Students campaigning for the removal of the statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) reacted with outrage on Friday after Oriel College in Oxford announced its decision not to take down the sculpture, reportedly under pressure after donors resisted such a move.
The campaign, called “Rhodes Must Fall”, attracted much publicity and generated intense debate on the uses of history, and Oriel College initially appeared sympathetic to the students’ demand. The campaign includes current Rhodes Scholars, other students and alumni.
Ntokozo Qwabe, a Rhodes Scholar and part of the campaign, said: “The decision by Oriel College to unilaterally reverse its public commitments on Rhodes, without any consultation, basically reminds us that black lives are cheap at Oxford.”
The campaign group said in a statement: “This is not over…Oriel College has breached the undertakings it gave to students in its December statement…This recent move is outrageous, dishonest, and cynical…We will be redoubling our efforts.”
The Oxford campaign had demanded the statue be removed since the British businessman and mining magnate in South Africa had views that are now considered racist. It was started in South Africa, where Rhodes’ statue in the University of Cape Town was taken down.
After receiving hundreds of comments, the college said on Thursday: “Over the past few months, there has been intense debate about how Cecil Rhodes is commemorated in Oxford, and particularly about the Rhodes statue on Oriel College’s High Street frontage.”
It added: “Following careful consideration, the College’s Governing Body has decided that the statue should remain in place, and that the College will seek to provide a clear historical context to explain why it is there.”
An internal note on the issue detailed how donors were angered by the college appearing sympathetic to the campaign, albeit on the ground that it wanted to improve the experience of black and ethnic minority students. The row endangered the college’s fund-raising, it said.
Rhodes’ large donation funds the Rhodes Scholarship, which has benefited more than 8,000 students from India and elsewhere. As some donors withdrew or stopped responding, the note mentioned a quote: “Is this how we treat our donors?”
The college had announced a six-month “listening exercise” from February 1, but its scope has been changed to a “focus on how best to place the statue and plaque in a clear historical context”.
The note said: “Our alumni do not need many excuses not to give, and for many, this will be such an excuse for years to come.” At least one donation of £500,000 donation was cancelled and another for £750,000 and a £100 million legacy were under threat, it added.