CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Hundreds of University of Cape Town students staged a protest march on Friday demanding the removal from the campus of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes, the British imperialist regarded as one of the main proponents of white colonial domination.
Twenty years after the end of white-minority rule, South Africa is still grappling with the legacy of centuries of racism, and the names of roads, buildings and other cultural symbols remain deeply emotive and divisive.
“We want to re-imagine South Africa and how can we re-imagine South Africa if we are still reminded of such symbols,” said 30-year-old political science student Chumani Maxwele, who sparked the furor when he flung human faeces on the statue two weeks ago.
“This is just a symbol of white racism, of institutional racism, and it must be removed,” he told Reuters.
The statue of a seated Rhodes overlooking the main rugby fields the university, one of Africa’s top academic institutions, was covered with black plastic and tape as the students marched past with placards calling for its removal.
It was unveiled in 1934 and is one of three monuments to the arch-imperialist erected around Cape Town, including the massive Romanesque granite Rhodes Memorial on the slopes of Table Mountain overlooking the university.
Born in England in 1853, Rhodes made his fortune with his De Beers mining company during the Kimberley diamond rush, and went on to grow his wealth during the ensuing gold rush around modern-day Johannesburg.
Famous for dreaming of a Cape-to-Cairo railway, he used his colossal wealth to pursue his dream of expanding Britain’s empire in Africa, annexing Mashonaland - present-day Zimbabwe - and naming it Rhodesia after himself.
The anti-Rhodes protest has created a bind for the university’s bosses, who do not want to be accused of historical denialism or being insensitive to the hardship and deprivation meted out for decades on South Africa’s black majority.
University vice-chancellor Max Price met the marchers and told them he was in favor of moving the statue but said further consultation was needed. A full university council meeting has been scheduled for April 15 to decide its fate.
Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Ed Cropley