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Cecil Rhodes: Oxford academics boycott university college over statue

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The legacy of Bishop's Stortford's most infamous son, Cecil Rhodes, has sparked a revolt by 150 Oxford University academics.

They are boycotting Oriel College in protest at the continuing presence of a statue of the Victorian businessman and southern Africa politician, who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896 and founded Southern and Northern Rhodesia, renamed Zimbabwe and Zambia respectively.

Cecil, the son of St Michael's Church vicar Rev Francis Rhodes, was a student at Oriel and endowed the college in his will, leaving £100,000 – about £12.5m in today's money.

Cecil Rhodes statue at Oriel College (48058678)
Cecil Rhodes statue at Oriel College (48058678)

The Rhodes Scholarship is the oldest such programme in the world, established in 1903 to pay for students from around the world to attend Oxford. Alumni include Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the USA, who won the award in 1968.

Colonialist Rhodes, born in 1853, is regarded now as a symbol of white supremacy who paved the way for apartheid. The Rhodes Must Fall movement, dedicated to removing his monuments, sprang up in South Africa in 2015 and has spread across the world.

The campaign ramped up last year as Black Lives Matter demonstrations broke out around the globe in the wake of the murder of African American George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin.

Cecil John Rhodes. (48058675)
Cecil John Rhodes. (48058675)

The Cecil statue on the front of Oriel College's Rhodes Building was a particular target and it seemed the protesters were victorious when the authorities agreed it should go. However, last month the college's governing body said removing the memorial from the listed building was impractical.

That prompted a petition by the lecturers, who said the effigy glorified colonialism, and the boycott, which includes withdrawal of all "discretionary work and goodwill collaborations" until "Oriel make a credible public commitment to remove the statue". Exams and lectures will continue.

Sculptor Antony Gormley, creator of the Angel of the North, has suggested that rather than being removed, the Rhodes statue should be turned to face the wall.

In August last year, trustees of the Rhodes Birthplace Trust rebranded the Rhodes Arts Complex in South Road to South Mill Arts. The process was already ongoing when the Bishop's Stortford venue was the target of anti-racism protests. Rhodes was born in Netteswell House on the site and the museum at the arts centre still contains a collection related to his life and southern Africa.

Rhodes Arts Centre, Bishop's Stortford. Stand Up to Racism Harlow and Stortford Against Rhodes demonstration. .Pic Vikki Lince. (48058681)
Rhodes Arts Centre, Bishop's Stortford. Stand Up to Racism Harlow and Stortford Against Rhodes demonstration. .Pic Vikki Lince. (48058681)

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