LONDON, June 17 (Reuters) – An Oxford University college said on Wednesday it wanted to remove from its facade a statue of 19th century colonialist Cecil Rhodes that has been a target of anti-racism protests, though the decision would be made independently.
Oriel College has been under pressure for several years from the #RhodesMustFall campaign, which argues the statue glorifies racism and is an insult to black students.
“First, this is a moment for celebration,” said Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, a South African graduate student at Oxford and #RhodesMustFall campaigner. “Energy and pressure must still be exerted on Oriel to see its ‘wish’ to fruition.”
The campaign was reinvigorated by the global wave of anti-racism protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and on June 9 a large demonstration took place outside the college.
In Britain, the Black Lives Matter protests have ignited a debate about monuments commemorating the nation’s imperialist past.
Rhodes, a mining magnate, was a central figure in Britain’s colonial project in southern Africa, giving his name to Rhodesia, present-day Zimbabwe, and founding the De Beers diamond empire. He expressed racist beliefs and implemented racial segregation measures that paved the way for apartheid.
A student at Oriel in his youth, he endowed the Rhodes Scholarships, which have allowed more than 8,000 students from around the world, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, to study at Oxford.
The governing body of Oriel said it would launch an independent commission of inquiry into the issues surrounding the statue, to which it would recommend that it be taken down.
Oriel said the commission would examine the Rhodes legacy and how the college’s present commitment to diversity could “sit more easily with its past”.
The #RhodesMustFall campaign began in South Africa in 2015, culminating in the removal of a statue of Rhodes at Cape Town University. But Oriel said in 2016 it would keep its own statue as “an important reminder of the complexity of history”.