False mantle of radicalism

13 April 2015

Prof Nicoli Nattrass
Centre for Social Science Research

"UCT exists because Rhodes supported elite education. We embody this legacy even as we reject his racism and sexism.

"Staff and students aspire to UCT precisely because of its international reputation. The admission system advantages black students, but they still have to be good enough to get in. Selection committees favour black South Africans, but competition is strong because UCT attracts applicants from all over the world. My colleague Xolela Mangcu argues compellingly that UCT could do more to attract black South Africans currently working at elite overseas universities like Harvard. His is a simultaneously transformative and elitist project. Rhodes would approve (once he got over the presence of black and female academics).

"We are all part, to varying degrees, of the internationally circulating elite Rhodes envisaged. When I was a student in the 1980s I threw red paint on his statue (the precise motivation escapes me – I think Marxism and alcohol were involved). But I accepted the Rhodes scholarship, an opportunity that helped land me a job at UCT.

"Sizwe Mpofu–Walsh, one of the past SRC presidents supporting the 'Rhodes Must Fall' campaign, is currently a student at Oxford. His tweets for the campaign are interspersed with Oxford happenings, like meeting Lord Patten for a 'wide?ranging chat'. He too is part of the elite educational project associated with Rhodes. Hopefully he will also aspire to a job at UCT.

"Removing the statue will provide the illusion that we have rid ourselves of Rhodes' legacy. It would cloak UCT in a false mantle of radicalism, hiding the embarrassing truth that we are an elite institution that reinforces social inequality on a daily basis. The statue should be moved – but let's keep it somewhere on campus to remind us that we are the living legacy of Rhodes' elitism, and have a corresponding debt to society."

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Monday Monthly

Volume 34 Edition 03

13 Apr 2015

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