The University of Cape Town has removed 75 pieces of valuable artwork from public display over concerns they may be destroyed by students protesting against South Africa’s colonial history.
The paintings and sculptures have been taken out of libraries, dining rooms and residential buildings.
In February 2015 the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement, which campaigns for the ‘decolonisation of education’, was behind violent protests at the university which led to the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes (pictured), the British imperialist who served as prime minister of the Cape Colony in the 1890s.
A year later, students connected with the group burnt 23 pieces of artwork over a violent dispute about affordable student accommodation.
A subsequent assessment by the university has resulted in the recent removal of the 75 pieces considered vulnerable to attack, as they “may be seen to recognise or celebrate colonial oppressors and/or be offensive or controversial for the way in which they depict black people”.
Some have criticized the move, citing self-censorship, while several artists have asked for their work to be returned to them, including David Goldblatt, an anti-apartheid photographer. He said: “Freedom of expression, artistic freedom and rights of artists are no longer protected at UCT.”
University spokesman Elijah Moholola said that UCT was engaged in an “ongoing transformation process”.
He explained: “Aspects of the university community, including artworks, are under discussion in order to forge an identity for the university which reflects the diverse body of staff and students, and create an inclusive community where everyone sees themselves reflected in the institution.”