Statue of Rhodes Scholar founder booted from South Africa campus, to cheers

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Marco Werman: Here’s a little piece of history for you: there used to be a statue of King George the Third in Manhattan, it was in Bowling Green Park at the south end of Broadway. It’s not there today because a mob pulled down the statue of the British monarch in 1776. That was just after New Yorkers were read the Declaration of Independence. I thought about that this week when I heard about what happened to the statue of Cecil Rhodes on a South African university campus yesterday. It was removed not by an angry mob but by a huge crane. Lerato Moloi is a student at the University of Cape Town. She was part of the group of students demanding that the statue be taken down. So Lerato, mostly what’s known here about Cecil Rhodes is that his will established the famous Rhodes Scholarship. Remind us who Cecil Rhodes was.


Lerato Moloi: Cecil John Rhodes is the man who donated the land which UCT is on right now.


Werman: That’s University of Cape Town.


Moloi: Yes, the University of Cape Town. As students, we want symbols on campus to represent us and to represent a certain type of university. At UCT, after 21 years of democracy in South Africa, we still don’t have enough black professors; we don’t have black female professors at UCT, and this is a university in Africa.


Werman: He was a white British colonialist. What about the historical significance of what he meant, even if it does repulse people today?


Moloi: Previously, many years ago the university was built by a white racist colonialist and an imperialist, and the statue being there represented all of that. It represented racism, it represented a system that excluded people. When I talk about exclusion, I talk of exclusion of obviously people who are non-whites, and I talk about exclusion of gender. So when we talk about the legacy of Cecil John Rhodes, what we are talking about is a legacy that didn’t have room for anyone who was not white and male.


Werman: There was a smaller counter campaign that had argued that the statue of Rhodes should be protected as a symbol of South Africa’s heritage. Can you see that side of the argument?


Moloi: I can definitely see that side of the argument. At UCT right now, we have a debate on the statue, whether the statue should be put in a museum or whether it should be destroyed, and many people will argue that it should be put in a museum so that it captures history and that people can always go and look at it. From my standpoint, I think maybe putting it in a museum could be an option to educate people.


Werman: Does that mean you’re kind of on the fence about whether to put it in a museum or maybe to destroy it?


Moloi: Yes, I am on the fence.


Werman: So Lerato let me just ask you this, I assume as a student at the university there, you had to walk by the statue every day and now it’s not there. Does it feel better for you now?


Moloi: You know I’ll be honest with you, yes it does. Because of the knowledge that I have now of the statue and what I stand for, I feel better that there is no statue and I feel better that there is no constant reminder that I was conquered. I think, more than anything, it’s that thing that you’re an institution, and you want to be an institution that represents you, and having that continuous reminder that you were conquered and this institution was not built for you, it was built for white males, I think not having that constant reminder feels better for me.


Werman: Lerato Moloi, student at the University of Cape Town. Thank you very much.


Moloi: Thank you very much.