Oxford college agrees to remove Cecil Rhodes plaque

But the fate of Rhodes statue remains uncertain as anti-racism campaigners call for it be taken down

December 18, 2015
Rhodes Oxford plaque
Source: “Rhodes’ portrait bust”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
The plaque dedicated to Cecil Rhodes that Oriel has agreed to remove

Under pressure from anti-racism campaigners, Oriel College at the University of Oxford has agreed to remove from one of its buildings a plaque commemorating the imperialist Cecil Rhodes.

It will also consider whether or not to remove a controversial statue of Rhodes that stands at the front of the college itself.  

The decision follows a campaign by the Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford group, which last month petitioned the college to remove the statue, which it said prevented “an inclusive culture which promotes equality, values diversity and maintains a working, learning and social environment in which the rights and dignity of all its staff and students are respected”.

In a statement released yesterday, Oriel said that it would ask for council permission to remove a plaque put up privately in 1906 that celebrates “the great services rendered by Cecil Rhodes to his country”.

Regarding the statue, the college said that it raised “complex issues, which cannot be resolved quickly”.

“In the absence of any context or explanation, it can be seen as an uncritical celebration of a controversial figure, and the colonialism and the oppression of black communities he represents,” Oriel’s statement says.

It said that it would now start a “six-month listening exercise” on the future of the statue.

On its Facebook page, Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford said that the decision was a “victory” for its campaigning.

But it cautioned: “We find little sense in the immediate removal of the plaque of Rhodes while the fate of the colonialist’s statue remains uncertain, and apparently subject to further drawn-out bureaucratic processes.”

“We reiterate that universities are no places for genocidal colonialists, or any other such toxic figures. We will continue with our call that all violent symbolism be immediately expunged from educational spaces,” it added. 


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Reader's comments (5)

While this attitude is understandable in a narrow temporal context, it is, in my opinion, an attempt to sterilize history; a modern version of the Roman ‘Damnatio memoriae’. Such movements to obliterate individuals can prolong their notoriety, as recent examples may show. It would be better, I suggest, not to interfere, but to keep the presence of folly before us in order to warn the future.
I agree, these statues are actually important as physical memorials to the acts which were perpetrated. If it takes an additional, explanatory plaque to make clear then so be it. I think what is being objected to is the appearance of 'straight', unqualified commemoration which the visual language of the statue originally performed. So long as it's made clear that that original uncritical commemorative sense no longer obtains then I think people ought to be satisfied. As you say, evil occurs - its memory shouldn't always be expunged.
I think the next target should be the renaming of Churchill College Cambridge, given Churchill's outspoken opposition to Indian independence and his criticism of Gandhi. And unlike Rhodes Churchill did not leave a legacy for the education of students
I think your comment about Churchill College Cambridge highlights the danger of censorship and sterilisation of history. Just exactly where would we stop if we change the name of Churchill College, take down statues of Rhodes, why not Henry the 8th who had some pretty nasty views, or Cromwell because of what he did in Ireland, or Mary Tudor because of what she did to Protestants, the list is endless and exposes the shallow thinking behind these campaigns by people who it would appear have no ability to analyse history.
The plaque was put there by people who believed Rhodes made a positive contribution to his native England through his activities in Southern Africa. Sure there must be a collective admission of error and evil. At the same time does Oxford University carry the sole duty of honouring Cecil John Rhodes? Can critical scholarly literature and multimedia documentaries do more justice to both Oxford and Rhodes than this provocative plaque. I am South African in Johannesburg...my ancestors were at the receiving end of the atrocities of Cecil John Rhodes.

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