|THE debate about a name change at Rhodes University is closed, at least for now, the institution’s head, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, has said.
This week, students staged protests, asking questions about the slow pace of transformation and inclusivity at Rhodes.
They also pressured the university’s management to consider changing the name Rhodes, arguing that Cecil John Rhodes, after whom the university was named, stood for racism, plundering, white supremacy, colonialism, pillaging, dispossession and the deliberate oppression of black people.
The protests culminated in a meeting between students and management last night.
Speaking to City Press of Friday, Mabizela said: “There is no need to change the name. And council has not deliberated on the matter recently. I have my personal views, but it would be amiss of me to voice them now… should the debate come around again people will say but Mabizela has already said this, that and the other.”
Of Thursday’s meeting, which lasted for more than four hours, Mabizela said: “It was a wonderful student forum. The students raised pertinent issues relating to the name change issue and transformation.”
While the student profile of Rhodes does reflect the demographics of the country, the university remains one of the least transformed in the country. Out of about 57 full-time professors, only seven are black. None of the university’s eight deans is black.
The university, he said, was dealing with issues of transformation.
Mabizela said while he felt that Rhodes should not be celebrated, it was equally important not to pretend that a pre-1994 South Africa did not exist.
“We haven’t given careful consideration about how to deal with our past. We must reconcile ourselves with our sorry past and move on.”
The debate about transformation at Rhodes spilt over from the University of Cape Town (UCT). Two weeks ago students tossed faeces at the statue of Cecil John Rhodes located at the foot of the Jameson Steps, and argued that it should be destroyed because it reminds them of Rhodes’ racist past.
Dr Max Price, UCT’s vice chancellor, asked the university’s council to convene an urgent meeting to discuss the future of the statue.
On Thursday he told City Press that his personal opinion was that the statue should not be destroyed but should be moved to a different place at the campus.
Currently, he said, the statue is displayed in a prominent position, which gives the impression that Rhodes was a hero and that the institution admired him.
“We actually don’t,” he said. “The statue was erected to honour him and to show appreciation because he actually gave us the piece of land where this institution is. At that time he was thought to have been a great leader, but now…
“He saw it as his mission to extend the British Empire and civilise people in Africa. But today, we can say that he was clearly racist. He didn’t hesitate to kill people. So people feel that symbols like these remind them of conquests and how their land was stolen and how they were oppressed.”
As much as the university was transforming, Price said it had no plans to change its name.City Press