The statue of Cecil Rhodes

Oxford keeps statue of colonialist Rhodes, dividing opinion

Opinions are divided as an Oxford University college announces that it will keep a statue of 19th century colonialist Cecil Rhodes on display.

OXFORD, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (JANUARY 29, 2015) (REUTERS) – Opinions were divided on Friday (January 29) as an Oxford University college announced it will keep a statue of 19th century colonialist Cecil Rhodes on display, resisting pressure to remove it from student campaigners who say it glorifies a brutal racist.

Inspired by protests at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, which led to its statue of Rhodes being removed last April, the “Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford” campaign has sparked a heated debate about how Britain remembers its imperialist past.

Rhodes, a fervent imperialist and mining magnate, was a central figure in Britain’s colonial project in southern Africa, giving his name to Rhodesia, present-day Zimbabwe, and founding the De Beers diamond empire.

Oriel College, one of 38 that make up Oxford University, said the statue would remain in place in a niche on the facade of a building partly funded by a donation from Rhodes. It said it would add an explanation of the historical context.

Meanwhile the ‘Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford’ campaigners said on Facebook they would redouble their efforts to secure the removal of the statue and a separate plaque bearing a political tribute to Rhodes.

On Friday (January 29), people walking the streets of Oxford expressed mixed views on the matter.

Orsi Kozel, an artist living in Oxford, said she thought the money made by Rhodes should not stay unless it “benefited the African people”.

“He made his wealth through the African slaves and they were working for them to make his money, and I should say the University of Oxford has lots of money anyway, and very wealthy people are coming here to study and I think it should benefit directly the African people. With this money they should open some schools and hospitals and orphanages in Zimbabwe and all those countries which he was benefiting from,” she said.

“I think the statue should go. At least he would give some money to the African countries he was benefiting from then the statue can stay, definitely.”

Simon Tomlinson, a resident of nearby town Bicester, agreed that the statue should not stay, as times had changed.

“Well I think Cecil Rhodes, I think he was a figure associated with imperialism and racism, so for that reason I think now is a good time to take it down.”

Hoo King Lau, a student at Oxford University’s Hertford College, said that he thought the statue should stay as it represented an important part of British history, and that although Rhodes did some “bad” things, he also did some “good” things.

“Actually I think it’s a good idea, I think it’s a part of Oxford’s history and what’s more, I think his ideology represents the Victorian era, the way British (people) think in that time, so even the history maybe not, it seems a little bit too brutal, but I think we should preserve it and also I think he makes a contribution to British empire, to this university, I think we should remember him, although he did some bad things in terms of the way we think nowadays. But I believe, I think he did some good things as well.”

Meanwhile Riane Trotmaw, a student at Oxford University’s St Hugh’s College, appeared to be sitting on the fence – but emphasised that she thought there were bigger issues at hand in terms of understanding imperialism.

“I get why people say it shouldn’t stay or people say it should, but I think it’s a bigger problem about how we conceptualise empire and think about it, and I’m not sure that Cecil Rhodes is the big issue here, rather than the whole question of ‘what was empire and how do we move on from that’.”

A student at Oriel in his youth, Rhodes left the college money when he died and also endowed the Rhodes Scholarships, which have allowed 8,000 students from countries around the world to study at Oxford over the past century.

The student campaigners say it is wrong to honour a man who made his fortune from the exploitation of African miners, secured power through bloody imperial wars, and paved the way to apartheid with his beliefs and measures on racial segregation.

The debate over Rhodes has made front-page headlines in Britain and attracted comment from far and wide, including from former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, a onetime Rhodes scholar, who supported keeping the statue.