Cry for transformation rings out at packed assembly

25 March 2015 | Story by Newsroom
At the University Assembly on 25 March 2015, held so that staff and students might air their views on the #RhodesMustFall debate, Jameson Hall was filled to capacity. Many students came wearing tape over their mouths.
At the University Assembly on 25 March 2015, held so that staff and students might air their views on the #RhodesMustFall debate, Jameson Hall was filled to capacity. Many students came wearing tape over their mouths.

Heritage, signs and symbolism were superceded by the harder issues synonymous with transformation at Wednesday night's University Assembly in a jam-packed Jameson Hall. These were equity, institutional culture and racism, curricula, higher education, and colonialism.

But underneath the vociferous and impassioned calls from students, staff and alumni shared from the podium was a common call: the Rhodes statue must be removed as a precursor to accelerated transformation.

The assembly, which Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price described as the largest gathering in the Jameson Hall that he could remember, was part of the #TransformUCT campaign and intended to extend the debate about the Rhodes statue into all of the university's constituencies.

But that debate got off to a delayed start after an early disruption when Student Parliament Speaker Keenan Hendrickse's co-chair, Professor Barney Pityana, the new president of Convocation, agreed to step down after protests from the floor. He was replaced by Kgotsi Chikane, one of the student organisers of the #RhodesMustFall campaign.

After brief addresses by SRC president Ramabina Mahapa and the vice-chancellor, members of the audience were invited to have their say from the podium. Some read their poems, others shared memories of hardship and exclusion, and others a vision of an inclusive and welcoming UCT.

As a result of ongoing protests at UCT in the past two weeks, focused on the #RhodesMustFall campaign, the university has initiated and fast-tracked a process to review the statue. This accelerated programme culminates in final proposal regarding the statue at a special sitting of UCT Council on 8 April.

In a communique to staff and students on 24 March, Price said: "UCT is an argumentative university. This is an abiding strength: it shows our engagement with the issues of our times and our interest in ideas that matter. Undoubtedly the students are leading a national debate. We have gone to great lengths to allow a free exchange of ideas on the issue of the statue."

Story by Helen Swingler. Photo by Je'nine May.


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