Oriel College in Oxford has decided to take down the controversial statue of Cecil Rhodes. The governors of the Oxford University College announced the move through voting on Wednesday. The removal of the colonialist’s statue was pushed and demanded by campaigners saying it was a symbol of racism and European imperialism. However, the removal is not expected to be immediate as the college administration says consultations will be needed before the action. The activists that pushed for Rhodes Must Fall welcomed the announcement as hopeful but warned they would remain vigilant and steadfast until the falling of the colonialist symbol.
In a statement, campaigners said that until the “”Rhodes statue ceases to adorn the facade of Oriel College on Oxford’s High Street” there would still be protests over “imperial and colonial iconography” in university buildings.
Oriel College governors said the decision had been made “after a thoughtful period of debate and reflection and in full awareness of the impact these decisions are likely to have in Britain and around the world”.
The college is also planning to establish an “independent commission of inquiry” into the role and legacy of Rhodes which also involves scholarships at the university. The commission, chaired by Carole Souter, will also work for wider issues such as support for black and ethnic minority students and a commitment to diversity. It will also initiate a mechanism for consultation with different groups including students, councilors, local people and those campaigning for the Rhodes Must Fall cause. The Oxford City Council leader Susan Brown endorsed the move to remove the statue and its future as a statue. Divided opinions have been surfacing about the fate of the so far immortal statue.
Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy hailing the move called it the “right decision” in a tweet, adding that it was “time to take figures like Rhodes down off their pedestals”.
Alan Rusbridger, principal of Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford, also favored the removal of the figurine: “I hope they can find a good home for him where we can discuss him rather than appear to venerate him,” he tweeted.
Former Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan argued that “Rhodes’ generosity allowed thousands of young people to enjoy an education they could not otherwise have had”.
“Why would anyone give to an institution that treats its benefactors this way?” he questioned. Earlier on Wednesday the universities minister had opposed the idea. Michelle Donelan said it would be “short sighted” to try to “rewrite our history” as he turned down the calls to “censor or edit” the past.
“I want to be really clear that racism is abhorrent and shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere in our society, and that includes universities,” she expressed her thoughts in a Higher Education Policy Institute event.
Running away from the Past
Demonstrators have called for the Cecil Rhodes statue to be taken down saying that it glorifies imperialist heritage. Last week the Oxford’s vice-chancellor, Louise Richardson gave a little support for the removal of Rhodes but warned against hiding the past.
“My own view on this is that hiding our history is not the route to enlightenment,” Prof Richardson told the BBC.
“We need to understand this history and understand the context in which it was made and why it was that people believed then as they did,” she said.
“This university has been around for 900 years. For 800 of those years the people who ran the university didn’t think women were worthy of an education. Should we denounce those people?
“Personally, no – I think they were wrong, but they have to be judged by the context of their time,” said Prof Richardson.