The head of Cecil Rhodes has been chopped off from a bust of the 19th century colonialist at a monument on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town, park rangers said on Tuesday.
The bust housed at the top of a flight of steps at the Rhodes Memorial shows Rhodes with his arms folded. His right hand now cups what would have been his cheek — only with most of his face and head missing.
Lauren Clayton, spokesperson for South African National Parks (SANParks) in the Western Cape, said rangers patrolling Table Mountain came across the disfigured bust during regular patrols on Monday.
The incident likely occurred on Sunday night or Monday morning, she added. She said no-one had claimed responsibility.
SANParks' national spokesperson Ray Thakuli also confirmed the incident
“I can confirm that the incident happened and that a case has been opened with the police. With the strong winds blowing in Cape Town at the moment, our rangers were not able to get out to go assess the situation. But I am awaiting a full report on the incident,” said Thakuli.
Images circulating online show the damage done to the statue.
Thakuli said while some reports were that the statue had been “beheaded”, others had said the statue was “defaced”, and they were still uncertain about exactly what had happened. Foul play was not being ruled out, as the statue had been the subject of attacks before.
In September 2015, the bronze bust was vandalised, with the nose cut off. The phrase “racist, thief, [and] murderer” was written on the monument. The damage was restored in October 2018.
Before that, in 2001, red paint was poured all over the statue.
Protests have occurred across the world over the controversial Rhodes, with many calling for the removal of statues of the 19th century British colonialist. in SA, these have happened under the banner of “Rhodes Must Fall”.
Protesters, which included university students, have argued that the towering Rhodes statues were symbols of oppression, and grew to encompass institutional racism and a lack of racial transformation.
Thousands of protesters have marched across the US and Europe calling for the removal of monuments seen as glorifying the imperialist nature of countries such as Britain.
Rhodes, who made his fortune in South African diamond mining, has become a lightning rod for anti-colonial anger since students forced the University of Cape Town in 2015 to remove his statue from its campus.
Completed in 1912, Rhodes Memorial consists of massive granite steps, flanked by bronze lions, and a rider astride a bronze horse at the beginning of the steps which leads to the top where the bust is situated, with an inscription beneath.
“It has been vandalised before, multiple times … At this stage we are still unclear about the reasoning behind the vandalism,” said Clayton.
Freelance journalist Donwald Pressly said he believe the incident may have taken place on Sunday. Pressly said he was alerted to the damage on social media on Monday and decided to go see for himself on Tuesday afternoon.
“I had received the picture of the story from a friend of a friend, and I wasn’t sure if it was Photoshopped or not. I saw there were no stories about it and I decided to go and look for myself,” he told TimesLIVE on Tuesday night.
“I went up there and, sure enough, it was chopped off.”
He said the gates at Groote Schuur Estate above UCT were closed, so he parked his car there and walked up for about 45 minutes.
“There was absolutely no-one there,” he said.
Last month students at Oxford University in the UK called for a Rhodes statue to be removed — triggered in part by protesters in the port city of Bristol tearing down a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston and throwing it into the harbour.