South Africa's University of Cape Town decided Wednesday to remove a contentious statue of British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes that has triggered protests from students over the past month.
The statue of a seated Rhodes overlooking the main rugby fields of the university has been covered up for the past few weeks as students, both whites and blacks, regularly marched past with placards calling for its removal.
They insist the statue, unveiled in 1934, is a symbol of the institutional racism they say prevails in South Africa two decades after the end of white-minority rule that marginalized blacks.
The statue is one of three monuments to the arch-imperialist erected in the Cape Town area.
A council set up by the university to decide on the issue said the statue might suggest that the university adheres to Rhodes and his values, which are inconsistent with the university's commitment to providing an inclusive environment for all its members.
The protests against the statue have triggered similar reactions at other institutions of higher learning in South Africa and other symbols. A statue of Afrikaner Paul Kruger in the capital, Pretoria, was recently vandalized with green paint.
The council said the Rhodes statue would be taken down Thursday and placed in storage, pending a decision from heritage authorities on where it ultimately should go.
A small but vocal group of about 60 students, most of them black, stormed the special council meeting Wednesday evening, demanding that they be heard on other issues as well, including the curriculum and the racial composition of university staff.
"We know that this issue is beyond the statue. It speaks to institutional racism, it speaks to a curriculum which is poisonous to an African child and speaks to black people at UCT who still feel they are a problem,'' student protester Masixole Mlandu told Reuters.
Born in England in 1853, Rhodes made his fortune with his De Beers mining company and used his vast wealth to pursue his dream of expanding Britain's empire in Africa, annexing Mashonaland — present-day Zimbabwe — and naming it Rhodesia after himself.