A South African university removed the statue of a British colonialist, responding to student protests that have described it as a symbol of white privilege.

On Thursday, a crane lifted the decades' old bronze statue of Cecil John Rhodes from its perch overlooking the University of Cape Town as students cheered.

Protesters, known as the Rhodes Must Fall Movement, on their Facebook page described Rhodes as a mass murderer who stole indigenous land.

The movement has sparked a wave of similar protests in which apartheid-era statues have been vandalized.

The university's governing council, made up of students and staff, voted on Wednesday to remove the statue.

A smaller counter campaign, titled Rhodes Must Stay, had argued that the statue should be protected as a symbol of South Africa's heritage.