CECIL RHODES School will soon have a new name, despite mixed feelings in the community about cutting ties with its namesake — a former prime minister of what is now known as South Africa, whose ideas laid the groundwork for racist apartheid policies.
Trustees in the Winnipeg School Division voted late Monday to approve the next phase in renaming the K-9 school on Elgin Avenue in Weston.
A committee will be created to start consultations on a new name. The board’s plan is to select and approve a name by September 2022.
“I’m full of emotions, because it’s really a lot of people’s efforts in (a) one-year long process. It’s a victory for the people whose voices have been silenced for a long time and people who have suffered from apartheid system… and racism,” said Jennifer Chen, a trustee who has been vocal about her concerns the school is named after a white supremacist.
More than 1,700 people signed a Change.org petition on the matter since it was launched by a teacher in June 2020, amid protests against anti-Black racism and global campaigns to tear down landmarks whose namesakes held racist beliefs during their lifetimes.
The division surveyed families at Cecil Rhodes School and across central Winnipeg earlier this year.
Only a slight majority of 55 per cent favoured change, with 45 per cent against it, said Chen.
On the pro-change side, there are concerns about the implications of championing Rhodes — a British-born South African businessman, mining magnate and founder of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, who lived from 1853 to 1902.
His philosophy prompted a system of policies that favoured white South Africans over their Black and “coloured” neighbours.
(Nearly three decades ago, during the height of the anti-apartheid movement, critics started to question the Winnipeg school’s name.)
Proponents in favour of the status quo have reported uneasiness about the erasure of history, as well as strong alumni attachments to the name.
“We cannot ignore the impact of the name on our marginalized populations, on our students of colour,” Chen said, adding some community members have recommended the school be named after a number to avoid future concerns of using a public figure as a namesake.
The trustee said another option is to name the school after a local community leader.
A spokesperson for the division said there is no estimated cost for the change at present.
Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press