The statue must fall: UCT students rise against Cecil John Rhodes


About 500 staff and students from the University of Cape Town gathered on Thursday for an open-air dialogue to discuss the fate of the statue of colonialist Cecil John Rhodes, which sits on upper campus overlooking the Cape Flats. RA’EESA PATHER reports.

On Thursdays, the steps before Jameson Hall usually play host to students seeking out entertainment in the form of bands, marketing events and competitions. But this week UCT students gathered for a different reason altogether – to discuss the legacy of colonialism and the lack of transformation on campus.

Statue of Rhodes at UCT's Upper Campus

“This is an issue of having an item on campus that makes students feel uncomfortable,” said organiser Kgotsi Chikane, who sported a T-shirt bearing the words “rise up”.

“Today is a day for us to all feel uncomfortable.”

The item Chikane spoke of is the statue of Cecil John Rhodes.

The steps were packed, and more people spilled onto the plaza to form a circle around the speakers. A system was quickly established to allow for informal dialogue – anyone who wanted to talk should raise their hand and would then be given one minute to air their views on the issue.

“I’ve been here a few weeks, and I already see institutional racism. There is no statue honouring black academics,” said Bevan Willoughby, a first-year arts student. “I say we move the statue, and build something together.”

“We are here to fight a system which was to divide us as a people,” added Kukhoenyce Magobane, an undergrad student. “We are not black people fighting white people. We are fighting the system as a youth.”


The crowd cheered, and in the breaks between speakers shouts of “Amandla! Awethu!” reverberated across campus.

Students argued that the university’s lack of transformation is evident in the naming of structures around the campus. Jameson Hall, they noted, is named after Leander Starr Jameson who was prime minister of the Cape Colony from 1904 to 1908. There are no black female professors employed by the university and the history of black academics such as AC Jordan, UCT’s first black professor, and Archie Mafeje, a senior lecturer at UCT whose removal from the campus under apartheid law sparked outrage and protest from staff and students, has been largely ignored.

The statue of Rhodes, they said, had become symbolic of this lack of transformation and of institutional racism at the university.

As speaker after speaker took the mic, students gathered at the plaza demanded a date when UCT would remove the statue, chanting “Down with Rhodes, down!” and “We want a date!”


Some students said they felt that they were being unfairly victimised by protests over the statue. During a protest on Monday, UCT student Chumani Maxwele threw human excrement at the statue of Rhodes, provoking support from some and anger from others.

After the incident, Maxwele was photographed holding a placard that said “Exhibit white arrogance at UCT”.

“I am not racist, nor am I a white arrogant person,” said Matthew Holding, an undergraduate student. “I believe that we as white people are being victimised.”

Boos and jeers erupted at this.

While Holding took issue with the placard, Tom Westermann, a business science undergraduate, faulted how Maxwele had protested, saying that throwing faeces is “violating public laws” and “violating health laws”. Westermann said that a petition would be a greater way forward for change.

“White people are surprised by the poo, but we live with the poo,” said Athabele Nonxube. “The reason you are rich is because we are poor.”RhodesUCTDialogue_ToyiToyi

“If the institution listened to concerns, people wouldn’t feel the need to throw faeces,” added Roscoe Jacobs, a student on the campus.

Students cheered as sociology professor Xolela Mangcu, who has written extensively on the issue of staff transformation on the campus, joined them in solidarity and said that the removal of the statue must be a symbolic move towards removing institutional racism.

Alongside the student body, Khaled Sayed, the chairperson of the provincial ANC Youth League, took the mic to give students a nod for their actions.

â”Make the removal of the statue the removal of liberals at UCT,” Sayed said. “It cannot be that only liberal voices are heard.”

The meeting was divisive and hotly contested, but a consensus began to emerge: the statue, and the institutional racism it symbolises, must go.


Although many students rallied for the destruction of the statue, the majority of those present suggested that the statue be removed from its central perch overlooking Cape Town’s horizon, and be stowed in a separate space where colonial artefacts could be visited and critically engaged with as a reminder of South Africa’s oppression under colonial rule, and its legacy.

“Cecil John Rhodes donated land to UCT,” said Thandani Mluado. “But there were ways of acquiring land that indigenous people had, that he did not respect. His contract was blood.”

Later that day, UCT’s Student Representative Council covered the statue in a sheet to demonstrate its endorsement of the call for its removal.

But will this be enough for the university management to take action and let Rhodes go?

– All images by Ra’eesa Pather.


  1. Singapore has been independent for almost 60 years. Original statues and street names remain unchanged. Their priorities were to get their people EDUCATED and to abolish RACISM. Lee Kwan Yew’s ambition was to let every Singaporean have their own home by the year 2000. They concentrated on decent education, brought in laws against racism and built govt. subsidised flats which was affordable for citizens.

    By contrast, our youth get indoctrinated and racialised. Instead of making their education a priority, many of them prefer to hang out in places, challenging someone to look at them askew, so that they can cry ‘RACIST’!! How disgusting to deface anything with faeces. What kind of mentality is that?

    By all means, remove the statue and whilst you’re at it, also remove the name of Rhodes from other places and then, don’t forget, give all funding from the Rhodes Foundation to people who deserve it and who will use it well.

    • Singapore and South Africa do not compare due to the very different histories and experiences of colonialism. Singapore’s residents under colonialism were not displaced, segregated, or denied their humanity (some indentured and imported labourers there were). British indirect rule empowered Singaporeans and raised them up from a fishing town to a dominant economy. After British rule ended they were handed a fully functioning economy and one the richest and busiest trade ports in the world. Modern Singapore may have colonial statues but there are no hungry children, no slums and no poverty of any meaningful kind. You correctly point out the attention on education within Singapore – South Africans would not care about colonial statues if they were granted Singapore quality of education, housing and health care – and Singaporean universities are full of Singaporean faculty and students as well as great international scholars.

      Cape Town is one of the least transformed universities and people are rightfully angry. If white privilege is going to continue unchanged there then the symbols will be attacked, hopefully with hammers instead of poo though.

  2. “White people are surprised by the poo, but we live with the poo” You live with the poo? Don’t they have toilets in Cape Town? Please

    • No, in the poor read like Kayelitsha most people do not have toilets because of apharthied and a failing government

  3. This is nonsense,I am black and I find these “poo protests” ridiculous, why have they generalised and assumed that all black young people feel this way? “If the institution listened to concerns, people wouldn’t feel the need to throw faeces,” when ever has anybody felt like faeces would do the job? There are way better ways of getting attention onto your cause. This is just putting black people to shame

  4. No where else in the world other than the Western Cape has poo been so rampantly used in protest. Airport-poo, Zille- bus poo and now campus poo.. Gives new meaning to the abbreviation WC!

  5. Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price
    University of Cape Town
    Cape Town

    Dear Vice Chancellor Dr Price
    I suggest that you grant the wishes of the students of your university to remove the Cecil John Rhodes statue from its present position however while doing so do them the additional favour of removing all other traces or our colonial past.
    The European colonialists especially the English brought with them a modern civilisation which included the written alphabet, created written languages for all of South Africa´s indigenous people, introduced education and many other things that transformed stone and Iron Age societies into modern societies.
    In light of these and many other benefits that were brought by the hated colonialists I recommend the closing of the university forthwith to allow your students to return to their stone and iron age roots that are totally free of colonial influences.
    While your students are about purging South Africa of all of the benefits brought by the colonial powers I suggest they refrain from other niceties such as mobile phones, iPads, motor vehicles, televisions and all those other reminders of the colonial powers who came and lifted the tribes of South Africa out of the stone and iron age past into the 21 first century

    Yours faithfully

    Michael Hickman

      • There is nothing funny about this, judging from your name you are not South African. You do not have the right to laugh and ridicule us South African. You have not lived through the hell of apartheid so shut up.

  6. […] The fact that it’s currently there doesn’t mean it should stay there – and if an ongoing protest is successful, it won’t be there for long. The protest started last Monday, March 9, with Chumani Maxwele emptying the contents of a portable toilet on the statue, and continued with various ad hoc engagements as well as a rally on Jameson Plaza. […]


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