UCT Association of Black Alumni (UCTABA) view on Rhodes statue

29 March 2015 | Story by Newsroom

As the Western Cape chapter of UCTABA who have been engaging the UCT Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price over a considerable period about fundamental and sustainable transformation of the institution, we deem it appropriate to now publicly express our view on the polemic surrounding the removal or not of the so-called Rhodes statue at UCT.

We wish to commend the SRC and the broader progressive student body for so forcefully raising the issue of the removal of the Rhodes statue and by implication jolting the university leadership to grapple with the bigger issue of real transformation in a more direct way. It is our view that the challenge around the so-called Rhodes statue is code for something else that is bubbling under at UCT and at many of our universities and colleges.

We note with a fair amount of optimism the statements of previous UCT SRC presidents (thereby continuing the legacy of student transformation activists) who have thrown their weight behind the current president on this matter. We further note the tendency by certain parties to pigeon hole this issue about the so-called Rhodes statue and fail to pay attention to the broader and deeper wide scale transformation debate.

One also does not need to be a rocket scientist to note the subliminal and many times overt racism inherent in some of the arguments advanced on this matter. It is a fact that the racism lurking at the university that many of have experienced over the decades still persists though, as so often happens, it changes form.

Let us be clear the Rhodes statue must fall as a symbolic representation that it will no longer be business as usual and like Rhodes, UCT has to come to terms with the fact that its largely untransformed staff and student composition and workers' conditions of employment will ultimately have to go too. Our firm contention is once this happens UCT will be a better place and a more vibrant institution of higher learning where all truly feel part of it.

We continue to be engaged with the Vice-Chancellor in constructive discussions about transformation, but it is our contention that clearly the pace at which he and the university move has angered/frustrated many and the clamour for the removal of the so-called Rhodes statue might be the dam that has burst. Many have also resigned from the university out of protest or due to being systematically side-lined. As UCTABA we will intensify our efforts to have broader engagements with a solution-oriented spirit on these matters. In this regard, UCTABA is inviting alumni to a public engagement on 7th April 2015 about transformation matters dealing with admissions, employment and institutional culture with Dr Price; the SRC President; Dr Iqbal Surve; and Dr Shose Kessi (a lecturer at UCT).

We read in the media that the Vice-Chancellor has indicated that he will recommend to the University Council to remove the statue and we commend him on this stance. Council needs to swiftly endorse his recommendation and as matter of urgency he needs to ratchet up the pace of broader transformation at UCT. The university and the Vice-Chancellor will find that they have an enthusiastic partner on this journey to fundamentally change the university for the better. As UCTABA we exist to assist UCT in becoming a better place for those who teach/work and study at our alma mater.

We unequivocally endorse students' right to protest on any matter; in fact it is their constitutional right with no ifs and buts. The nature of student life is that it must be robust and push the boundaries and we are glad that it appears UCT students have started to rattle the cages and move everyone out of their comfort zones. It can only be good for the progress of society and democracy if our students constantly ask tough and uncomfortable questions from all of us, especially those in authority.

Adv Rod Solomons
Chairperson: UCTABA Western Cape

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