College’s desire to remove Cecil Rhodes statue met with ‘cautious’ optimism

An Oxford University college’s indication that it wishes to remove a controversial statue of Cecil Rhodes has been hailed as the “right decision” and met with “cautious” optimism from campaigners. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday morning, he claimed that Oriel College had “acted in bad faith before” so campaigners would now work to “ensure it follows through on that wish” and provides “clarity” on the commission. “I think pressure does need to be put on Oriel to explain exactly what it means by this commission.” Mr Mpofu-Walsh, now a post-doctoral fellow in South Africa, said the statue campaign also covered wider debates on curriculum and the under-representation of black students at Oxford University. He added: “I hope that the commission that Oriel institutes won’t just focus on how to critically contextualise the statue but will focus on ways that Oriel itself can become much more representative and in fact can offer scholarships and educational opportunities in the places where Rhodes’s crimes were committed.” Mr Mpofu-Walsh said Rhodes could not “atone for his legacy” through the international Rhodes scholarship programme, set up through his will, because it helps some African students. “The legacy of Rhodes extends wide and deep and affects people in the tens of millions, both in Zimbabwe and South Africa, through the foundations laid for apartheid,” he said. Writing on Twitter, Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said: “This is the right decision by Oriel College. “While the governing body of Oriel College have ‘expressed their wish’ to take down the statue, we continue to demand their commitment.” Alan Rusbridger, principal of the university’s Lady Margaret Hall and former editor-in-chief of the Guardian newspaper, said it is the “right decision” and the start of a “longer conversation” at Oxford. Susan Brown, the leader of Oxford City Council, also welcomed the move and said the Rhodes Must Fall campaign is a “big step closer” to achieving its aim. Demonstrations have taken place outside Oriel College, calling for the statue to be removed from the High Street entrance of the building, as well as anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd in the US.