Ox­ford stands firm on Rhodes

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

LON­DON — A statue of Bri­tish colo­nial­ist Ce­cil Rhodes is up­set­ting stu­dents in Ox­ford, but the univer­sity’s chan­cel­lor is adamant that it’s stay­ing.

Stu­dents re­turn­ing to Ox­ford Univer­sity af­ter the Christ­mas break have been told their cam­paign “Rhodes Must Fall”, aimed at top­pling the fa­mous statue, will fail.

The univer­sity’s chan­cel­lor, Lord Pat­ten, has stated pub­licly that it should re­main. Sim­i­lar views were also ex­pressed by Pro­fes­sor Louise Richard­son when she be­came the univer­sity’s new vice-chan­cel­lor this week.

But many stu­dents still can’t get over the statue’s pres­ence and feel it’s an un­com­fort­able re­minder of the past.

“I feel the same way that I would feel if I saw a statue of Hitler in Ger­many,” says Ntokozo Qwabe, a 24-year-old South African stu­dent, and one of many cam­paign­ing for it to come down.

Back in Spring 2015, a re­lated “Rhodes Must Fall” cam­paign in South Africa was spear­headed on Twit­ter, and re­sulted in the re­moval of an­other statue in Cape Town Univer­sity. Qwabe is cham­pi­oning the same cam­paign in Ox­ford, hop­ing for a sim­i­lar ef­fect.

Rhodes was a revered fig­ure in the days of the Bri­tish Em­pire. But to­day many re­gard him as a Bri­tish colo­nial­ist who ben­e­fited from Africa’s re­sources at the ex­pense of many Africans. He also founded an epony­mous coun­try — Rhode­sia — now Zim­babwe and Zam­bia.

Rhodes be­lieved that the English were the mas­ter race, and was once quoted as say­ing: “I con­tend that we are the first race in the world and that the more of the world we in­habit, the bet­ter it is for the hu­man race.”

Ed­u­cated at Ox­ford, Rhodes left a large sum of his for­tune to the univer­sity to fund schol­ar­ships for stu­dents around the world to study there — hence the statue which adorns the front of Oriel Col­lege.

For Qwabe and those who sup­port the move­ment, it’s a per­ma­nent re­minder of Bri­tain’s bru­tal colo­nial his­tory.

Tadiwa Madenga is 22 years old and study­ing Women’s Stud­ies at Ox­ford Univer­sity. She’s from Zim­babwe and she says she’s part of the first gen­er­a­tion of her fam­ily to be born free.

When she walks past the statue, it re­minds her of her fam­ily who grew up in Rhode­sia. “To me when I see this statue, it’s not a far­away mem­ory,” she said. “We’ve lived in places where we’ve seen the con­se­quences and it still deeply af­fects us, this kind of mem­ory of Bri­tish im­pe­ri­al­ism.”

Not all black stu­dents agree that the statue should come down. Dena Latif is 19 years old and from Su­dan, she’s study­ing at Oriel Col­lege.

“You can take down all the stat­ues and por­traits you want and there will still be the same racial im­bal­ance that there is to­day. Ce­cil Rhodes did go to this col­lege, he did con­trib­ute a lot of money, we can’t pre­tend he wasn’t here.”

One white stu­dent sighed when asked for his views and said it was a re­ally di­vi­sive is­sue that ev­ery­one in the com­mon room was talk­ing about: “The is­sue is, re­mov­ing it looks so reactionary, in do­ing that it’s like you’ve solved the is­sue — it’s to­kenis­tic.”

Oriel Col­lege haven’t com­pletely ig­nored the Rhodes Must Fall Ox­ford move­ment. A plaque which was also com­mem­o­rat­ing Rhodes on the Univer­sity grounds has been re­moved.

A sign has also gone up in the win­dow below the statue which reads: “In ac­knowl­edg­ing the his­tor­i­cal fact of Rhodes’ be­quest, the col­lege does not in any way con­done or glo­rify his views or ac­tions.”

The col­lege is also or­gan­is­ing a six-month “lis­ten­ing pro­ject” start­ing next month, but the stu­dents we spoke to felt it was too lit­tle, too late, point­ing out that in six months time they will have grad­u­ated.

Speak­ing on the BBC’S To­day pro­gramme, Lord Pat­ten ex­plained why he thinks the statue should re­main.

“What do you do about our his­tory? Any views Ce­cil Rhodes had about em­pire were com­mon to his time. What Rhodes did at the end of his life was give money to help en­sure oth­ers get this op­por­tu­nity.”

Lord Pat­ten is re­fer­ring to the Rhodes Schol­ar­ship, which pays for dozens of stu­dents from around the world to at­tend Ox­ford. He also said those un­com­fort­able should “think about be­ing ed­u­cated else­where.”

In re­sponse to the in­ter­view Ntokozo and Madenga told BBC Trend­ing: “Lord Pat­ten talks about be­ing open-minded but he is un­will­ing to be open-minded about en­gag­ing with the ways that Ox­ford might be in­sti­tu­tion­ally racist. In­stead he is im­ply­ing that we must leave if we don’t agree with Western un­der­stand­ing of his­tory and there is noth­ing open minded about that.”

But Qwabe is a re­cip­i­ent of the Rhodes schol­ar­ship and has been on the re­ceiv­ing end of crit­i­cism be­cause of this. He’s been called a hyp­ocrite and some on so­cial me­dia have called for him to “give the money back.”

Qwabe has re­sponded to this crit­i­cism by ar­gu­ing that it was never Rhodes’ money to give in the first place. It was wealth forcibly taken from African re­sources — from his own an­ces­tors — he says.

Madenga, one of the Rhodes Must Fall cam­paign­ers, told BBC Trend­ing that even though Rhodes died over 100 years ago, the im­pact of his racist at­ti­tudes are still felt to­day. She talked about Dy­lann Roof who is ac­cused of killing nine peo­ple at a church in South Carolina in 2015.

“He had writ­ten a man­i­festo called The Last Rhode­sian. He had the Rhode­sian flag stitched on to his jacket. Af­ter that, peo­ple took very se­ri­ously the idea of the con­fed­er­ate flag and tak­ing it down. A lot of peo­ple at Ox­ford think the con­fed­er­ate flag is racist, well, so is Rhodes.”


South African stu­dents started the Rhodes Must Fall cam­pain last year.

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