us as simply appendages to the institution rather than human beings with stories, struggles and ambition.
It is deeply problematic that when individuals criticize white supremacy they are accused of discriminating against white people and being 'racist'. All systems of oppression where an historical, cultural and structural hierarchy is imposed must be eradicated and it is our collective responsibility, as human beings, to fight for the demise of such systems regardless of whether such systems advantage or disadvantage us.
We will no longer accept the terms of engagement, on issues of transformation specifically, being dictated to us. The management of the University is often guilty of this. The power dynamics of the university are such that it is in a context of a structure which perpetuates racism. It is time for the management of the university to listen. It is time for them to realise that we are not simply bodies that exist to regurgitate information and ways of thinking. They need to realise that we are co-creators of knowledge and that they can often learn a great deal from the individuals which they are supposed to serve.
These individuals are now taking a stand.
Mr Keenan Hendrickse, Speaker: Student Parliament
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