South Africa’s University of Cape Town (UCT) was rocked by racially-motivated destruction Tuesday, as a group of students looted several buildings and made a bonfire out of portraits and photographs of white people.
At UCT, a movement calling itself “Rhodes Must Fall” has been seeking to make the university provide more benefits and accommodations for poor students. It has also been seeking to stamp out the legacy of white leaders (in particular Cecil Rhodes) from the era when South Africa was dominated by those of European descent.
The protest movement took a destructive turn Tuesday, apparently prompted by university officials’ request that protesters move a shack they had constructed on Residence Road near several dormitories. The students responded by breaking into several nearby residential buildings, robbing them of portraits and photographs, as well as furniture and other materials, according to News24.
The portraits and photographs, which apparently were mostly or entirely of white people, were piled up and set ablaze.
— VERNAC NEWS (@VernacNews) February 16, 2016
— Ashraf Hendricks (@AshrafRSA) February 16, 2016
— Cape Argus (@TheCapeArgus) February 16, 2016
Police were called to restore order, but in the ensuing tumult a bus and several other vehicles were set on fire, and the shack that started the whole mess was toppled. The office of UCT Vice Chancellor Max Price was also fire-bombed.
Ironically, one of the burned portraits was of Molly Blackburn, a white South African who was one of the country’s leading white anti-apartheid activists prior to her 1985 death.
Ultimately, police arrested eight members of Rhodes Must Fall, six of them students, for their alleged role in the destruction. The school says it plans to pursue criminal charges and will suspend or expel any students found to be involved.
“We are determined not to allow a small group of violent protesters prevent 27,000 students and 4,500 staff from exercising their right to study and work in a safe environment,” Price said according to News24. “It is utterly regrettable that a movement that began with such promise and purport to be fighting for social justice matters has now deteriorated into a group that engages in criminality and has only one agenda, namely to close UCT operations down. Their behavior is utterly unacceptable and can in no way be tolerated.”
In response to Rhodes Must Fall’s complaints that the school doesn’t accommodate the residential needs of poor students, Price noted the school has 27,000 students but only about 6,000 beds, meaning it lacks housing for over three quarters of the student body. Price said 75 percent of beds were given to black students, and preferences were given to those with low incomes or from outside Cape Town.
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