Last laugh on Rhodes

13 April 2015

Judge Albie Sachs
Law alumnus

"Rushing up the steps of UCT so as not to be late for my early morning lectures, I always winced as I passed the statue of Cecil John Rhodes. At that time I would have supported melting down the statue and selling the bronze to support scholarships for students from the Eastern Cape and Zimbabwe. Today I feel there is a much more meaningful and creative way to go: instead of extinguishing Rhodes, we keep him alive on the campus and force him, even if posthumously, to witness newly constructed surrounds that tell him and the world that he is now living in a constitutional democracy.

"I can give examples of how this was managed in a similar situation. One is the Old Fort Prison in Johannesburg, where the new Constitutional Court was to be built. Some said the prison was a site of humiliation and despair that ought to be razed to the ground to make way for a hospital or school. We said no. There was too much history in those cells.

"A two–stage competition was won by architects in Durban and a town planner in Johannesburg. Their design was based on placing a building representing justice under a tree right next to the walls of the notorious Number Four prison. The result: a sharp and memorable dialogue has been set up between the past and the present.

"My proposal, then, is that UCT lay down the principles based on the anti–racist values of our Constitution, which should guide the transformation of the Rhodes statue; invite the public and professionals to produce designs for the creation of an imaginative and renovated space in which the statue should be located; and, finally, establish a broadly–based panel, in which the present generation of students would have a strong voice, to choose the most appropriate entry.

"In this way, we could have the last laugh on Rhodes."

Monday Monthly Read more stories from the April 2015 edition.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.

Monday Monthly

Volume 34 Edition 03

13 Apr 2015

Download PDF

Previous Editions