Rhodes University, Grahamstown. Picture: DAILY DISPATCH
Rhodes University, Grahamstown. Picture: DAILY DISPATCH

Student leaders say there is no justification for retaining the name Rhodes University and students will protest against it.

They were reacting to a statement from the Rhodes University council that, in a secret ballot at its meeting last week, 15 members voted to retain the name and nine voted against it.

Cecil John Rhodes, who was an educational benefactor as well as a mining magnate and white supremacist, symbolises a hated colonial past. In 2015, as a result of the #RhodesMustFall campaign at the University of Cape Town, the Rhodes statue there was removed.

Lwando Mangqisi, the South African Students Congress (Sasco) provincial secretary for the Eastern Cape, said the university council’s decision was racist because Sasco had been calling for decolonisation, which included renaming institutions and buildings.

Jacob Tau, Sasco’s provincial secretary for Mpumalanga, said the name Rhodes University was antiblack and no longer relevant. It should be renamed Oliver Tambo University.

"Of course, there will be protests," Tau said. "They will have to meet students. It is a reflection that the management of Rhodes does not even want to transform the name."

The Rhodes University council said it had decided in 2015 to advance transformation at the university through a broad transformation summit.

Some of the issues that had to be considered were the university’s financial sustainability, appropriate remuneration of its academic staff, dealing with employment equity and changing the institutional culture to make it welcoming and supportive to everyone.

There was no dispute that Cecil John Rhodes was a supremacist who treated people in southern Africa as subhuman and there was not much about him to celebrate, the council said. But over its 113-year history Rhodes University had established a brand representing academic excellence and today most of its students were from poor and working class backgrounds. Its values were very different from those that Cecil John Rhodes represented.

Some stakeholders argued transformation would never be complete as long as it retained Rhodes’s name. Others argued its identity was separate and it did not make financial sense to invest a lot of money at this point in a rebranding exercise.


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