A report compiled by professional heritage practitioner, Ashley Lillie gives insight into the University of Cape Town’s decision to remove the controversial statue of Cecil John Rhodes from its campus – and where it may go from here.
The statue of Cecil John Rhodes was removed from the grounds of UCT in April 2015, following massive student protest over its presence on the campus.
The permit granted to remove the statue was only temporary, however, and Lillie was commissioned to compile a report on the prospects for the monument.
UCT itself submitted that the statue should be permanently removed, noting that the statue was unoriginal, has relatively low cultural significance and value, and was never intended to be part of the university’s architecture anyway.
While the university itself is a heritage site, the statue was superimposed on the university in the 1930s. It was originally placed below the rugby fields, before being relocated to the Upper Campus following the widening of De Waal Drive in the early 1960s.
Its removal would not impact the heritage of the university, it said. The university offered the following motivation for its permanent removal:
Since the statue has limited cultural significance in its own right, UCT does not consider it to be a public monument or memorial as provided for in Section 37 of the National Heritage Resources Act (Act 25 of 1999).
It is an uninspired work that was derived directly from Rodin’s highly acclaimed “Thinker”. It therefore not only lacks originality, but also has very limited aesthetic merit.
More importantly, although it commemorates someone who had a substantial impact on the history of South Africa, many local and international constituencies (and the overwhelming number of the staff and students of the University), now regard Rhodes’ legacy as highly problematic.
The statue’s future
UCT wants the statue and its plinth to be permanently removed, and for the marble steps of the upper campus to be restored.
According to the report, UCT has received three big offers to take the statue, with a few other recommendations on what to do with it.
The Crow Foundation
The first offer came from the Crow Foundation in Texas (USA), which offered to pay for its removal and transport to keep the sculpture in a sculpture garden that is dedicated to the preservation of monuments.
This would be on condition that the Foundation would become the owner of the statue. If requested to do so, the Crow Foundation would return the statue to UCT (or South Africa) in perpetuity, but only after twenty years has elapsed.
All costs incurred to remove, transport, and return the statue would be that of the Foundation, which is also willing to provide UCT with the necessary funds to reinstate the granite steps leading and installing a plaque or story board with information about the removal.
The Foundation said it will also restore the statue to the condition it was before the protests as well as assume the stewardship and future maintenance.
Another offer came from another from the owner of a series of properties adjacent to the Cheetah Foundation at Paardevlei in Somerset West.
Tourists regularly visit this historical precinct and the Cheetah Foundation – and if housed at this location, the statue could be reinterpreted through an appropriate plaque and would remain accessible to local visitors, the report said.
The third big offer came from Nooitgedacht Estate near Stellenbosch. The estate was bought from the Cecil John Rhodes Estate in 1923 by the Wirth family.
If placed here, it is proposed that the maintenance of the Rhodes statue would be overseen by Bronz Editions, which will also make a separate proposal to run an initiative in conjunction with UCT aimed at commissioning additional sculptures reflecting the creativity of local artist.
Several other options include suggestions of other locations such as museums, Rhodes Memorial, Groote Schuur Estate and other areas which remain untested.
A recommendation was also given that the statue be sold off to raise funds for university bursaries, but this is unlikely due to the relatively low value of the statue itself.