The debate on Cecil John Rhodes

By Luke Price

The decision has been taken by Oxford University to keep the statute of Cecil John Rhodes up, which has been welcomed by many prominent Tory MPs, but understandably been unwelcomed by many BLM activists.


Cecil John Rhodes was born on 5 July 1853. He was a British mining magnate who served as the Prime Minister of the cape colony (South Africa) from 1890-1896 and helped found the territory of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia). Rhodes formed the ‘Rhodes Scholarship’ which is a postgraduate award for students to study at the prestigious Oxford University, and because of his many achievements his name is placed on buildings and statues are made of him. His historical legacy is not always popular, and many have labelled him racist, which is why there is controversy around his statues - especially in the case of Oxford. Many ask why he is on the building in the first place. It is rather simple - he gave money to the university; he was a student and the building where his statue stands is on the ‘Rhodes building.’


The debate on Cecil Rhodes goes back around 5 years; In fact it was the Oxford Union’s first debate in 2016, titled ‘Must Rhodes fall.’ The motion goes a little like this: we should not hold imperialists up high, Rhodes was a racist, Rhodes exploited and oppressed South African people - it also argues that this is part of a ‘wider issue.’ Those against the motion essentially denied the argument made by those agreeing with the motion. We naturally see these arguments in today’s debate, however the current debate seems much more childish, and although I say this now, writers like Douglas Murray felt in 2016 as I do now. He wrote how he felt ‘an adult has finally intervened’ subtly suggesting the debate was childish - he probably didn’t realize how this would foreshadow today’s debate.


I had mild respect for the debaters in 2016, not because I agreed with them, but because I felt they articulated their view well and it made serious points, they didn’t all play with identity politics and they made sure that the debate wasn’t merely children throwing their toys out the pram. In stark contrast, today’s debate focuses on what people feel; it shows the ‘champagne socialist’ stereotype, or in this case students who go to Oxford, attacking the prestigious school they are so immensely privileged to attend. They attack figures like Cecil and others in an attempt to erase them from our history - something the 2016 debaters did not advocate for. They feel as though somehow by removing a statue they can fix the wrongs that he committed, however in this deluded fit they arrogantly ignore the good that Cecil John Rhodes did, and intentionally create political divide.


Many don’t know of the good that Cecil John Rhodes did, which is wrong. People should know what good he has done, as well as the bad, because history is there not for us to repeat, but to learn from. Therefore, by trying to eradicate it we enable society to more likely repeat it. We look at figures such as Cecil John Rhodes and we admire the good they did but we also understand the bad. If this agenda is continuously pursued as it seems to be, we as a nation are heading for further political divide - something which is already underway.


Oxford University made the appropriate choice and understand that if Rhodes must fall, they all must fall because we cannot judge people solely on the bad; we must account for their good and keep that alive, but we will always remember that bad things happened and we shall not repeat them, for that is why history is in the past and shall stay there forever.


Image credit: Howard Stanbury 

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