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UCT: Professor Sandra Klopper Rhodes on statue protest incident at UCT on 9 March 2015

Photo by Bloomberg

12th March 2015

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Dear colleagues and students

I write to you in my capacity as the Acting Vice-Chancellor while Dr Max Price is away on university business in Senegal.

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I confirm that a small group of protesters, including University of Cape Town students, participated in protest action on Upper Campus on 9 March 2015. An individual amongst the protesters threw excrement at the statue of Cecil John Rhodes (see report). While we respect the right of our students to protest and, in so doing, draw attention to the complex issues that confront all of us at UCT and in society at large, this is not a licence to engage in actions that in our view are reprehensible.

The use of excrement as a form of protest is unacceptable, and we condemn such action in the strongest terms. UCT has procedures in place that allow students to protest. It is regrettable that, in this instance, the protesters did not follow the established procedures.

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The Office of the Vice-Chancellor is aware that the Student Representative Council has called a meeting on Jammie Plaza at 13:00 today, 12th March 2015. We encourage all those who intend to participate in this event to do so in a peaceful and lawful manner.

Quite independently of the Rhodes statue incident, we had already organised and advertised, in partnership with the SRC, the UCT initiative to debate the issue of symbols in a wider context of transformation at the university. A series of discussions that will be scheduled over the rest of this year will commence on 16 March. The first topic will be Heritage, Signage and Symbolism.

All are welcome to attend these discussions, which are intended to be an opportunity to debate the very issues that many members of the UCT community feel strongly about, but which individuals involved in the Rhodes statue incident unfortunately chose to raise in a way that cannot be condoned.

The Rhodes statue incident also led to a complaint about how a campus security officer dealt with a photographer who accompanied a journalist to Upper Campus to cover the story of the student protest. We are in the process of addressing this matter, on the basis that UCT respects the rights of members of the press to report freely and without hindrance in the exercise of their function. In addition, we are investigating an allegation of assault of a campus security officer by a student protester.

UCT endorses freedom of expression. We encourage open debate, as all universities should do, and urge our students and staff to participate in discussions that contribute to responsible action.

 

Issued by UCT

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