Must Rhodes fall?

And no, we don't mean the Greek island...

You may have recently seen in the news something along the lines of ‘Rhodes’ with variations on the word ‘fall’. No this is not the historic Greek island, but rather a statue of Cecil Rhodes, which students at Oxford University are calling to be removed from Oriel College on the grounds that he was a racist and imperialist.

Cecil Rhodes was the nineteenth-century benefactor who funded the Rhodes Scholarship Programme at Oxford. The movement mirrors a similar protest movement that began on 9 March 2015 in South Africa. It was originally directed against a statue at the University of Cape Town (UCT) that commemorates Rhodes. The campaign for the statue's removal received global attention and led to a wider movement to 'decolonise' education across South Africa. In Capetown, they were eventually successful in removing the statue.

On 19 January 2016, students at the Oxford Union voted 245 to 212 in favour of removing the statue of Rhodes from the campus. However, ten days later it was announced that the statue would remain, after 'furious donors threatened to withdraw gifts and bequests worth more than £100 million' if it was removed.

Although I do agree that Rhodes was a colonialist who dramatically changed lives, often for the worse, in areas such as South Africa, he is a figure who has shaped the world we see today. If we remove him, why should we commemorate other historic figures who are considered ‘great’, yet have similar connotations? Winston Churchill for example, although a successful wartime prime minister, is said to have been racist. We need to remember that in their time, the imperialists were not out of place in their methodologies or philosophy. By removing statues of figures such as Rhodes we are removing history, which should be remembered, both the best and worst bits. 

Olivia Dodd VII