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South African Journal of Science

On-line version ISSN 1996-7489
Print version ISSN 0038-2353

S. Afr. j. sci. vol.111 n.5-6 Pretoria May./Jun. 2015 



#RhodesMustFall: No room for ignorance or arrogance



Christina Pather

Research Office, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa




Keywords: transformation; higher education; Rhodes; South Africa; University of Cape Town



The 'Rhodes Must Fall' crusade, and its consequent movements, has had remarkable coverage in serious academic debate and in the popular press ever since the first rumblings of the protest began at the University of Cape Town. Comments on the news items have flourished; tweets have hit the highest song-bird notes. Former Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University, Saleem Badat, has claimed: 'The recent developments at the University of Cape Town and at Rhodes mark the beginnings of a social movement. It comprises students and academics, mainly black, but some white. This social movement is likely to extend to other universities, expand, and strengthen over time.'

Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State disagrees. : 'No, there will not be wholesale changes to memorials on or off university campuses. No, the country is not about to implode because some UCT students tackled the Rhodes statue. This turmoil will pass.' The Institute for Future Studies at Stellenbosch University has another view. Their commentary on the events is that this all amounts to (as their headline spells out): 'The Pyrrhic Victory of the War on the Past.'

However, a senior staff member at the University of Cape Town feels otherwise, and expresses her personal views below.



The University of Cape Town (UCT) ticks all the boxes required to be a research-intensive institution of higher education on the African continent. UCT regularly appears as the leading African institution on Westernised ranking systems such as the Times Higher Education and Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings, and, within South Africa, research indicators show that UCT consistently outperforms competitors. As such there seems to be no problem in attracting top students and staff. Our unique location on the slopes of the Table Mountain nature reserve is often cited as an attraction for staff, and many do not leave. It is this same land that was 'donated' by British mining magnate Cecil John Rhodes, on which three of our campuses have been built. Since 1934, a bronze statue of Rhodes has stood on the Upper Campus, overlooking the rugby fields and the Middle and Lower Campuses, as well as much of the city and the Cape Flats.

Without warning, on 9 March 2015, our desire to be a leading African world-class research-intensive university came under scrutiny, with the start of a critical examination of our position as a public institution of higher education in a country two decades post-apartheid. UCT played an important role in the struggle against apartheid, yet not enough has been done post-1994 to bring about freedom and change into its classrooms, laboratories and demographic profiles. Over these past two decades, critical opportunities for change at UCT were instead missed, including during the period 1997-2008 under the respective reigns of the first two South African black Vice-Chancellors, Dr Mamphele Ramphele and Professor Njabulo Ndebele. In his installation address in August 2008, current Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price charged that, despite UCT's success and guidance under the leadership of his predecessor, the 'record of assertive efforts at transformation is producing results through the recruitment of black academic staff, though this, and particularly retaining such staff, needs renewed focus'1.

A few attempts by a group of UCT academics over the past few months to openly criticise and raise awareness about the lack of transformation at UCT, and specifically the lack of black academic staff,2-4 were not sufficient to gain the attention of the university body. It was only when the statue of Rhodes was defaced on 9 March, that the university - and indeed the country and beyond - sat up to take note of why there is an urgent need to acknowledge and tackle the transformation-related challenges facing the university.




1. Installation address by Dr Max Price, University of Cape Town, August 19, 2008 [document on the Internet]. c2008 [cited 2015 Apr 30]. Available from:        [ Links ]

2. Ripping the veil off UCT's whiter shades of pale [document on the Internet]. c2014 [cited 2014 Jul 06]. Available from:        [ Links ]

3. O'Connell S. UCT: A campus at odds with itself [document on the Internet]. c2014 [cited 2015 Apr 30]. Available from:        [ Links ]

4. Macfarlane D. Iqbal Surve dumps UCT over 'lip service' [document on the Internet]. c2015 [cited 2015 Apr 30]. Available from:        [ Links ]

5. VC Installation 2008: The Mafeje Affair: Lessons of the Mafeje Affair - 40 years on [document on the Internet]. No date [cited 2015 Apr 30]. Available from:        [ Links ]

6. Pilane P. South Africa: #TransformWits - What students want [document on nthe Internet]. c2015 [cited 2015 Apr 30]. Available from:        [ Links ]



Christina Pather
Research Office, University of Cape Town
Private Bag X3, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa

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