Past tense, present imperfect: now what of the future?

13 April 2015

What's going on at UCT?Photo by Yusuf Omar

"What's going on at UCT?"

It's a question many of us have been asked in different ways as we've covered the rolling protest of past weeks, centred on the statue of Cecil John Rhodes and his contentious legacy.

The answers distill to one thing: Rhodes is a symbol at odds with transformation.

A quote from a Student Representative Council statement sums it up: "The statue is a constant reminder for many black students of the position in society that black people have occupied due to hundreds of years of apartheid, racism, oppression and colonialism."

But over the past weeks there's been less unanimity on what to do with the Rhodes statue in the context of the future and UCT's role as an educator, generator of new, inclusive knowledge and a champion of academic freedom. And how should it be treated in the context of a transformed – and transforming – institution?

Given the salience of these topics right now, we've cleared the decks to devote this edition of Monday Monthly to these questions.

Before we dive into what we have included between these sheets, we need to say something about what isn't: in many ways, we've been circumscribed by who was able to respond in the time available, and who felt comfortable commenting in this particular medium.

We regret not having more time to do a full and fresh account of the knowledge project students have been shaping in the Archie Mafeje Room in Bremner (which the #RhodesMustFall movement has renamed Azania House). There are snippets of some of the powerful statements made at University Assembly, but these are by no means enough. This is something we wish to address overall in Monday Monthly: to give students more space, more opportunities to speak on topics relevant to them.

As for what we have been able to cover in this short span of time: we've sought reflections on Rhodes and the project of transformation from across the UCT community. To put the events of the past weeks in context, we've also put together a timeline that situates meetings, sit–ins and assemblies in the continuum of an accelerated and ongoing programme of engagement on the issue of Rhodes that culminated in the Council meeting of Wednesday 8 April.

In the months and years ahead there will be many opportunities to explore and track that transformation; to assess where we've succeeded and where we still have work to do.

In recent days, we've been reminded of the words of Nigerian poet Ben Okri upon giving the thirteenth Steve Biko Lecture at UCT in September 2012. Okri speaks broadly about the project of transformation after liberation. He asks: once the nightmare of history is over, what do we do with the day? His speech is worth reading in full, but this particular passage stood out, now that the project of rising after Rhodes has fallen truly begins.

"No one will hand us the destiny that we want. No one will carry us to the future that our bones and our history crave for. We must do it ourselves. It seems that the courage and the ingenuity, and the toughness required for getting us out of the night are indeed required much, much more for the ever–after day of the long after–years of sunlight. Freedom was just the overture. Indeed, freedom may just turn out to be a very small part of the true story of a people. The real story begins with what they did with that freedom."
– Ben Okri

The Newsroom Team

Monday Monthly

Monday Monthly started out in 1982 as a weekly staff newsletter. Since then, it's grown into a monthly publication covering a broad variety of campus life – from research, to student initiatives, to human interest. If you have an interesting perspective on the university, or a great story to tell (whether in words, pictures or any other medium), mail us at If you're looking to advertise in the classifieds, or subscribe to our mailing list, drop us a line at For general information, contact Sharifa Martin at 021 650 5816.

Manager, Newsroom and Publications: Chris Mitchell

Head, Newsroom and Publications: Judith Browne

Writers: Helen Swingler, Yusuf Omar, Abigail Calata

Photographers: Michael Hammond, Je'nine May, Roger Sedres, David Ritchie, Nardus Engelbrecht

Designer: Sean Robertson

Proofreader: Dave Buchanan

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

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