On Monday, UCT student Chumani Maxwele threw human excrement at the statue of Cecil John Rhodes to protest against institutional racism, white privilege and the lack of transformation at the university. Maxwele, the SRC president Ramabina Mahapa, and other students told RA’EESA PATHER what they make of the protest.
Chumani Maxwele, 30, protestor
It took me a year to take that stand. The black resistance continues; there’s a history behind our actions and we should acknowledge those who came before us, such as Prof AC Jordan and Archie Mafeje. We love UCT, we love white people; and vice chancellor Max Price has acknowledged that the university could do more to reflect the diversity of students on campus. But we know that he won’t take a stand until black students and black staff take a stand. The only thing we want is a date when Cecil John Rhodes will fall.
Ramabina Mahapa, 23, SRC president, stays in residence
The SRC was not involved in the protest. We were called down because there was a man putting poo on the statue. When I asked him why he was protesting, he mentioned white privilege, white domination at UCT, and the lack of transformation. When you walk around UCT, the statues are predominantly of white males, so there’s a lack of representation in terms of gender and race. On a picture outside the library, there’s a black man with his genitalia exposed, a small white girl, and another African man. In African culture, you can’t have a small child – whether black or white – looking at a naked black man. The institutional symbolism around UCT doesn’t say “black child, be proud”. The SRC doesn’t condone behaviour such as the protestors’, but we are understanding of where the student came from and his frustration. If the university doesn’t respond to the student’s concerns, the student is bound to go beyond the rules and procedures to get his voice heard.
Lubabalo Mdintsi, 19, stays in residence
From what I was told, it was protesting against racism and Cecil John Rhodes. I don’t know about throwing faeces and what kind of message that sends, but the historical lie as far as Rhodes being a revolutionary in Africa goes, is just that: a lie. He enslaved the continent and then changed history to such an extent that he was seen as a revolutionist. Throwing faeces gets people’s attention, which I suppose was the goal, but there are probably better ways to do it. The problem is, when you go radical a lot of times it turns people away, and people usually dumb it down to ignorance. I would rather it be about education. That statue will probably never go away. It’s been 21 years of democracy and zero years of equality. People say that non-white people are in power, but they don’t realise the ripple effect that such a long line of oppression has had on the larger population. People say you’re at UCT, you’re privileged, but you will only see the results of it in two generations’ time.
Anees Cozyn, 20, Schaapkraal
I saw a majority of black Africans and one white girl protesting, but I don’t know what they were protesting about. Throwing faeces is inhumane and immature, especially at an educational institution like UCT. I don’t know why they’re doing that here. I don’t think there is racism at UCT – everyone is welcoming even though we’re all from different backgrounds. Protesting against the statue doesn’t have any relevance, because that was in the past – even if Cecil John Rhodes did colonise everyone, it was long ago and it’s over now.
Rachel Reynolds, 19, stays in residence
They were protesting against the Cecil John Rhodes statue and how it represents things we shouldn’t be reminded of every day at UCT – such as colonialism and apartheid. There should be a plaque up saying what the university believes it should be there for, so that it’s clear for everyone what the statue actually is memorialising. It represents something different for some people, but from the university’s perspective there needs to be a clear understanding of what the university wants it there for. The throwing of faeces was necessary. If they had done what was expected and followed the rules, it wouldn’t get attention. If you want to bring change, the big thing is attention. The only bad thing is that someone had to clean the faeces off the statue. The person who threw it could have cleaned it up themselves, but then that kind of defeats the purpose. The university probably won’t cave, because then it shows that not following the rules will get students what they want, which might encourage others to break the rules.