Oriel puts up plaque calling Rhodes a ‘committed colonialist’
And no one seems to be happy with it
Oriel College has put up a plaque next to the statue of Cecil Rhodes, describing him as a “committed colonialist” whose “activities led to a great loss of life.”
The controversial statue was the subject of the Rhodes Must Fall Campaign which argues that the statue’s existence serves as a reminder of colonialism and its accompanying violence.
An independent commission was set up to establish whether the statue should be taken down, ultimately deciding that it would not due to “regulatory and financial challenges.”
Instead, the plaque was added to the statue with the aim of providing some context. The plaque reads: “Rhodes, a committed British colonialist, obtained his fortune through exploitation of minerals, land, and peoples of southern Africa. Some of his activities led to great loss of life and attracted criticism in his day and ever since.
“In recent years, the statue has become a focus for public debate on racism and the legacy of colonialism. In June 2020, Oriel College declared its wish to remove the statue but is not doing so following legal and regulatory advice.”
The plaque itself has sparked controversy with those on both sides of the debate seeming to take issue with it.
Oxford Uni archeology professor Dan Hicks tweeted: “Until today, Oxford had two memorials to Cecil John Rhodes. Today, they are joined by a third – and one that’s arguably even more shameful for the college.
“This small metal sign is an embarrassment and reveals the incoherence and futility of the ideology of ‘retain and explain’.”
Retain and Explain is a government policy that came about following the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, seeking to keep historical monuments in place but in some cases to add context to them.
One Oxford student also tweeted: “This is such a poor effort from Oriel… Two sentences on the atrocities Rhodes committed in South Africa, and then, “sorry, we’d like to take the statue down but some lawyers said we couldn’t. As if that’d ever be good enough.”
Cambridge Uni history professor David Abulafia disagrees, however, telling The Telegraph that he thought the sign had gone too far.
For Abulafia, the plaque should “look at the whole of Rhodes’s career, explaining properly who he was and what he was trying to do”.
“He believed he was bringing benefits to Africa. We might now argue that he did more harm than good but one has to understand what his intentions were. He is portrayed here as some sort of devil incarnate,” Abulafia said.
Oriel College told The Oxford Mail that while the sign isn’t intended to list everything Rhodes did in his lifetime, it has been put up “to acknowledge the controversy surrounding the statue and to provide a link to other resources where people can find out more for themselves.”