The student movement #RhodesMustFall was not in vain. We were at UCT on Friday to witness history in the making.
Before the statue of Cecil John Rhodes met its end, people gathered in numbers at the Bremner Building, renamed Azania House by the students occupying it for the past month. There were high school learners, cleaners, students from the university as well as lecturers. There were banners and posters floating in the air. One read “Black pain is not invisible”; another, “Dear history this revolution has women, gays, queers and trans, remember that.” PAC supporters, wearing party T-shirts and holding banners, could be heard in the background shouting “Africa for Africans” as the chairperson of the meeting started speaking. The chair also introduced the various speakers and performers, who all came to talk about various issues of inequality.
A wave of support
One of those who took the stage were a group of students from Philippi High School, who talked of their experience of police brutality when they tried to go to the Department of Education to ask when they will improve the learning conditions at the school. “Bloody kaffirs go back to the township where you belong,” Athule Baba (18) said the police said to them, which had the crowd shouting their disapproval. When I asked the learners of Philippi High School what this historical event meant to them they said they wanted to show their support: “We support them because we are fighting the same struggle.”
Among the university staff at the gathering was Nozizwe Beya, who is a cleaner. She said that she saw this as the beginning of change. “It will not end here. The air of that white man (Rhodes) is what we have been sitting under. The students have helped us, before this our rights were tied.” Nozizwe explained that they felt they could not speak out when they felt their rights were being infringed. Since this movement, they feel more free.
There was a bit of a commotion during one of the performances when a white man standing among the crowd, started randomly shouting, “Viva Rhodes, Viva Rhodes… Rhodes will raise again”. Chaos ensued as young and older black and coloured men shouted at him to leave, with some of them wanting to attack him. But security stopped them by coming in between the man and the crowd and taking the lone man away.
The next step for the movement
On the ground was also John Rammutla, a member of UCT’s SRC, who said that the movement had a bigger mission than seeing Rhodes fall. “It’s not just about the statue but transformation at the university,” he said. He also agreed with Nozizwe, that outsourced staff, cleaners, security guards, are not treated fairly and that this would have to change.
One of the last people to take the stage was Chumani Maxwele, the student at the centre of the protests and who threw faeces at the statue in early March. He said that movement was bigger than UCT: “It’s not a liberal movement, it is the struggle of pain and suffering.”
The falling of Rhodes
When the chair told us it was time for the removal of the statue, the crowd began to gather themselves behind the banner which read “Rhodes must fall”, and began to sing struggle songs in unison as we proceeded. In a few minutes we’d arrived at The Green Mile which is UCT’s rugby field and from where we were standing we had a full view of the crane and the statue as well as the crowd around it. Ironically Rhodes, with his hand resting on his chin, looked unfazed as he gazed far ahead. The crowd was undeterred, because when the crane was switched on they started cheering even louder and dancing, with some shouting in Xhosa, “The dog has left.”
Watch the video of the removal of the statue below:
Photography by Rofhiwa Maneta