Oxford University college to keep statue of colonialist Rhodes

Oriel College had voted in favour of removing the statue but cited ‘regulatory and financial challenges’ for its u-turn.

A statue of Cecil Rhodes, a controversial historical figure, is seen outside Oriel College in Oxford, Britain, June 11, 2020 [Andy Couldridge/Reuters]

An Oxford University college said it would not remove a statue of the 19th-century colonialist Cecil Rhodes that has been a target of British anti-racism protests due to high costs and complex heritage planning rules.

Oriel College has been under pressure for several years from the “RhodesMustFall” campaign which argues the statue on its facade glorifies racism. The movement stepped up again during last summer’s global wave of anti-racism protests.

An independent commission set up to investigate the issue had backed the college’s original wish to remove the statue.

However, the college said on Thursday it had now taken into consideration the challenges of removing the statue. It will accept other proposals to improve equality and diversity among its students and academics. It will also work on the “contextualisation” of the relationship with Rhodes.

The commission noted that the government, which would have a role in approving any removal, had backed a “retain and explain” approach to contested historic statues and sites.

“The Governing Body has carefully considered the regulatory and financial challenges, including the expected time frame for removal, which could run into years with no certainty of outcome, together with the total cost of removal,” Oriel said.

Neil Mendoza, the Provost of Oriel College, said he understood that the “nuanced conclusion” would disappoint some.

Rhodes, a 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. He expressed racist beliefs and implemented racial segregation measures that paved the way for apartheid.

A head of Rhodes was chopped away from its bust at a monument on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town last year.

A student at Oriel in his youth, he endowed the Rhodes Scholarships, which have allowed more than 8,000 students from around the world, including former US President Bill Clinton, to study at Oxford.

A damaged bust of Cecil John Rhodes, a controversial figure in the history of South Africa, is seen after the statue was vandalised and had its head removed in Cape Town, South Africa, on July 14, 2020 [Mike Hutchings/Reuters]
Source: Reuters