The University of Cape Town’s oldest men’s residence will no longer be known as Smuts Hall after the university council decided to implement a name change.
Effective from Saturday, Smuts Hall was renamed to Upper Campus Residence, as a place holder name until a new name is decided upon.
This is the second name change in the residence’s 93-year history. After it was built in 1928 it was known as Men’s Residence.
According to UCT’s website, in 1950 the residence was renamed after Jan Smuts, prime minister of the Union of South Africa between 1919 and 1924 and again between 1939 and 1948, when his United Party lost power to the Afrikaner nationalist Herenigde Nasionale Party.
Smuts was also the UCT vice-chancellor from 1936 until his death in 1950.
Smuts’ legacy is controversial, as his government oversaw British colonialism in SA and segregation laws referred to by some historians as “small apartheid” to distinguish it from the official apartheid policy introduced by the National Party.
His policies at home are seen by some to be at variance with his involvement in drafting the UN Charter, which recognises universal human rights for people of all races.
In a newsletter published on the UCT website on Monday, council chair Babalwa Ngonyama said during a sitting on Saturday the council approved a recommendation of the naming of buildings committee that the name Smuts Hall be changed.
“This decision takes immediate effect in that the name Smuts Hall will be removed from the residence and in the interim the name Upper Campus Residence will be used until the process of determining a new name is formally concluded,” she said.
“Council’s decision will allow UCT to move on from the past while continuing to recognise the significance of our legacy. There are many creative possibilities for reimagining the UCT campus in ways that will build inclusivity and look to the future.”
Ngonyama said in the coming months UCT would hold discussions across the university community about a new name for the residence and other buildings.
“As much as this is part of the transformation efforts at UCT, any name change process can be emotive for both those calling for the name to be replaced and those wishing for it to be retained,” she said.
“However, if anything, the Smuts Hall renaming should provide a moment through which we view the name changing processes from completely different lenses.
“The changing of names should not be seen as merely replacing what we do not like with what we feel resonates well with us or what we feel we relate better to. It should go beyond the view that the name we are changing is a source of discomfort or pain for those advocating for change. Nor should it be viewed as an act of diminishing, discarding or deviating from history by those who would wish that the status quo should remain.
“It should be seen as an opportunity for us to forge a new path together, towards creating an environment of inclusivity and shared identity on campus — an environment where all members of the campus community feel represented by, and can reflect on and relate to the buildings, spaces and symbols on campus.”
Ngonyama said the name changes were an indication of how far UCT had come since the #RhodesMustFall protests, which saw the removal of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes, chief architect of Victorian-era British colonialism in Southern Africa.
“The utter pain and anguish at the time of the decision to remove the Rhodes statue from campus was significant. And yet, we have, as a campus, moved closer to a community that can speak with one another, can acknowledge the complexities of the past but honour its gifts, can engage each other to come to new names of campus spaces that we feel is more representative of our values and who we are as an inclusive collective.”
by Aron Hyman