Cecil Rhodes statue will not be removed by Oxford College

By Michael Race
BBC News

Image source, Reuters
Image caption, Protesters have been calling for several years for the statue to be removed

A statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes will not be taken down, an Oxford University college has said.

Calls to remove the memorial at Oriel College were reignited after a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was torn down in Bristol.

A commission set up to examine the figure's future said the "majority" of its members supported its removal.

But Oriel College said it would not seek to move the statue due to costs and "complex" planning processes.

Campaigners say Rhodes, a 19th Century businessman and politician in southern Africa, represented white supremacy and was steeped in colonialism and racism.

He had been a student at Oriel and left £100,000 - about £12.5m in today's money - to the college through his will in 1902. About £200,000 still remains, the commission's report found.

Oriel's governing body said in June last year it wished to remove the statue, a decision it said was "backed" by the independent commission appointed to examine its future and Rhodes' legacy.

However, the college said after considering "regulatory and financial challenges" it had decided not to begin the legal process to move it.

Image caption, Protesters gathered in Oxford's High Street outside Oriel College in June 2020

He added: "We should learn from our past, rather than censoring history, and continue focussing on reducing inequality."

The college said the "challenges and costs" of removing the statue in terms of heritage and planning consent could run into years with no certainty of the outcome.

"In light of the considerable obstacles to removal, Oriel's governing body has decided not to begin the legal process for relocation of the memorials," a statement added.

"Instead, it is determined to focus its time and resources on delivering the report's recommendations around the contextualisation of the college's relationship with Rhodes, as well as improving educational equality, diversity and inclusion amongst its student cohort and academic community."

Any decision to move the statue would require planning permission from Oxford City Council, Historic England and the secretary of state for local government, Robert Jenrick.

The city council's leader Susan Brown previously urged the college to apply for planning permission, but the commission noted any application would pose "complex challenges" since the government's policy over controversial historical figures is that they should be be "retained and explained".

Image source, Jonathan Hutchinson/Flickr
Image caption, The Cecil Rhodes statue stands on the building named after him at Oriel College

Ms Brown said she was "deeply disappointed" the college had decided to "backtrack" on its decision to remove the statue.

"For people in our city this was the most important action that Oriel College could have taken to show an acknowledgement of the discrimination of the past and they have failed to act," she said.

The council leader said she feared the measures taken by the college would "not be enough to inspire confidence without this important symbolic step" and added it was "well past time for all institutions to tackle the difficult issues of colonialism and discrimination".

Lord Mendoza, provost of Oriel College, said the college was "fully aware of the impact our decision is likely to have in the UK and further afield".

"We understand this nuanced conclusion will be disappointing to some, but we are now focused on the delivery of practical actions aimed at improving outreach and the day-to-day experience of BME students," he added.

The college said the majority of submissions to the inquiry backed the retention of the statue but the commission still decided to recommend its removal.

It said it would accept a number of the report's recommendations immediately.

Image source, Getty Images

These would include a new tutor for "equality, diversity and inclusion" and additional training for academic and non-academic staff in race awareness.

The governing body said it agreed to a virtual exhibition to "provide an arena for contextualisation and explanation of the Rhodes legacy".

The statue sits above a doorway on the front of the college's Rhodes Building, which faces Oxford's High Street.

The commission was set up after thousands of people protested to demand the statue's removal in June last year.

It led to the governors of Oriel College voting to take the Grade II*-listed figure down and the King Edward Street plaque to Rhodes, reversing the decision they made in 2016.

A report had been due to be published in January but it was delayed twice due to a "considerable volume of submissions".

The Rhodes Must Fall campaign began in South Africa, where a Rhodes statue was removed, and was adopted in Oxford by campaigners who argued his views were incompatible with an "inclusive culture" at the university.

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