Oxford University has come under fire after students and protesters demanded the removal of a statue commemorating imperialist Cecil Rhodes. Demonstrators brought Oxford to a standstill on Tuesday as they sat down in the middle of the road urging the university to take down the statue from outside Oriel College. But speaking to the BBC Today programme, Chancellor Lord Patten noted the presence of the statue had not caused any issue when the late South Africa President Nelson Mandela struck a deal with the Cecil Rhodes Foundation to offer the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship to students.
Lord Patten said: “Four years ago I said the Rhodes Trust was doing fantastically good work and I did that on the basis of having stood alongside Nelson Mandela at a conference with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton in 2003 at which he said how strongly he supported the trust.
“He then set up the Mandela Rhodes Trust to help heal the divisions.
“He went through all the preamble of the South African Constitution to highlight his point and, finishing to sign the agreement between the Mandela Trust and Rhodes, he said looking at a photograph of Cecil Rhodes, ‘Cecil, you and I are going to have to work together now.’
“If all the problems associated with Cecil Rhodes history…if it was alright for Mandela then I have to say it’s pretty well alright for me.”
Lord Patten questioned the need to remove the Cecil Rhodes statue at Oxford University
Oxford students and residents have demanded the Cecil Rhodes statue is removed
Protestors demanding the removal of the Cecil Rhodes statue have claimed Oxford University had failed to “failed to address its institutional racism” and the impact on students and the city.
Calls for the toppling of the statue reignited after the statue of 17th Century slave trader Edward Colston was forcibly removed by demonstrators during a Black Lives Matter protest on Sunday.
The ongoing demonstrations, which began as a show of support for the marches protesting the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25, have sparked a widespread debate on whether statues of controversial historical figures should remain in place.
In an open letter to the vice-chancellor of Oxford University, the Rhodes Must Fall group said: “Cecil Rhodes was a white supremacist who believed in brutal colonial rule and subjugation across Africa and the world.
Cecil Rhodes has attracted controversy in both the UK and South Africa for decades
“A city’s public art and monuments should reflect its values.
“The presence of this statue on our High Street is incompatible with our city’s proud internationalist heritage and commitment to anti-racism.”
Oriel College have been facing calls for the removal of the Rhodes statue for years.
In a statement released following the protest, the college insisted they remained committed to discuss the “issues raised by the presence on our site of examples of contested heritage relating to Cecil Rhodes.”
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Oxford students founded the Rhodes Must Fall in 2015
They added: “Speaking out against injustice and discrimination is vital and we are committed to doing so.
“We will continue to examine our practices and strive to improve them to ensure that Oriel is open to students and staff of all backgrounds, and we are determined to build a more equal and inclusive community and society.
“As an academic institution, we aim to fight prejudice and champion equal opportunities for everyone regardless of race, gender, sexuality or faith.
“We believe Black Lives Matter and support the right to peaceful protest.”