Students at Oxford University have succeeded in persuading Oriel College to remove a plaque in honour of Cecil Rhodes, an imperialist the university has deemed racist. The College has also applied to the local council for permission to remove a statue of him from their grounds.
Earlier this year, the University of Cape Town was forced to remove a statue of Rhodes from their campus, after students attacked the statue repeatedly with excrement and wrapped it in black bin bags.
British students have used a different tactic, accusing the statue of showing violence towards them merely by being in their presence.
In July, Oxford students set up the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, insisting that a statue of Rhodes in Oriel College is “problematic” and conveys “violence.”
Annie Teriba, a campaigner with the group said earlier this year: “There’s a violence to having to walk past the statue every day on the way to your lectures, there’s a violence to having to sit with paintings of former slave holders whilst writing your exams.”
Rhodes has rendered services to Oriel College as a benefactor, leaving money to the college upon his death in 1902 His Rhodes Scholarship has helped many thousands of foreign students to study at the prestigious university; past recipients include the former US President Bill Clinton and Eric Lander, the pioneer of the Human Genome Project.
Rhodes was also the first white man to be given the honour of a royal salute by the Ndebele chiefs at his funeral in Bulawayo, in what is now Zimbabwe.
Nonetheless, Oriel College has agreed with the students that the statue must be removed, The Telegraph has reported. In a statement, Oriel said:
“The College does not share Cecil Rhodes’s values or condone his racist views or actions. We commit to ensuring that acknowledgement of the historical fact of Rhodes’s bequest to the College does not suggest celebration of his unacceptable views and actions, and we commit to placing any recognition of his bequest in a clear historical context.
“We are starting the process of consultation with Oxford City Council this week in advance of submitting a formal application for consent to remove the Rhodes plaque. Its wording is a political tribute, and the College believes its continuing display on Oriel property is inconsistent with our principles.”
The metal plaque, which has been in place since 1906, reads in full:
‘In this house, the Rt. Hon Cecil John Rhodes kept academical residence in the year 1881. This memorial is erected by Alfred Mosely in recognition of the great services rendered by Cecil Rhodes to his country.’
The statue is in a college with listed building status, which raises questions about what can be removed.
The students’ demand to have the statue removed is part of an international clamour by students to remove statues and memorials they deem racist. The same fervour has also gripped parts of the United States.
At the College of William & Mary, students want Thomas Jefferson’s status removed from campus, as they claim he is an “incestuous rapist” and a “racist.”
University of Missouri students have also deemed Jefferson “offensive,” as he owned slaves.
Commenting on the decision at Cape Town University to remove their Rhodes statue, Frans Cronje, the head of South Africa’s Institute of Race Relations, voiced concerns over the “intolerable hooliganism” which characterised the campaign to have it removed.
“A university ceases to exist when an open culture of argument and counter argument is replaced by fear, intimidation, and racial nationalism,” he told the Telegraph. In evidence, he cited an attack on a member of staff who questioned the campaign, and the singing of the struggle song “One Settler One Bullet” after the student council voted in favour.
He also pointed to the results of a vote by the university’s staff “senate”, which came out 189-1 in favour of removing the statue, something he said brought to mind “North Korea’s election result”.