Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

UKZN: Another statue, same revolution?

Defacing colonial-era statues in the name of transformation is not the revolution – it’s just a symbol of it. But don’t let critics of the student protests that are rocking South Africa persuade you that this part isn’t as crucial to revolutionising racial and cultural representation at universities as the other parts are – the debates, the policy changes and the employment of more black academics. Every protest needs a face. The face of this one is all about defacing those made of stone and as rock-hard as the white privilege belief system standing in the way of real change.

 And now there is a new defaced face to add to the face of the movement. It belongs to the statue of King George V at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. On Thursday students discovered that someone had thrown white paint on it and attached a sign to it that reads: “end white privilege” on its statue of King George V. This was the ruler of the United Kingdom for more than twenty years until his death in 1936 – the empire that colonised South Africa.

Over the last two weeks social media feeds have been filled with photos of the Cecil John Rhodes statue, which occupies a prime position at the University of Cape Town. The statue’s face is covered by black plastic bags, and at the start of the protests over its removal in early March, it dripped with human faeces courtesy of an angry student.

Rhodes University has a less physical face to deface. It is contending with the prospect of calling for its institution to change its clearly colonial-era name. In the meantime, it is making its anger about white privilege known.

The revolution, as some  students refer to it as, has now bled into other universities, and has received very different reactions. What seemed to start as a frenzied throwing of faeces at a statue at UCT, has now turned into a seemingly well-supported and structured movement at the university. Rhodes University has a smaller grouping but has pledged its passionate support for the UCT movement by holding solidarity marches. 

But students at UKZN have so far expressed shock and confusion about the defacing of their colonial statue and no one has claimed responsibility for the act. This “revolution” is colourful, layered, and it changes pace almost every day. What we will wait for now is to see how far its blood seeps into other formerly white institutions like Stellenbosch University, for example. 

Until then, no statue’s face is safe. And maybe it shouldn’t be.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Victoria John
Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011.

Related stories


Subscribers only

‘People feel they have a stake in SAA’ — Gidon...

Interest in the beleaguered national carrier, which has received billions of rands in public funding, means criticism is inevitable

Soweto teacher dismissed for the alleged repeated rape of a...

The learner was 13 when the alleged rapes started, and they continued for two years until she asked to be moved to another school

More top stories

Hospitals near capacity: What the new Covid-19 restrictions mean for...

After a dramatic surge in Covid-19 infections, President Ramaphosa has brought the country back to level three restrictions

Eskom to take over distribution, billing at troubled Free State...

The Maluti-a-Phofung local municipality owes the power utility more than R5-billion

ANC committed to paying staff salaries, but employees are not...

ANC staffers picketed outside Luthuli House on Tuesday after months of problems with salary payments

Kanalelo Boloetsi: Taking on Lesotho’s cellphone giants, and winning

A man who took on cellphone data regulators over out-of-bundle rates is featured in this edition of a series on human rights defenders in the SADC region

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…