|Dear colleagues, students and friends
The statue of Cecil John Rhodes has been at the centre of a lot of attention recently. And while the question of whether, when and how it should be removed is being resolved, I'd like to take a moment to draw your attention to the bigger issues it stands for, and where we go from here.
UCT is an old institution that has seen much change over the years. Sometimes it's been at the forefront of that change; at other times it has resisted it. Twenty-one years into our country's democracy, 186 years from our founding, we're again at another turning point.
The #RhodesMustFall campaign was never simply about a statue. It was about symbols, names and heritage more generally; and beyond that about making all students and staff feel like they belong at UCT, about creating an inclusive culture.
It is a process that can benefit from the inputs of our staff, students, alumni and broader UCT community. Let me encourage alumni: if you ever felt unwelcome at UCT – whether because of your race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language or culture – we invite your participation, your ideas, your passion and ability to imagine new possibilities for the university. What was it that made you feel you did not fully belong? Any ideas what UCT could do to change that?
On the other hand, you may have taken to UCT like a fish to water – coming to UCT felt natural. The symbols and names, history and architecture were familiar to you from childhood. Perhaps you find it incomprehensible that these names and symbols could be controversial, offensive, signaling exclusion. If this is how you feel we want you to participate too; by reading all that is being said, by opening yourself to new views, by sharing your particular stance and by helping us with ideas on how to make everyone feel included and recognised on campus. Whether your view is one of the above or somewhere in-between, please do engage.
This is an exciting time for UCT; a time of significant rupture with the past and commitment to an inclusive future. I believe that we are in a position to lead the discussions in the country – in higher education and even beyond that. It's a long road ahead, filled with difficult conversations and uncomfortable self-reflection. It's also a path that will define us in the future.
Finally, I want to assure everyone that whilst it may seem from media images and the extensive coverage of the Rhodes Statue protests that this has been disruptive, even aggressive, in fact the protests have generally been disciplined, peaceful and considered. The protesters have engaged in serious teach-ins (from a range of people including our academics) in Mafeje room in the Bremner Building, and I believe for many this is indeed an educational experience and they ultimately have the university's interest at heart. Classes have not been missed nor disrupted. One should not have to make these points, but unfortunately such disruption is the routine in the protests that occur on many other university campuses in South Africa. Let me also assure all that we will not tolerate illegal acts. Where there have been isolated incidents of behaviour that amounts to intimidation we are
investigating disciplinary action.
I look upon this time as an opportunity for the UCT community to refocus our transformation agenda, to accelerate our efforts on the way towards an inclusive and diverse community where all feel at home and enthusiastically make their contribution.