10 Apr 2015

Cecil Rhodes statue removed in Cape Town

7:55 am on 10 April 2015

South Africa's University of Cape Town (UCT) has removed a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes that had become the focus of protests.

The defaced statue being removed

The defaced statue being removed Photo: AFP

The monument, taken down in front of cheering protesters, will be stored for "safe keeping", UCT's council said.

Students have been campaigning for the removal of the statue of the 19th Century figure, unveiled in 1934.

Other monuments to colonial-era leaders have also been the target of protest in South Africa.

The BBC said there was a "festive atmosphere" as students, academics, members of political parties and ordinary Cape Town residents came to witness a "historic moment for South Africa".

The crowd cheered as the statue was being lifted of its plinth. Once it was removed some students jumped on it and started hitting it with wooden sticks and covering the face with plastic.

"We finally got the white man to sit down and listen to us," said a student who had campaigned for it to be taken down. Some were chanting "one settler; one bullet" - a sign that anger could boil over if the lives of black people do not improve.

There was a mixed crowd watching - with many white academics and students also supporting its removal.

Students cheer as the statue is removed

Students cheer as the statue is removed Photo: AFP

The crane's removal was being seen as a victory for black South Africans fed up with a lack of education and job opportunities more than 20 years after apartheid ended, the BBC reported, but the affair serves as a wake-up call to South Africans to tackle racial inequality.

People point to the fact that at the University of Cape Town there are only five black South African-born professors.

The "Rhodes Must Fall" campaign began in March after activist Chumani Maxwele smeared excrement on the statue as a protest against Rhodes' racism and its legacy at UCT.

The protesters said the statue had "great symbolic power" which glorified someone "who exploited black labour and stole land from indigenous people".

The campaign led to the university's 30-member council voting on Wednesday for the statue's removal.

The council defended the decision, saying it had canvassed the views of students, academic staff, alumni and the public before coming to a conclusion.

"This is exactly how a university should work and we believe is an example to the country in dealing with heritage issues," it added.

- BBC

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs