No Longer Watching Over Heath or Man

At the end of March, a furore erupted around the statue of Cecil John Rhodes (1853–1902) that has been a landmark at the University of Cape Town (UCT). This is not the first time that the legacy of Rhodes, the British mining magnate, financier and politician whose particular vision of Empire shaped Southern Africa, has been questioned. The #RhodesMustFall campaign called for the removal of the work as a gesture of wider transformation on campus. This soon spread to other campuses and escalated into a cross-country discussion about tangible change in South Africa. Annwen Bates, Copyright Assistant with the Public Catalogue Foundation, writes in her personal capacity about these recent events at her undergraduate alma mater:

From 1934 to 2015, Rhodes had sat on his pedestal.

In pose, this great hulk of man, the figure of visionary Empire, resembled Rodin’s ‘The Thinker.’ For close on 53 years, he leant in contemplation over the Southern Suburbs, Cape Flats and towards the Helderberg mountains on the horizon.1 On either side of this vista extends the coastline.

Goodman Gwasira remarks on the statue’s location, ‘The spatial setting of the statue, with Table Mountain stretching behind it can be read as symbolising Rhodes’ dreams. The breadth of the mountain inspired Rhodes’ aim of broadening his empire.’ A plaque below captioned Rhodes’s ambition, I DREAM A DREAM/ BY ROCK AND HEATH AND PINE/ OF EMPIRE NORTHWARDS/ AY ONE LAND/ FROM THE LION’S HEAD TO THE LINE.

Today’s youngsters at UCT did not buy this vision of Empire. Not a jot. ‘There is no collective history here. Where are our heroes and ancestors?’ declared activist and political science student Chumani Maxwele2, who led the protest and flung excrement, allegedly human, at the statue.

The new voices came with buckets of discontent, marches, sit-ins and the power of social media. They set down the terms of their protest: #RhodesMustFall, #RhodesMustGo.mss_buzv_uctThe statue, unveiled in 1934, was commissioned by then Governor General, the Earl of Clarendon and paid for by the Rhodes National South African Memorial Committee. The sculptor, Marion Walgate, was a British artist who exhibited at the Royal Academy at least three times between 1913 and 1932. She was also an accomplished medallist. Another example of her contribution to South African visual material culture was a five shilling piece minted in 1952: the obverse carried her design of Jan van Riebeeck’s3 three-master sailing into Table Bay. Her husband, Charles Percival Walgate, was also British-born and an architect who worked as Sir Herbert Baker’s assistant.

Sir Herbert Baker’s designs for buildings of colonial administration, which drew on the colonnades and symmetry of antiquity, are still to be found across South Africa and in Delhi. Examples of his work on view in London include South Africa House (The South African High Commission) on Trafalgar Square and the Bank of England’s current façade, which was part of the revision he undertook of Sir John Soane’s design. Rhodes commissioned Baker for a number of projects, including the re-design of his Cape Town residence, Groote Schuur (which is now one of the South African president’s official residences).

Since 1934, Walgate’s Rhodes statue has been erected at various locations on UCT’s main campus. It was only in 1996 that it was positioned at the thoroughfare intersection passed daily by students walking from Jameson Plaza to Grotto Road. In original architectural drawings by J. M. Solomon this point serves as the campus axis. Gwasira proposes that setting the Rhodes statue here, ‘emphasise[d] the role that Rhodes played in the establishment of the Institution’.mss_buzv_rhodes statue_1It is worth noting that campus architect Solomon’s early career was in Sir Herbert Baker’s firm, Herbert & Masey. After Solomon’s suicide, Charles Percival Walgate oversaw the building of the new campus on the land provided by Rhodes. These connections between Rhodes, Baker, the Walgates and Solomon underscore the stronghold a notably British-Imperialist visual legacy held over architecture, public space and the representation of patriotic identity in South Africa at the end of the nineteenth and in the first part of the twentieth century. In quarters, this visual legacy still resonates even in the post-Apartheid democracy of twenty-first century South Africa.rmf-5995Some quarters suggested that the #RhodesMustGo/#RhodesMustFall call displayed ignorance. However, the students’ views reflected an informed understanding of politics and public heritage, as these quotations indicate:

‘This movement is not just about a statue. It’s not just about a university. It’s not just about a curriculum. It’s not just about land. It’s about reclaiming black history as well.’

‘You are African. White, black, Coloured, Indian… If you are a white South African and you can think you can isolate yourself from being African, and that statue doesn’t bother you, you need to think twice. Because the future is moving a lot faster than your consciousness.’

It was not only students who voiced critique in the wake of #RhodesMustFall. Prof. Zine Magubane, who is based in the Sociology Department of Boston College, Massachusetts and at UCT as a Visiting Professor in the Van Zyl Slabbert Chair, commented in an interview for UCT’s Humanities Department newsletter:

‘Take the issue of Rhodes’ legacy, for example, we are still having discussions where he is called a “humanitarian” or an “entrepreneur”! This, about a person who said that he “preferred land to niggers”! To enter into scholarly dialogue means having not only to engage with things that insult you and your history in very profound ways but also to have to write through and against them. This is not easy.’

It is such that the statues must fall when the regimes change. These recent events are not particular to the Rhodes statue. After 1989, many of the great men of communism were removed from their pedestals in the former Soviet states. There is also the misremembered and misrepresented toppling of the Suddam Hussein statue on Baghdad’s Firdos Square on 9th April 2003.

While it is not right to venerate men who oppress others, it is such figures that make up much of history. Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya, journalist and editor of the Mercury newspaper , explored Rhodes’ contested legacy in his opinion piece, ‘How should we remember him?’ and concludes, ‘We may not rewrite history, but we can choose how we remember the historical figures.’

On the 9th of April, after consultation with the Heritage Western Cape (HWC) the statue of Cecil John Rhodes was removed from its plinth and transported to an unknown location for safekeeping.Rhodes Removal from Wiki CommonsAn application to HWC for permanent removal of the statue is in process. In the report, independent heritage practitioner, Ashley Lillie, will review the statue’s history, context and heritage significance and consider alternatives for the work. There is still an open call for public comments and an assessment of this consultation will be included.rmf-6014Some of these comments may include those who work at UCT who have also experienced the statue within socio-historical and institutional hegemonies.

The evening after the first day of protest, UCT law student Nik Fitzhenry photographed two men employed to clean the sewage that had been dumped on the statue. With this photograph Fitzhenry intended ‘to remind us of the complex nature of demonstration and the many people involved in and affected by actions taken in the name of activism. These two men are as much a part of the demonstration as the other actors.’

UCT employee Peter Buckton began his career as a cleaner, then progressed to laboratory attendant and is now a sports co-ordinator. Against the backdrop of the ‘white’ UCT of the 1970s and 1980s, Buckton studied for a history degree with the support of the then Dean of Science. After Rhodes fell, Buckton described what it was like not to have to pass the statue for the first time in 44 years,’ [I]t it was a good feeling. It prickles the brain when you go past there, especially if you are informed about history and what he stood for. It’s like he’s talking to you: “Hey, I’ve got you, I’m watching you!”’

Now that Rhodes no longer watches land or people, what might be the future for the empty pedestal? In a forum held at UCT’s Michaelis School of Fine Art first-year students offered their suggestions. Associate Professor Fritha Langerman recounts, ‘One idea was that the plinth should become a viewing platform where staff and students would be able to command the view for themselves, symbolically gesturing to their own futures. Another suggestion was that the sculpture be melted down and used to cast a plaque commemorating this “moment of rupture”.’

Rhodes may now be absent from the campus intersection, but Sir Herbert Baker’s monolith memorial still broods on the mountain above UCT. It is also possible to visit the cottage in Muizenberg where Rhodes passed away of tuberculosis at 49, and his remains are still in the Matopos Hills in Zimbabwe. These monuments would be more difficult to dismantle. While Southern Africans continue to scrutinize the histories moulded and memorialised around them, the now vacant podium at UCT offers a transitory site to contemplate the possibilities of the future. Hopefully this future of real structural redress will move a lot faster than today’s dreams and consciousness.rmf-172958Notes:

1 An explanation about the areas mentioned:

Southern Suburbs: The leafy, once ‘white’, English-speaking suburbs of Cape Town, including Rondebosch and Rosebank, where much of UCT’s campus is located. Olive Schreiner, Lady Anne Barnard, Rhodes and even Rudyard Kipling lived and socialised in these Cape Town suburbs.

Cape Flats: The inhospitable, sandy flatlands to which evicted residents of District Six were sent. The Cape Flats is often, though unfairly, associated with gangs, poverty and social problems. It is still a largely ‘Coloured’ area.

The Helderberg Mountains: This mountain range heralds the Afrikaans-speaking areas beyond the Southern Suburbs. The area is known for its wine.

2 Maxwele has made headlines before. After accused of ‘giving the middle finger’ to President Jacob Zuma’s motorcade, he was beaten by police. Maxwele filed against the Police Minister for wrongful arrest and received an apology.

3 In Eurocentric histories of South Africa, Jan van Riebeeck is credited with the ‘founding’ of the nation in 1652 when he arrived with other representatives of the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) to found a refreshment station.


Cheremushkin, Peter, ‘When monuments fall: the politics of toppling political sculpture’ in The Unknown War, January 12, 2012

Fitzhenry, Nik, ‘Why I photographed these two cleaners at the foot of UCT’s Rhodes statue’ in The Daily Vox, 13 March 2015

Gwasira, Goodman (2001), ‘Reading Between the Lines: Monuments as Metaphors’ in Southern African Field Archaeology, 10:88-92.

Harding, Jeremy, ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ on the LRB blog, 1 April 2015

Langerma, Fritha, ‘New articulation for the site’ in a special edition of Monday Monthly, Volume 34.03, 13 April 2015

Moya, Fikile-Ntsikelelo, ‘How should we remember him?’ in The Star, Early Edition, 25 March 2015

Maass, Peter, ‘The Toppling: How the media inflated a minor moment in a long war’ in The New Yorker, 10 January 2011

One on One with Zine Mgubane’, 24 Apr 2015

Announcing public consultation phase re: Rhodes statue’ in a special edition of Monday Monthly, 16 April 2015

UCT timeline

Transform UCT

Other interesting links:

Hodes, Rebecca, ‘”The Rhodes statue must fall”: UCT’s radical rebirth’ in The Daily Maverick, 13 March 2015

Davenport, Jade, ‘Rhodes Memorial Debate’, in Mining Weekly, 25 July 2014

Biography of Charles Percival Walgate, Marion Walgate’s husband

Biography of Joseph Michael Solomon

Biography of Sir Herbert Baker

Image Credits:

The black and white images of the Rhodes statue are in the possession of the University of Cape Town Libraries and are reproduced with their permission.

The image of the crane removing the statue is by Tony Carr and is available on Wikimedia Commons.

All other images are by Barry Christianson. Instagram: @thesestreetsza


Annwen E. Bates pursued undergraduate studies in post-colonial English literature at the University of Cape Town before studying Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Oxford on an Oppenheimer Tuition Scholarship and with Jaftha Trust support. She has taught English in South America and Poland, Art History in the Eastern Cape (South Africa) and currently works in the UK at the Public Catalogue Foundation. She also writes poetry as BeadedQuill.


Top Five Public Sculptures: Birmingham

Work on the Your Sculpture project has been taking us around the UK in recent weeks and wherever we go, we keep an eye out for public sculptures to photograph and share on our Instagram account (@yoursculpture).

I had the opportunity to explore Birmingham last week and was struck by the extent and variety of public art in the city centre. Sculptures range from traditional statues of national heroes, such as Queen Victoria and Lord Nelson, to contemporary works by Antony Gormley, Gillian Wearing and Dhruva Mistry.

This is very much a personal top five. If there are other public sculptures in Birmingham that you particularly like, do let us know what they are and why you like them.

A Real Birmingham Family5. A Real Birmingham Family, Gillian Wearing, 2014, Centenary Square

The result of Ikon Gallery’s four-year project to find a ‘real’ Birmingham family to be immortalised in a sculpture, this work was created by Gillian Wearing, a Birmingham-born, Turner Prize-winning artist. Hundreds of families applied to take part in the project before a shortlist of four was selected by a diverse panel of community, cultural and religious figures. From this shortlist, the chosen family was Roma and Emma Jones, sisters and single parents, and their two sons Kyan and Shaye.

The sculpture has provoked some debate and controversy since its unveiling, being targeted by Fathers for Justice campaigners and criticised as a betrayal of traditional family values. Defenders have stated that the work represents Birmingham’s cultural diversity and challenges the notion of what constitutes a ‘real family’ in Britain today.

“I really liked how Roma and Emma Jones spoke of their closeness as sisters and how they supported each other. It seemed a very strong bond, one of friendship and family, and the sculpture puts across that connectedness between them. A nuclear family is one reality but it is one of many and this work celebrates the idea that what constitutes a family should not be fixed.” Gillian Wearing

Find out more about the project and the sculpture here.

Tony Hancock_Birmingham4. Tony Hancock, Bruce Williams, 1996, Old Square

The comedian and actor Tony Hancock was born in the Hall Green area of Birmingham in 1924. He is best known for his BBC series Hancock’s Half Hour, which ran first on radio from 1954, then on television from 1956. He died in 1968, aged 44.

Bruce Williams’ memorial was unveiled by Sir Harry Secombe on 13 May 1996. Originally intended to be placed on New Street, it was temporarily placed on the Corporation Street edge of Old Square, which at that time was opposite a Blood Donor Clinic, the subject of Hancock’s well-known sketch. The statue was later relocated to the centre of Old Square, where it remains.

War Memorial_Birmingham3. Statues on the Hall of Memory, Albert Toft, 1925, Centenary Square

The Hall of Memory is a war memorial commemorating the 12,320 Birmingham citizens who died in the First Word War. The building was designed by S. N. Cooke and W. N. Twist, and built between 1923 and 1925 by John Barnsley and Son.

The four statues around the exterior, by local artist Albert Toft, represent the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and Women’s Services. On the day I visited, the Women’s Services statue had been ‘flower-bombed’ by members of the Women’s Institute in response to the defacement of the Women’s War Memorial in Whitehall on Saturday 9 May 2015, by anti-Tory protestors. Read more about the flower-bombing here.

The Bull_Birmingham2. The Bull, Laurence Broderick, 2003, Bullring Shopping Centre

One of the largest bronze animal sculptures in the UK, this 2.2-metre (7ft 3in) tall running, turning bull stands at the main entrance to the Bullring’s west building.

The Bull is a popular spot for people to have their picture taken and on the day I visited, I had to wait a few minutes to be able to take a photograph. It’s a very tactile sculpture and visitors, especially children, seem keen to touch it and climb all over it. As I waited to take my photo, a mother held her young child up to The Bull’s face so he could kiss its nose!

Find out more about the sculpture and how it was made here.

The River_Birmingham1. The River, Dhruva Mistry, 1994, Victoria Square

The redevelopment of Victoria Square, from a busy road junction to a pedestrianised, public focal point, was started in 1992 and completed in 1994. An international design competition was held for a central water feature in the square, which was won by Dhruva Mistry. Four sculptures by Mistry are sited around the square: The River, Guardians, Youth and Object [Variations].

The River, a monumental female figure, representing the life force, sits in the upper pool in the square. Nicknamed ‘The Floozie in the Jacuzzi’, it is also a fountain, one of the largest in Europe, with a flow of 3,000 gallons per minute.

The following words, from the poem ‘Burnt Norton’ by T. S. Eliot, are engraved in the rim of the upper pool:

‘And the pool was filled with water of sunlight, And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly, The surface glittered out of heart of light, And they were behind us, reflected in the pool. Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.’

The water from the upper pool flows into a lower pool, in which is another of Mistry’s sculptures, Youth. On either side of the fountain are two large stone sculptures known as the Guardians (image below). On either side of these sculptures are two obelisk-shaped sculptures, Object (Variations), which act as lampstands in the square.Guardian_Birmingham

Further information on Birmingham’s public sculpture:

Birmingham City Council

The Public Monuments and Sculpture Association has produced two books on Birmingham in their Public Sculpture of Britain series, published by Liverpool University Press:

Public Sculpture of Birmingham by George T. Noszlopy, 1998

Birmingham Sculpture Trails by George T. Noszlopy and Fiona Waterhouse, 2007