The University of Cape Town (UCT) council has resolved that the name of Jameson Hall should be changed and that a new name should be identified, says vice chancellor Max Price.
“The authority to name or rename University of Cape Town buildings is vested in council,” he said in a letter to UCT alumni.
Council had agreed with the naming of buildings committee (NOBC) – advised by the task team on the naming of buildings, rooms, spaces, and roads, which was established in 2015 – that a careful, extensive, consultative process was required to choose a new name.
“The task team had set a deadline of 15 April 2016 to receive submissions on whether or not the name of Jameson Hall should be changed as well as suggestions for alternative names. The invitation to submit suggestions was open to every student and staff member, as well as members of the wider UCT community, including alumni around the world,” Price wrote.
The task team first obtained legal opinion confirming that there was no legal or heritage reason why the name could not be changed. It considered arguments for the retention of the name, expressed as a deep respect for the foundational moment of the university as it was reflected in the names of buildings.
However, the task team concluded instead that the “university is a living organism and as time passes successive generations of students, who then become alumnae/i, must also be given the opportunity to reflect on the ethos of the institution and inscribe in turn their interpretation in names given to buildings”.
“The naming of buildings is an emotional issue and care should be taken in selecting names that illustrate what is at the heart, and in the name, of a ‘university’, that is, its ‘universality’, expressed as a pursuit of equality, social justice, reconciliation and human promotion – a university’s space is not merely an assemblage of buildings but a human whole that transcends its components. Naming the hall should echo this overarching concern,” the task team argued.
A joint meeting of the NOBC and the task team on June 17 concluded that it was clear from the evidence afforded by respected historians that “[colonial statesman Leander Starr] Jameson’s ruthless self-interest manifested in a profound lack of respect for other people”.
The NOBC endorsed the task team’s conclusion that the Hall that stood proud at the heart of the university, and being in this respect out of the ordinary, should have a name that would straddle the distinction between a “proper name” and a “functional name” so as to reflect its exceptionality; a thoughtful change of name would elicit support; a new name should evoke something easily recognisable and with which students, academics, staff, and parents could identify when they congregate in the hall; and such name should evoke “what is performed in the hall, that is, a celebration of togetherness around the communal search for knowledge”.
Based on these criteria, possible future names for the hall included Memorial Hall; one of Imbizo, Lekgotla, Pitso, or Kgoro, which all meant a meeting or gathering place, or their Khoisan equivalent; and others still under discussion.
The newly constituted NOBC and the task team would meet as soon as possible after July 1 (the date of the new term of office of all council and senate sub-committees) to determine the process whereby a new name could be identified.
“I would like to reiterate what I have said before in relation to renaming UCT buildings: such moments are relatively rare and historic, especially with regards to a building as central to campus life as Jameson Hall. This change offers us an opportunity both to make a definitive break with a past that we are not all part of, and to help define a future UCT that is much more inclusive and respectful of our different histories, cultures, and aspirations. It is symbolic of a transformation not only on our campus, but more importantly of our attitudes and values,” Price wrote.