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Changing Rhodes name 'not a priority'

The new chairman of the Rhodes University council yesterday urged the institution not to be distracted by calls to change its name.

He said the university should rather focus on pressing challenges like sustainability.

Recalling how he once debated for a name-change years ago when he was a student in Grahamstown, alumni Vuyo Kahla told staff and students he had since changed his mind.

"The reality for me is that this university has far more pressing challenges for sustainability to deal with than lesser concerns and distractions.

"Changing the name of Rhodes University adds nothing to the issue of sustainability," he later told the Dispatch.

Recalling the debate, Kahla said he argued - given the thorny transformation path the university had to traverse at the time - that it would be more appropriate to rename it after Ruth First. He said the name issue resurfaced two weeks ago when a fellow old Rhodian called him to ask if there was any truth behind suggestions there may be plans to change the name.

According to Khala although former vice-chancellor Dr Saleem Badat and acting VC Dr Sizwe Mabizela had been communicating during the year with university stakeholders over "grand challenges" facing the institution, a name change was not one of them.

"If during his lifetime the iconic freedom fighter, Nobel Prize laureate and first president of a nonracial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa [Nelson Mandela] agreed to merge his name with that of Cecil John Rhodes to form the Mandela Rhodes Foundation to promote educational advancement, who are we to advance purist positions that seek to avoid the contradictions that characterise the rich heritage of Rhodes University?"

Kahla said this year's 114-year celebration of the formation of Rhodes required the institution to reflect with even greater wisdom the heritage of the place to inform the direction they should pursue in the future.

 

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