‘Rhodes did not buy our silence’

Nearly 200 international students at Oxford University have signed a statement saying that the prestigious Rhodes scholarship they share “does not buy [their] silence” over the legacy of Cecil Rhodes, the British imperialist who endowed the fund.

Redress Rhodes, a group of Rhodes scholars who call for critical engagement with his controversial legacy within the community, wrote the statement after their fellow student Ntokozo Qwabe was accused of hypocrisy when he joined a campaign to remove a statue of Rhodes from the university’s Oriel College.

Last month, the Rhodes Must Fall activist group persuaded Oriel to remove a plaque dedicated to a man they consider to be the founding father of apartheid.

The statement has been signed by 198 Rhodes scholars from several year groups and reads: “Over the past few weeks, we have seen an onslaught of attacks in the British media against our fellow Rhodes scholar Ntokozo Qwabe in response to his involvement in Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford. Since then, a wave of ad hominem and unfounded accusations, hate speech and racism has flooded social media, the press and indeed Ntokozo’s personal inbox …

“There is no hypocrisy in being a recipient of a Rhodes scholarship and being publicly critical of Cecil Rhodes and his legacy – a legacy that continues to alienate, silence, exclude and dehumanise in unacceptable ways. There is no clause that binds us to find ‘the good’ in Rhodes’s character, nor to sanitise the imperialist, colonial agenda he propagated.”

They added that many among them – particularly those of colour, or female, or of African descent, from Southern Africa or the former colonies – took a Rhodes grant as a form of reparation, “knowing that Cecil Rhodes did not intend it for us when he wrote his will. Nor did he intend for any of us to use the scholarship in a way that was explicitly antithetical to the pursuit of empire and white supremacy”.

Rhodes, who is remembered for beginning the policy of enforced racial segregation in South Africa and for his belief in the superiority of “Anglo-Saxons”, attended Oriel in the 1870s and left a large sum of money to the college in his will. Each year, 83 international students are selected to study at Oxford under the scholarship that bears his name.

Redress Rhodes does not yet have a collective position on the statue or on the name of the scholarship. Natalya Din-Kariuki, a cofounder of the group, said: “The name of the scholarship is perhaps the ultimate form of veneration and colonial apologism; it’s a large part of why many continue to understand Rhodes as a benevolent founder and benefactor. I think it should be changed to something that properly pays homage to those he exploited and whose labour made the scholarship possible.”

The Rhodes Trust declined to comment. – © Guardian News & Media 2016

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