Vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT) Mamokgethi Phakeng has announced that the institution will consider proposals for the renaming of buildings at UCT.
Phakeng released a statement on March 29 inviting the broader UCT community to submit proposals for name changes by April 19. Proposals will be considered for both buildings that are currently named, which will require “a motivation that convincingly makes the case for why the current name should be removed and motivates the rationale for adopting the new name”, and for buildings which are yet to be named.
“The mandate of the Naming of Buildings Committee (NoBC) requires the committee to consider applications for naming and renaming to ensure that UCT adheres to its strategic commitment as set out in the first goal of the 2016–2020 Strategic Planning Framework to reinforce a new, inclusive identity for the university through an appropriate display of artworks, symbols, choice of names of buildings, and use of indigenous South African languages”, said Phakeng.
Former UCT Student Representatives Council (SRC) member Lwazi Somya says that the move comes after many years of campaigning. “I was elected to the SRC 2012-2013, and the first thing on our agenda was to propose that the New Science Lecture Theatre building be renamed Chris Hani, as we heard that it was one of the last places he was at before his assassination. We began to campaign and to lobby people, but it was a very slow process and the university initially wouldn’t budge”, Somya told the Mail & Guardian. The venue was officially renamed in April 2018, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Hani’s death, after having been agreed upon in 2014.
Somya, who was the labour and services officer on the 2012/2013 SRC and then the deputy-president in 2013/2014, says that credit must be given to former UCT dean of humanities Sakhela Buhlungu. Buhlungu is now the vice-chancellor of the University of Fort Hare and it was his support which initiated multiple building name changes at UCT.
Other name changes approved in 2014 included the renaming in 2015 of the Graduate School of Humanities building after scholar-activist Neville Alexander, and the Arts Block becoming the AC Jordan Building in April 2018, in honour of iconic African scholar AC Jordan (father of Pallo Jordan). In late 2018, Jameson Hall was renamed Sarah Baartman Hall, a move Phakeng notes as “a moment in which the university acknowledged the dishonourable history of Leander Starr Jameson while it simultaneously provided an opportunity to recognise the multifaceted struggles and resilience of South African women”.
Current UCT SRC president Asanda Lobelo says that the new renaming policy cannot be looked at in isolation from the pressure which student movements such as #RhodesMustFall placed on institutions to escalate their transformation efforts, saying she “would put a lot of credit to them for finding ourselves at this point now.” Somya also says that the 2015 #FeesMustFall movement demonstrated “a necessity to fast-track” renaming as a means of transformation.
“As the SRC, we support the renaming of buildings that believes in decoloniality and addressing the injustices of the past and support this call wholly and completely”, Lobelo told the M&G. “Names and symbols that are upheld must be interrogated, and every student that comes here must be able to see themselves.”
Phakeng notes in her statement: “UCT recognises that names have meaning and that, as it happens at other institutions around the world, choices are made at certain times in history to honour specific people. However, it is also the role of a university to question the extent to which the institution continues to embrace and uphold names, symbols and imagery that uncritically honour those whom history has shown to be dishonourable.”