This article was originally published in Cherwell on Friday 06/11/15 in advance of the Rhodes Must Fall protest.
A demonstration outside Oriel College has been planned by the Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford campaign for Friday to demand the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes visible from the High Street.
The demonstration will take place at 12pm, and protesters plan to give the Oriel Provost, Moira Wallace, until 2pm to come out publicly and accept the petition, which over 1,000 people have already signed in support of the statue’s removal.
The campaign argues, “The veneration of a racist murderer on our campus violates the University’s own commitment to ‘fostering an inclusive culture’ for its black and minority ethnic students. It is also an overbearing, visual reminder of the colonial apologism rife in one of the world’s most esteemed educational institutions. So long as these statues are allowed to stand, we as a society can never begin the process of recognising the violence of our past.”
So far, Mansfield JCR and Christ Church MCR have both passed motions in support of the removal of the Rhodes statue, and RMF is encouraging as many student bodies as possible to follow suit. The OUSU Women’s Campaign has also announced its support, stating, “WomCam stands in solidarity with Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford and we urge all involved with our campaign to attend RMF’s protest at Oriel on Friday afternoon.”
On Sunday the Oriel Provost made an address as part of the sermon at the annual commemoration of benefactors service, where she referenced the movement, saying, “Over the coming years, I think you will see Oriel continue to use its academic strengths to host and debate issues to do with Rhodes’ era, and the topic of colonialism and its consequences.
“In other words, we will continue to be true to our mission as an academic institution that is committed to learning, to rigorous research, to the study of history, to fair access, and to committed and ethical debate about how the future should be shaped.”
Criticism has also been directed at the campaign, questioning whether a protest is an appropriate measure. Anna Wawrzonkowska, a student at Oriel said, “Even though the college has already made multiple statements that agree in spirit with what the protesters are saying, no discussion has been started, and I can’t help but feel that the direct action which should be the last resort is used here as the first.”
Asked about the decision to protest, RMF told Cherwell, “We protest because we are outraged at the continued existence of a statue that deifies someone who committed crimes against humanity, participated in colonial plunder, and implemented systems of apartheid. We don’t think this should be controversial. Further, protest is a form of debate, and we have ignited important debate and discussion both inside and outside Oxford with this action.
“Those who suffer the legacies of colonial violence should be able to decide how they wish to confront their oppression.”
There has been further criticism from members at Oriel college regarding the tone of the protest. The protest event page called on protesters to “arrive prepared to BRING THE NOISE: come armed with whistles, drums, pots, pans, wooden spoons and your loudest chanting voice.” It also explains, “We will give the Oriel College Provost until 2pm to come out and publicly accept our petition.”
Some Oriel students have expressed concerns about the threatening tone of RMF’s statement and potential noise disruption. One student commented, “What if the Oriel College Master doesn’t emerge by 2pm? Sounds like a threat”.
RMF told Cherwell in reponse to accusations of intimidation that, “We think talk of ‘intimidation’ is a scare tactic to prevent people from actually engaging with our arguments. We don’t see why making demands to an institution that itself acknowledged the controversy associated with maintaining a statue of Rhodes should be seen as ‘intimidatory’.
“Our exact aim is to expose Oxford’s apparent ambivalence to the violence of people like Rhodes. We believe it is ‘dangerous’ and ‘intimidatory’ to condone intolerable colonial violence through public monuments, and that Rhodes has now become a global emblem for this kind of colonial denialism.”
On noise complaints, RMF explained, “Quite frankly, we find the concerns about ‘noise’ laughable. The relatively minor inconvenience of having to study in a diff erent library for two hours cannot reasonably be weighed against the right to protest against serious and persistent injustice.”
However, further concerns about intimidation have been raised over statements on the event Facebook page. One comment joked, “we should just stick dynamite in the statue and blow it up. Minimum disruption, job done.” RMF, in response, reiterated that the planned protest will be peaceful. Another Oriel student responded, “You know who lives in the Rhodes building? Freshers. How dare you, even as a pathetic joke, throw threats like that around.”
Reiterating its official position of non-violence, RMF stated, “In the run-up to Friday’s demonstration, we would like to reiterate that this protest will be peaceful. RMFO condemns wholly the use of violence and we find the recent comments alluding to violence made on our page completely unacceptable, whether made jokingly or not.
“Violence runs counter to the ethos of restorative justice that motivates our actions and call to protest.”
Oriel College has taken a stance on the RMF protest in a recent press release. The document states, “Oriel is happy to engage with the Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford movement on the important issues they have raised in their campaign.
“We absolutely support their right to a peaceful protest and are making arrangements to receive the petition on Friday. The College has offered to meet a group of representatives of the campaign in the weeks following their protest and we hope that they will take up this offer.”
Cecil Rhodes was a British Imperialist who drew controversy for alleged statements such as, “I prefer land to n*****s… the natives are like children. They are just emerging from barabarism…one should kill as many n*****s as possible.” He was a student at Oriel College in 1873 and became a major benefactor leaving Oriel two per cent of his estate. His estate went towards the now Grade II listed building at Oriel, which is fronted by the controversial statue.
In its recent press release, Oriel College stated, “The College draws a clear line between acknowledging the historical fact of Rhodes’ donation and in any way condoning his political views.”