Cape Town university votes for removal of colonial statue

Cecil John Rhodes Image copyright AP
Image caption The statue of Cecil Rhodes was targeted last month

The University of Cape Town (UCT) has voted to remove a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes that had become the focus of student protests.

The monument will be taken down from the campus on Thursday and stored for "safe keeping", UCT's council said.

Students have been campaigning for the removal of the statue of the 19th century figure, unveiled in 1934. It was smeared with excrement last month.

Other monuments to colonial-era leaders have also been recently vandalised.

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The campaign has triggered a backlash. On Wednesday, crowds of white South Africans rallied at statues of Paul Kruger in Pretoria, and Jan van Riebeeck in Cape Town, saying they were part of their heritage and should not be targeted.

Media review: Taraneh Millard, BBC Monitoring

South Africa's media has been debating how the country should deal with its troubled past following the decision to remove the Cecil Rhodes statue. "Symbols aren't inanimate objects, they are powerful devices that must be removed if they pay homage to a dark and oppressive past," argues the Mail & Guardian.

But writing in the News24 website, Vusi Kweyama warns against "erasing" history: "We must teach our children how to remember in a way that is empowering and educational."

The Daily Maverick highlights the need for more reforms. "The specific legacies of Rhodes and Kruger are largely meaningless… the statues are a symbol of all that remains to be done, of real transformation," says the paper's op-ed.

The Citizen is less optimistic, suggesting the "race war" in South African universities shows that "our academics are not succeeding at their most fundamental task: producing critical but tolerant graduates".

Kruger, a contemporary of Rhodes, was an Afrikaner leader known for his opposition to the British in South Africa. Van Riebeeck was a Dutch coloniser who arrived in South Africa on 5 April 1652.

A white protester at his statue held a placard which read: "Hands off our heritage. This is genocide."

The university's 30-member council governs the institution and is made up of staff and students.

In a statement released after the vote on Wednesday, the council said it had immediately applied to the heritage authority to have the Rhodes statue taken down.

The council said it would temporarily remove the monument, over concerns for its safety, while the authority considered the application.

The statement said the area of the campus containing the statue "is a declared Provincial Heritage site and... thus subject to heritage legislation".

The council said it had canvassed the views of students, academic staff, alumni and the public before making its decision.

"This is exactly how a university should work and we believe is an example to the country in dealing with heritage issues," it added.

Rhodes controversy:

Image copyright Martin Hall
Image caption It has been boarded up by university authorities and will now be removed

Dividing South Africa

Why keep Rhodes?

The vote followed weeks of protests by students across the campus demanding that the memorial to Rhodes be removed.

He was an Oxford-educated politician and mining businessman, who played a key role in the expansion of British rule in southern Africa.

Ramahiba Mahapha, the head of the Students Representative Council (SRC) told the BBC his statue was "a symbol of institutional racism".

In a statement released on Wednesday the SRC said it "whole heartedly welcomed" the council's decision.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption A protester holds a placard with an image of Jan van Riebeeck
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Green paint was thrown on the statue of Paul Kruger, who is revered by Afrikaners

White minority rule ended in South Africa in 1994.

South Africa's leftwing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party has backed the campaign to remove the statues.

"All these statues must go down," its spokesman Mbuyseni Ndlozi said earlier this week.

"We need to craft a new symbolism to remember and commemorate the colonial and apartheid past that is not based only on icons of white supremacy like Jan van Riebeeck and Paul Kruger but shows freedom fighters, black and white, who opposed it."

Government officials have condemned the attacks on statues, and say a decision on their future will be taken only after consulting all groups.

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