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Rhodes University (South Africa)

Last modified: 2023-12-02 by bruce berry
Keywords: south africa | rhodes university |
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image by Martin Grieve, 29 Mar 2005

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Rhodes University is located in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. The University was established on 31 May 1904 as the Rhodes University College, named for Cecil John Rhodes, diamond and gold magnate, imperialist, one-time Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and founder of the British South Africa Company which colonised Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe and Zambia). Donations towards its founding came largely from the trustees of Rhodes's estate (he had died in 1902) and De Beers Consolidated Mines (which he had founded), as well as several public bodies in what was then called the Eastern Province.

On 10 March 1951 Rhodes became an independent university, to which the University of Fort Hare founded in 1916 in the near-by town of Alice) was affiliated until 1959. Under the apartheid dispensation Fort Hare originally accepted Black students only while Rhodes University catered for white students.

In the 1960s Rhodes University established a branch in Port Elizabeth, but government intervention saw its campus there being taken over by the new University of Port Elizabeth which in January 2005 became known as the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

In the 1980s Rhodes University established a branch in East London which became a flourishing campus, but again further government intervention resulted in this campus becoming part of the University of Fort Hare in 2003.

Rhodes University flag

Source: Rhodes University

The flag of Rhodes University is a heraldic banner based on its Arms which were granted by the London College of Arms in 1913. The blazon (as recorded on the Deed of Grant) reads:

"Or on a Pile Sable an Open Book inscribed with the words "Sapientam Exquiret Sapiens" between three Escallops of the first. On a Chief Argent a Lion passant gules between two Thistles slipped and leaved proper. And for the crest a Wreath of the Colours upon a Rock the Figure of a Man mounted on a Horse representing 'energy' all Argent".

The excessive use of capital letters and a paucity of punctuation is characteristic of blazons from the College of Arms. It is also characteristic of the College to omit mention of the motto below the shield, which reads: Vis Virtus Veritas (Strength, Courage, Truth).

The symbolism of the Arms is as follows:
Black and gold are the livery colours of the Graham family. The pile (inverted triangle) is characteristic of the arms of Graham of Fintry, while the escallops (shells), an emblem of pilgrimage, appear not only in the arms of Fintry (a cadet branch of the family) but also Graham of Montrose (the clan chief). These Graham symbols signify the university's presence in Grahamstown (since renamed Makanda in 2018).

The lion and two thistles were taken from the Coat of Arms granted posthumously to Cecil John Rhodes and were also found in the Arms of Rhodesia. The references to Cecil Rhodes arise out of his estate's role in establishing the university.

The open book is a common feature of the Arms of a college or university; a famous example is Oxford University.

The crest is a representation of the famous statue by Watts which forms part of the Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town. The statue, also known as Physical Energy, was a favourite of Rhodes'.

An appalling aspect of the artwork produced by the herald painter, or artist attached to the College of Arms in London, is that the crest-wreath is drawn with the appearance of a tea-tray balanced on top of the helmet. The crest-wreath or torse was produced by twisting silk cloth in two or more colours and was placed around the bolts that held the crest to the helmet, so as to conceal them, and so formed the base of the crest. It must be added that the standard of artwork produced through the College has improved considerably through the 20th century, and is now an exemplary blend of authentic mediŠval and appropriate modern styles.

Further details of the University's Arms and its history can be found on Mike Oettle's SA heraldry website  while the University's own website can be found here.
Bruce Berry, 29 Mar 2005

image sent by Bruce Berry, 19 Nov 2023

While the original Arms appears on the annual University calendar and on degree certificates, the shield with the name of the institution and a new motto, "Where leaders learn" in purple on white, is in general everyday use.

Following student protests in 2015 during which a statue of Cecil John Rhodes was removed from the campus of the University of Cape Town, the University Council undertook to determine whether the institution should change its name.  In 2017, the Rhodes University Council voted 15-9 to retain its existing name. 
Bruce Berry, 19 Nov 2023

Allan Webb Hall Coat of Arms

Allan Webb Hall is the smallest Hall at Rhodes University and comprises four residences.  The residences are named after British cathedral cities, namely: Canterbury House, Winchester House, Truro  House and Salisbury House.  The Hall has a Coat of Arms registered at the South African Bureau of Heraldry under Certificate No. H4/3/1/4049 issued on 07 July 2006 with with following blazon:

Azure, two keys in saltire Or, between, in chief a mitre Argent, embellished Or and Azure, and in base an escallop also Argent.

Bruce Berry, 19 Nov 2023

Nelson Mandela Hall Coat of Arms

Former South African President, Nelson Mandela, accepted an Honorary Doctorate from Rhodes University on 06 April 2002 and gave permission for a University Hall to be named in his honour. Nelson Mandela Hall comprises four residences, namely Adelaide Tambo House (women), Helen Joseph House (women), Guy Butler House (men) and Stanley Kidd House (men).

image sent by Bruce Berry, 19 Nov 2023

A Coat of Arms was designed for the new Hall with the following symbolism:

Horseman: Symbolises our place within the Rhodes University community;

Shield/assegai: Represents strength and awareness, the readiness to battle for truth, symbolic of our African heritage;

Shells: Symbolise our links to Grahamstown/Makhanda;

Elephant: Represents our link to Nelson Mandela, and symbolises wisdom, strength, majesty/statesmanship, courage, together with the concept of ubuntu;

Aloe: Is a plant associated with the Eastern Cape and is  symbolic of resilience, the ability to withstand adversity and has healing properties;

Book: Is symbolic of our commitment to the pursuit of learning and research; and

South African flag in the shield is symbolic of the new hope engendered by the flag in post-apartheid South Africa and symbolises our commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy.

The Motto is Amandla (Strength), Umanyano (Unity) and Ubudlelwana (Fellowship).
Bruce Berry, 17 Nov 2023

Lilian Ngoyi Hall logo

Lilan Ngoyi was an anti-apartheid activist and the first woman to be elected to the executive committee of the African National Congress (ANC).  She became President of the ANC Women's League in 1954 and led a march of over 20 000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the requirement for African women to carry passbooks in terms of the apartheid government's pass laws.

A hall of residence was named in her honour at Rhodes University in 2009. The Hall comprise four residences named after people or events that have either impacted the life of the university of the history of South Africa, namely Centenary House (men), Ruth First (women), Joe Slovo (men) and Victoria Mxenge (women).

image sent by Bruce Berry, 19 Nov 2023

The Hall Committee decided in 2009 that it should design a logo for the newly renamed Hall.  It was decided that the design should include the words amandla (strength), uthando (love) and ubugorha (courage) as these form the foundation of the core principles of Lilian Ngoyi Hall. Careful consideration was made about the appropriate language used on the logo and it was finally decided to use isiXhosa and not isiPendi, Lilian Ngoyi's home language, as Rhodes University is located in the Eastern Cape.

The design incorporates lilies to signify the Lilian part of Lilian Ngoyi Hall. The calla lily, Zantedeschia aethiopica, a species of lily native to southern Africa (South Africa, eSwatini and Lesotho) was chosen over the African lily, Agapanthus africanus, as the African lily was deemed to be too decorative and complicated.

The design incorporates a feminine fist to signify the role Lilian Ngoyi, Victoria Mxenge, Ruth First and Joe Slovo played in the freedom struggle in South Africa. This symbol of struggle is an appropriate symbol for the logo as future Lilian Ngoyi Hall students will face difficulties that they will need to overcome.  The design incorporates the African continent to signify that the Hall should provide an African home to all. The design incorporates a shield to symbolise defence. It was decided that an African shield and not a Eurocentric one would further enhance the identity component of this logo and thus an isiXhosa shield was selected.  The design of the logo was deliberately chosen not to conform to the traditional rules of heraldry.
Bruce Berry, 19 Nov 2023