RMFO (Facebook, 28 May 2015)
Cecil Rhodes has fallen. His statue has been removed and the uncritical memory of his legacy has been discredited at the University of Cape Town – where the Rhodes Must Fall Movement – a movement to decolonise education, targets the still-active tentacles of colonial relations in Africa.
But Rhodes – and more importantly the culture that inculcated his imperialism in the first place – remains unscathed. Indeed, this culture is alive and imbibed in ‘The Colonial Comeback’, the cocktail the Oxford Union recently served up at its Reparations ‘Debate’ (see on p. 104). But brutality must not be debated.
And so, Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford.
The University of Oxford is an institution that has, for centuries, produced, profited from, and memorialised the violent conquests of Rhodes and other ‘great’ imperial men – including Codrington, Jowett, Pitt Rivers and many others. It is a place choked with buildings, monuments, libraries and intellectual legacies raised from colonial pillage. And it continues to uncritically exist at the centre of an empire that remains untouched.
We stand here, in Oxford, in solidarity with all those people on empire’s periphery, and bring the world’s decolonising fight to its heart.
Rhodes Must Fall.
In Oxford, the spirit of imperialism is not simply kept alive by buildings but also by what is inside them. The habits of mind and ways of relating that stoked colonialism continue to hang in Oxford’s halls and infuse its institutional cultures. Oxford continues to colonise the minds of future leaders through its visual iconographies, the concepts and histories on its curricula, the networks of power, the cultural capital, and the ‘civilised’ culture of ‘taste’ in which students are steeped.
At Oxford, survivors of imperialism find their own history held hostage, bequeathed to the archives by their oppressors. At Oxford, so many find their histories excluded, or almost unidentifiable in Oxford’s imperial iconographies of space. Here, people experience the pain of cognitive dissonance because there is no ‘legitimate’ language for their own experience and knowledge and few curricular resources to invoke to change that. Within the Pitt Rivers Museum, survivors find their families, their ancestors, their ‘selves’ unapologetically disciplined into objects of inquiry.
In the University, resisting spirits are carved up through Eurocentric relations cut through with epistemic violence. Our minds are intellectually disciplined instead of engaged – on equal footing – as autonomous, creative intellectual agents.
Rhodes must therefore fall.
But it must be emphasised that this movement is about more than Rhodes. Rhodes, as an agent of empire, signifies a perspective that is the product of a seemingly innocuous approach to education. He is the product of an institutional culture and a colonisation of the mind that reaches far more deeply than the figure of one individual.
So for Rhodes to truly fall, Rhodes must first stand.
Rhodes must be made to stand, revealed for what he really represents: the mutually productive culture of violence, racism, patriarchy and colonialism that to this day remains alive, aided and abetted by the University of Oxford, which continues to stand as an uncritical beneficiary of empire.
Rhodes, and Oxford, must therefore stand trial in the court of public opinion that is rising on the edges of empire.
Here, in the inner halls of imperialism, Rhodes Must Fall.
On 6 November 2015 more than 250 Oxford students gathered in front of Oxford University’s Oriel College to call for the statue of Cecil John Rhodes to fall. The protest lasted for more than two hours and chants such as ‘Rhodes was bailed out, we were sold out!’, ‘Rhodes Must Fall! Take it down!’, ‘De-de-decolonise’, were shouted throughout. Vice Provost Prof. Annette Volfing and Senior Dean Dr Francesco Manzini of Oriel College came out to receive a petition, but were told by students to sit down with them as equals. The representatives from Oriel as well as the entire crowd sat down as Rhodes Must Fall Oxford organising member, Black South African Rhodes scholar, and UCT alumnus Ntokozo Qwabe, presented the 85-page petition. The petition had more than 1,900 signatures and 45 pages of comments from signatories. What follows is Ntokozo’s powerful speech given before he presented the petition to Oriel College.
I can no longer be silent and complicit in the glorification of colonialism. I am quite unwell today and I was wondering whether or not I would be able to do this and in fact, yesterday I went to see a doctor who said I must stay in bed. Amandla!
Crowd responds: Awethu!
After that I rejected the suggestion that I should stay in bed while you are out here fighting the continuation of a brutal system. Thank you for taking the fight to this institution. You guys are making history. You are the first people to come out and do this at Oxford in years. You are the ones that history has been waiting for. You are the ones that history will remember. Amandla!
Crowd chants: Awethu!
Now, before I address the authorities of Oriel College I have a special request that I want to make of the authorities. Often when we engage with these authorities we are often suffocated by the institutional titles behind which they hide. Alright? So often we engage with them as the Provost of Oriel College, the Dean, the so-and-so of Oriel College and we don’t engage as human beings. And that in itself is a process of dehumanisation because I, as a descendant of the people that Rhodes brutalised, am told that I should talk to some institution and not to a person who interacts with me as an equal and as a human being. Amandla! So the request that I’m going to make is that I’m going to sit down, this is a trend which the South African movement has adopted when engaging authority, OK? So, we sit down with the authorities. Alright? So we ask the authorities that they sit down with us so that we engage at...