Cecil Rhodes: Oxford college recommends removing statue of colonialist

An Oxford University college has said it will recommend removing a statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes.

The statue has long been the target of protests and more than a thousand demonstrators gathered outside the university to call for its removal last week.

The governors of Oriel College voted on Wednesday to take down the statue and launch an inquiry into the key issues around Rhodes’ legacy.

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Demonstrators hold placards in Oxford

“Both of these decisions were reached after a thoughtful period of debate and reflection and with the full awareness of the impact these decisions are likely to have in Britain and around the world,” the governors said.

They added the commission will look at improving the access and attendance of BAME students and staff, along with a review of “how the college’s 21st-century commitment to diversity can sit more easily with its past”.

Rhodes made a fortune in the late 19th century from gold and diamond mines in which miners laboured in brutal conditions, and was a central figure in Britain’s colonial project in southern Africa.

His legacy includes Oxford University’s prestigious Rhodes scholarships, which have been awarded to international students including former US president Bill Clinton and feminist writer Naomi Wolf.

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The Rhodes Must Fall campaign, which has been pushing for the removal of the statue, argues the statue glorifies racism and is an insult to black students.

The campaign gained new momentum as anti-racism protests – sparked by the death of George Floyd – have renewed the debate on colonialism in Britain.

In Bristol, protesters toppled a statue of slave trader Edward Colston and threw it into the harbour.

Protesters throw statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally, in memory of George Floyd who was killed on May 25 while in police custody in the US city of Minneapolis.
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Protesters threw a statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour

A statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, London, was boarded up ahead of protests last weekend, after it was covered in graffiti branding him a “racist”.

Responding to the Oxford college’s decision, the Rhodes Must Fall group said they were “optimistic” but urged the college to commit to removing the statue.

“We have been down this route before, where Oriel College has committed to taking a certain action, but has not followed through,” they said.

Earlier on Wednesday, universities minister Michelle Donelan said the campaigns to remove statues were “short-sighted” and argued we should “remember and learn” from our history.

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