In Quest To Fell Rhodes Statue, Students Aim To Make Oxford Confront History

A statue of Cecil Rhodes stands on Oriel College at Oxford University.
A statue of Cecil Rhodes stands on Oriel College at Oxford University.
Creative Commons photo by

In front of one of the colleges at Oxford University, a statue of Cecil Rhodes stands overlooking the campus. Rhodes, a South African businessman, started the De Beers diamond company and went on to become the namesake of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.

He was also a colonialist who believed in the superiority of Anglo-Saxons, and he enforced a policy of racial segregation in South Africa.

Now, because of that history, a growing number of students at Oxford say it’s time to take down the statue of Rhodes.

“We understood that he came and plundered the land, as many colonizers did, and that a lot of people died from what he did. And there’s a lot of structural injustice that resulted from the acts that Rhodes committed,” says Tadiwa Madenga, a student at Oxford and an organizer with the Rhodes Must Fall campaign.

She tells NPR’s Rachel Martin that the campaign is working to make the school confront a history it might not otherwise.

“When I look at the statue, I know of that legacy, but I also see the way Oxford wants to imagine itself today,” Madenga says. “It is only now that we have made them engage with this history, that they have decided that perhaps they don’t condone his actions.”

Interview Highlights

On the defense of the statue voiced by Oxford Chancellor Chris Patten: “People have to face up to facts in history which they don’t like and talk about them and debate them”

We think that debating means really seriously engaging with issues of colonial legacies and taking action to make sure that the university is not institutionally racist, as opposed to just discussing over tea what our opinions are. And so [the chancellor’s] comments, to me, just show this entitlement that certain people in administration have, where if you disagree with them specifically, they feel like you should leave.

On creating debate

First, I want to say that, once again, the university was not confronting this history prior to the movement. We want to say, “What is a public space, and what are statues for?” Statues are there to commemorate and to honor particular people. We do not put up statues of people we demonize for the sake of thinking of history or just debating.

And so we are saying that you can remove the statue, you can put it in a museum where you can continue to discuss and debate. But where it is, at the entrance of Oriel College, at the very highest position above kings and provosts, is just ridiculous. It is not appropriate.

On her experience as a student of color

I think that it’s been shocking in terms of how much people in England really truly believe that colonization was a good thing. …

I think part of the problem in England is that a lot of people, maybe, who haven’t traveled outside of England have not seen the consequences and the legacies of colonialism. So, for some of us students who come from southern Africa, who still know about the racial inequality from particular economic structures, find this shocking when we come to England and people are not aware of the other side of colonization.

On why the movement is happening now

All movements started with different types of protests happening. So, you had the Black Lives Matter movement coming up, you had the Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa. And we see these connections, and we say this is also connected to how people look at history.

So, the fact that the university cares more about Rhodes being a benefactor as opposed to the lives that were lost because of his actions, shows the way that people don’t care about black lives. And I think globally there has been a movement to kind of reveal this uncritical way of looking at history and the way that this uncritical reflection of history has led to some of the situations we have now, where black people are still dying over institutional oppression.

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Read original article – January 24, 2016 7:22 AM ET


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