In July 2015, the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town was removed after it had become the focus of a number of protests in South Africa. But a similar statue at Oxford University is going nowhere, due to “financial and regulatory challenges”, even though an independent commission recommended its removal.
The move, or rather, the lack of movement has been widely criticised, especially because Rhodes is a divisive figure in history. Many view him as a ruthless oppressor while others prefer to remember him as a great leader of the British Empire.
Rhodes was in fact an imperialist, mining magnate, and politician who ruled the Cape Colony between 1890 to 1896.
Oxford’s refusal to remove the statue of Rhodes has been roundly criticised by anti-racism campaigners. The Rhodes Must Fall movement has called for “full transparency” and ask politicians and government officials to explain the funding cuts that have prevented the removal of the statue.
Britain’s education secretary, Gavin Williamson, however, welcomed the move, tweeting: “Sensible & balanced decision not to remove the Rhodes statue from Oriel College, Oxford – because we should learn from our past, rather than censoring history, and continue focusing on reducing inequality.”
The independent commission, which was set up after a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston was torn down in Bristol during the Black Lives Matter protests in the UK. The commission eventually voted to remove the statue.
However, Oxford University said it would not remove the statue because doing so would be a complicated legal process that involved secretary of state for housing, communities, and local government, Robert Jenrick. Jenrick said earlier this year that he would introduce changes to the law to protect statues from “baying mobs”.
Susan Brown, Oxford city council’s leader told The Guardian, “I am personally deeply disappointed that Oriel College, Oxford have chosen today to backtrack on their previous decision to remove the Rhodes statue and ignore the views of the commission on this crucial part of their work. For people in our city, this was the most important action that Oriel College could have taken to show an acknowledgment of the discrimination of the past and they have failed to act.”
A spokesperson for Rhodes Must Fall demanded Oriel maintain the original decision it made last year. “No amount of diversity and inclusion initiatives will suffice in lieu of the removal of the physical images which glorify white supremacy,” it said.