Cecil Rhodes contemplating the bright future of Springbok rugby

The controversy over a statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town took a serious turn in March when a student at the university slathered it with excrement. Post-clean-up, UCT is agonising about whether the statue should go now or go later. The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign is making headway and it could soon be safely out of the way. A week from now the UCT senate will recommend to the university’s council that it ‘be moved’.

The seated figure in bronze was made by the British medallist and figurative sculptor Marion Walgate: her husband worked with the architect J.M. Solomon on the new university buildings, and took over after Solomon’s suicide in 1920. Walgate’s statue was unveiled in 1934, when decolonisation was a simmering ambition throughout the continent and apartheid must have seemed an unlikely prospect to people in the Cape. It’s sited on the Upper Campus in front of Jameson Hall, looking out across Madiba Circle (‘Rugby Road’ and ‘Ring Road’ until last year). With the playing fields below, Rhodes seems to be contemplating the bright future of Springbok rugby.

Walgate obviously liked a settler-colonial motif: in 1952 she did Jan van Riebeeck’s three-master sailing into Table Bay on the obverse of a South African five shilling piece. Her coin has been spared the ignominy visited on the statue, which was boarded up at the weekend and now looks like a stray consignment of garden strimmers in plywood packaging. So where to deliver it when the university council complies with the wishes of the Senate? One solution has come from Evita Bezuidenhout, a.k.a. Pieter-Dirk Uys, who thinks it would go nicely in Boerassic Park, a museum/nauseum where she claims to be assembling ‘a unique collection of politically insensitive symbols’.