A student wears a sticker calling for the removal of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes from the campus of the University of Cape Town. Reuters/Mike Hutchings

After a month of protests and sit-ins, a statue of a white imperialist has finally been removed from South Africa's leading university.

Student activists from the University of Cape Town celebrated a hard-fought victory Thursday. The statue of Cecil Rhodes, covered in graffiti and tangled in green straps, was hoisted from their South African campus by a crane.

The monument's removal came after a month of student-led protests and the occupation of administration buildings. Rhodes was instrumental in shaping South Africa's Apartheid history, and the physical removal of the statue was powerfully symbolic. Even more, the events leading up to its removal have recharged debates about whether enough is being done to address racial inequalities in the Rainbow Nation.

A crane stands ready to remove the statue of Cecil John Rhodes from the University of Cape Town (UCT) on April 9, 2015. (Reuters/Mike Hutchings)

Phd candidate Christopher Webb, after witnessing the #RhodesMustFall protests in March, blogged, "it is apparent that the occupation’s aim is not limited to the removal of a statue that glorifies a colonial tyrant." The student activists wanted to expose the larger, "enduring symbols of racial domination" in South Africa—and its leading academic institution.

These, Webb explained, include low wages for the school's cleaning and maintenance staff, almost all of whom are black South Africans. Unfair hiring practices were also put on blast: In 2013, the school's faculty only included five black African professors, according to The Economist. In a list of demands circulated on Change.org, the #RhodesMustFall movement called on the university to, "radically change the representation of black lecturers across faculties."

Myriad frustrations over long-held inequities were finally channeled onto the controversial statue. The monumental presence of Cecil Rhodes was a sign that the status quo would remain so—unless students organized.

Cecil Rhodes was a wealthy diamond magnate that ruled what was then known as the Cape Colony during the late 19th century. Rhodes was an ardent imperialist that greatly expanded the footprint of British rule in southern Africa. The former white-ruled nation of Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) was named in his honor. Africa scholar Richard Dowden credits Rhodes as one of the men that "planted the seeds that were to ripen into policies which deprived black people of democratic rights in South Africa." Keeping such a divisive figure immortalized with a statue overlooking the school's carefully groomed grounds was evidence that the institution continued to inadequately serve members of its black community.

Mirroring moments of the anti-Apartheid movement, #RhodesMustFall galvanized support across geographic and racial lines. Faculty and students from NYU, Columbia, and other New York universities publicly circulated a letter backing the movement. And videos posted on the group's Facebook page show the protests were supported by members of both UCT's black and white student population.

In late March, the university sent an email to its alumni asking for their opinions on a potential removal of the statue. "Can we continue to memorialize [Rhodes] in this symbolic way, while being committed to transformation?" the email asked. The answer, clearly, was a definitive "no."

Follow #RhodesMustFall and #RhodesHasFallen for updates on Instagram and Twitter.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a map of future climate risks in the U.S.
    Maps

    America After Climate Change, Mapped

    With “The 2100 Project: An Atlas for A Green New Deal,” the McHarg Center tries to visualize how the warming world will reshape the United States.

  2. photo: an Uber driver.
    Perspective

    Did Uber Just Enable Discrimination by Destination?

    In California, the ride-hailing company is changing a policy used as a safeguard against driver discrimination against low-income and minority riders.

  3. Life

    The Death and Life of the 13-Month Calendar

    Favored by leaders in transportation and logistics, the International Fixed Calendar was a favorite of Kodak founder George Eastman, whose company used it until 1989.

  4. photo: A man boards a bus in Kansas City, Missouri.
    Transportation

    Why Kansas City’s Free Transit Experiment Matters

    The Missouri city is the first major one in the U.S. to offer no-cost public transportation. Will a boost in subsidized mobility pay off with economic benefits?

  5. photo: a Tower Records Japan Inc. store in Tokyo, Japan.
    Life

    The Bankrupt American Brands Still Thriving in Japan

    Cultural cachet, licensing deals, and density explain why Toys ‘R’ Us, Tower Records, Barneys, and other faded U.S. retailers remain big across the Pacific.

×