Oxford College Opts to Keep Statue of Colonialist Who Got Rich by Killing Africans, Stealing Land

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2005
The statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel. Oxford University said a consultation process had shown ‘overwhelming’ support for keeping it. (Greg Blatchford/Barcroft)
The statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel. Oxford University said a consultation process had shown ‘overwhelming’ support for keeping it. (Greg Blatchford/Barcroft)

Oriel College, a division of the University of Oxford in England, has decided not to remove a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes, despite protests from students.

According to The Guardian, Oriel College said there was “overwhelming support” for keeping the statue. Rhodes is a controversial figure. He was one of the leading personalities behind the colonization of Southern Africa, and the country of Rhodesia was eventually named after him. After the natives won independence, they renamed the country Zimbabwe. Rhodes also amassed a fortune from mining and extracting precious gems, which made him one of the wealthiest men of his time. (His fortune still funds the Rhodes Scholarship.)

However, how he amassed his fortune is questionable. Rhodes was known for getting illiterate African chiefs to sign contracts that handed over their lands to him. Then he would send in mercenaries to clear Africans off their land. Some of the students at Oxford said this is not the kind of person who should be honored with a statue.

Brian Kwoba, one of the campaigners against the statue, described Rhodes as “the Hitler of Africa.”

He told The Guardian Rhodes was “responsible for all manner of stealing land, massacring tens of thousands of Black Africans, imposing a regime of unspeakable labor exploitation in the diamond mines and devising proto-apartheid policies.”

Kwoba called the honoring of Rhodes, who also massacred women and children, as “Britain’s imperial blind spot.” However, many British people still have fond memories of their colonial history, which was marked by several incidences of human rights abuse. An Atlanta Blackstar story revealed that a YouGov poll showed 44 percent of British people were proud of their country’s colonial past.

The Oxford students may have failed in their efforts to remove the Rhodes statue, but students in South Africa succeeded. The Atlanta Blackstar reported that students at the University of Cape Town successfully campaigned for the removal of statue of Rhodes last year.

“He [Rhodes] represents the former colonial representation of this country — supremacy, racism, misogyny,” said Ramabina Mahapa, president of the students’ Representative Council, which led the fight to remove the statue.

According to The Guardian, university chancellor Chris Patten was largely dismissive of the Rhodes Must Fall movement. He said if students could not embrace freedom of thought, they should “think about being educated elsewhere.”

However, although the college said there was overwhelming support for the statue, their decision to keep it may have a financial motive. The Guardian reported the university stood to lose about $130 million in donations if they removed the statue.

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