Rhodes Must Fall and Free Speech
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The Rhodes Must Fall movement has had a whirlwind tour in 2015 and as the year winds down and out it has landed on the shores of Britain, publicity wise. In actuality the Rhodes must fall movement at Oxford University has been building its head of steam as early as June of this year. The initial protests began in March and were originally directed at a statue at the University of Cape Town that commemorated British mining magnate Cecil John Rhodes. The protestors vandalised the statue and demanded its removal. They argue it symbolised the ever present institutionalised racism within the university and its removal would legitimise efforts to decolonise education all over South Africa. In April, after a vote by the university council, the statue was removed. As a result conversations have been sparked and space has been made for dialogue. The movement and its British counterpart are now gaining a lot of traction in the British press and have been covered by a host of different newspapers. They are campaigning for the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes at his alma mater, Oriel College, Oxford (the Rhodes Building where the statue is found is pictured above). Critique has been levelled at the British student protesters by many who claim they are trying to airbrush history. Rhodes, who most of the commentators have agreed had slightly unsavoury views with regards to race (note the sarcasm), was an ardent imperialist and true believer in the innate greatness of the Anglo-Saxon race. Context implores us to consider that his views were probably not unique for his time. But does that mean he should be venerated? I agree one must avoid the pitfalls of looking at history through the moral corrective lenses of the present, but lack of condemnation does not equal commemoration last time I checked. In fact erecting a statue in his name is a true airbrushing of history. It airbrushes the history of the people affected and killed by his “unsavoury views”. The truth is anyone walking past that statue who is uninitiated in Britain’s colonial history could not be blamed for thinking Rhodes an honourable and great man.
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