"Rhodes Must Fall": Student Activism and the Politics of Memory at the University of Cape Town, South Africa



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Launched at the University of Cape Town on March 9, 2015, the Rhodes Must Fall movement is a student-led initiative that advocated for the removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes from the University’s upper campus. The commemorative statue occupied several spaces on UCT’s campus since it was donated to the University in 1931 and was moved to a more prominent position atop the Jameson steps in 1996. The statue was removed on April 9, 2015; one month after the movement began. Protests continued even after the statue “fell” the following month – and continue still – speaking to the many structural injustices associated with the material object. Using archival research as well as narrative accounts obtained from social media posts and interviews with students directly involved in the movement, this paper demonstrates how Rhodes Must Fall draws from the past to challenge present-day narratives of South Africa, the post-apartheid “rainbow nation”. Locating Rhodes Must Fall within a global climate of heightened awareness, activism, and Black consciousness facilitated by social media and the Black Lives Matter movement, I also explore the ways in which age and racial identity are renegotiated through the performance of protest.



student activism, politics of memory, South Africa, apartheid, Cecil Rhodes, Rainbow Nation, colonialism, postcolonialism, social media, history, identity, racism, cosmopolitanism, global cities, study abroad, statue, public sculpture, protest, Cape Town, Black Lives Matter