Who was Cecil Rhodes? Why Oxford lecturers have ‘boycotted Oriel College’ over statue of the imperialist

Campaigners have also tried to block the display at a Bristol museum of a controversial statue of Edward Colston after it was toppled during the BLM protests

Over 150 Oxford lecturers have reportedly announced that they will no longer be teaching students at Oriel College due to the decision not to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes.

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Who was Cecil Rhodes?

A statue of Cecil Rhodes is displayed on the front of on Oriel College. The College has decided to keep its statue of Cecil Rhodes despite the Rhodes Must Fall campaign (Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)

Cecil Rhodes was a British politician and mining magnate with an unflinching belief in British imperialism. He held the view that whites were a superior race and has been labelled an “architect of apartheid”.

In the late 19th century he was responsible for the expansion of the British Empire in southern Africa and the De Beers diamond company which he helped found still plays a prominent role in the precious stone market.

Zimbabwe and Zambia were both once named after him, due to his role in annexing them, taking the names Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia respectively.

The peak of his career as a politician saw him become the Prime Minister of Cape Colony (part of modern-day South Africa).

He channelled much of his energy into the creation of a Cairo to Cape Town railway which would secure Britain’s domination over trade on the African continent.

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Why is he controversial?

In southern Africa, Cecil Rhodes is reviled by many who regard him as the ultimate embodiment of colonialism.

Critics of Rhodes, of which there are many, say that he was a racist and hateful figure, who paved the way for Apartheid in South Africa and is a contributing cause to inequality and unrest on the continent today.

Rhodes’ obsession with British exceptionalism was married to his absurd belief of Anglo-Saxon supremacy, once saying: "I contend that we are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race."

Rhodes harboured the fantasy of a British Empire which ruled the entire world, plotting the creation of a secret society which would see this come to fruition.

During his role as Prime minister of Cape Colony he effectively denied the rights of Black Africans by implementing a financial requirement for voting.

He was also partly responsible for the Jameson Raid, a failed attack on Afrikaner territory which led to the second Boer War, a bloody conflict with a death toll of thousands.

The great wealth that he accumulated over his life has seen the naming of educational institutions and scholarships after him, with several statues dedicated to him scattered across southern Africa and in Britain.

Detractors claim that the presence of memorials and tributes to Rhodes provide fuel to claims of whites being a superior race.

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Why are Oxford lecturers boycotting?

Over 150 lecturers and professors are reportedly boycotting Oriel College, an Oxford University college, over the decision not to remove a statue of Rhodes, according to The Telegraph.

An independent inquiry to examine Rhodes’ legacy was established in June 2020, and almost a year later, in May 2021, it was announced that the college would not be removing the statue, citing time frame and costs as “considerable obstacles”.

Oriel College was accused of “institutional racism” last month after its governing body said that it would not seek to remove the statue of Rhodes from its position outside the building.

Lecturers have also reportedly pledged to withdraw from all talks, seminars and conferences sponsored by Oriel, and will stop their involvement in interviewing students and recruiting fellows.

A “statement of a boycott of Oriel College” was published on Oxford’s internal communication system, alongside a list of signatories.

In the statement, the academics said: “The collegiate university can only effectively and credibly work to eradicate racism and address the ongoing effects of colonialism today if all the colleges do so.

“Oriel College’s decision not to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes undermines us all.

“Despite votes in favour from its student common rooms and despite an earlier vote of the governing body expressing their wish to remove it, Oriel has now decided not to.

“Faced with Oriel’s stubborn attachment to a statue that glorifies colonialism and the weath it produced for the college, we feel we have no choice but to withdraw all discretionary work and goodwill collaborations.”