ArticlePDF Available

The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ Campaign: Where would the Destruction End?

In 2004, when there seemed no likelihood that Cecil Rhodes's legacy would ever
again be controversial, I was asked to contribute an essay to a volume on the idea of a
Pantheon from classical times to the present. I was commissioned to examine the
monuments to Rhodes in southern Africa and in Oxford, including such sites as the
Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town, Rhodes’s grave in the Matobo Hills in Zimbabwe
and Rhodes House, Oxford, headquarters of the Rhodes Trust, virtually a temple laden
with imperial symbolism. My focus was on the work of Herbert Baker, Rhodes
architect, who played a particular role in giving architectural form to Rhodes’s legacy.
At that time, however, the subjects of the recent controversy in Oxford—the Rhodes
Building at Oriel College, Oxford, and the plaque to him in nearby King Edward
Street—were thought to be insufficiently significant to include in the essay. Few
observers, then, noticed these memorials, situated as they were above street level and
largely out of sight. I was therefore surprised when last summer, following the
removal of the statue at the University of Cape Town and the inauguration of a
#RhodesMustFall (#RMF) movement, the hitherto obscure Oriel memorials should
become central objects of controversy. Unlike Baker, the architect of the Rhodes
Building, Basil Champneys was only marginally associated with Rhodes and as a
result the building was not covered in my chapter.
Champneys’s building, however, offers a far more valuable, if unexpected, insight into
some of the key issues involved in the proposal to remove the statue. For, in addition
to the central position of Rhodes, there are several other figures of alumni on the Oriel
Building, including medieval churchmen. Most telling are the statues of Cardinal
William Allen, the leader of English Catholic exiles during the Elizabethan
persecution, and Cardinal John Henry Newman, the pre-eminent 19th-century
Anglican convert to Catholicism, who was compelled to resign his college fellowship
due to his religious opinions. Both Allen and—to a less murderous extent—Newman
would have once been regarded as traitors. Yet, when the building was erected in 1912
in still pre-ecumenical times, it was thought that the college could commemorate such
dissident alumni. The Oriel Rhodes Building thus graphically illustrates a central truth
about historical commemoration in Oxford University and in Britain as a whole: the
long-standing English tradition of incorporating once-bloody and opposing elements
of history in a seemingly organic unity. Oxford continues to have chairs of dons
professing the Christian religion, reflecting the University’s Christian traditions long
embodied in its motto, Dominus illuminatio mea—The Lord is my Light. Yet, at the
same time, in 1995 it established the Simonyi Professorship for the Public
Understanding of Science, held for the first decade by perhaps the world’s best known
apologist for atheism, Richard Dawkins.
Oxford thus carries this tradition of accommodating conflicting legacies of history.
When asked to lend his name to a new Mandela–Rhodes Scholarship scheme to
provide for African postgraduates, Nelson Mandela made it clear that he saw himself
and Rhodes as historical partners in development from across the decades. This was
part of his approach to post-apartheid reconciliation. He believed that the new South
Africa should be underpinned by a civic nationalism that would be a synthesis of its
pre-colonial, colonial and Afrikaner republican and post-colonial history. It is highly
significant that the #RMF movement is critical not only of colonial statuary, but also
of Mandela, whom they regard as having compromised too much with the white
minority. Unsurprisingly, Julius Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters have
been prominent supporters of the movement. The Rhodes Statue controversy has, thus,
extended far beyond a particular figure to become a rallying point for a wide range of
complaints not connected to Rhodes, from the Marikana mine shootings in 2012, to
student fees and patriarchy, all of which ‘#MustFall’. Ironically, the last students at the
University of Cape Town to call for the pulling down of Rhodes’s statue there were
Afrikaner nationalists, but these are now, tellingly, undifferentiated in a seemingly
seamless ‘white’ colonial history.
Of course Rhodes was a controversial figure, even in his own lifetime. When he was
awarded an honorary doctorate in Civil Law by Oxford in 1899 it was rumoured that
the proctors, both Liberals, would protest during Encaenia, but Sir Herbert Kitchener,
avenger of Khartoum, threatened not to receive his degree if Rhodes could not.
Rhodes, however, like Leopold II King of the Belgians, who was responsible for far
more deadly subjugations in central Africa, already belonged to a world that was
passing. Transnational humanitarian movements such as the Red Cross, the Hague
Conventions and, later, the League of Nations were creating a growing atmosphere of
international accountability, so that behaviour such as that of Mussolini in Ethiopia in
the 1930s was condemned and, as the Suez Crisis of 1956 made clear, no longer
possible. The visible legacy of Rhodes can assist us in understanding how his world
has changed.
Similarly, recent controversies surrounding the legacies of two figures once thought of
as progressive internationalists also underscore this point. Woodrow Wilson once
enjoyed an almost universally positive reputation for his creation of the League of
Nations. This was recently challenged when Princeton students unsuccessfully
demanded that Wilson’s name be removed from programmes and buildings, including
the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy, on the grounds that he was a
segregationist. A similar campaign has emerged at Cambridge, where Field Marshal
Smuts, an alumnus of Christ’s College and a former chancellor of the university, is
associated with several Commonwealth-related scholarships and a professorship.
Smuts had drawn up the Covenant of the League and had introduced the phrase
‘fundamental human rights’ into the preamble to the Charter of the United Nations.
Surely such latent anomalies more profitably invite critical historical enquiry rather
than censorious abolition?
Besides, where would such destruction end? Should the name of Churchill College,
Cambridge, be changed, too, because of his associations with imperialism? Should the
Nobel Prize be changed, due to its creator having made his money in armaments?
Should the Fulbright Scholarship be renamed because its founder, even though an
advocate of multilateral disarmament and of the United Nations and an opponent of
the McCarthyite witch-hunt, was not only a Rhodes Scholar but also an advocate of
segregation in the 1950s? Such calls are highly selective. It is noteworthy that #RMF
had no apparent difficulty in supporting statues to Shaka, monarch of the Zulu people,
even though his reign was marked by extreme violence and conquests of neighbouring
I might add by way of conclusion that I come from Ireland, the first formerly British-
ruled territory where British imperial statuary became particular targets in a country
whose identity was framed by anti-colonialism after independence in 1922. I
understand the feelings surrounding statues, from ‘imperial’ war memorials to the
blowing up in Dublin by republicans of Nelson’s Pillar, almost as high as its London
counterpart, in 1966, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. Numerous
other memorials were destroyed or defaced. In this centenary year of the Easter
Rising, when the emphasis is on inclusivity and the commemoration of the casualties
of this event, those who defended the empire and those who sought its downfall, I
would echo the sentiments of the town clerk of Bulawayo, himself an ex-guerrilla,
who declared in his 1998 opposition to the disinterment of Rhodes’s body from the
nearby Matobo Hills that ‘only the Taliban destroys history—I am not the Taliban’.
... These events showed the significant effects social media have on the youth. Positively, social media provide the youth with a platform to voice out and engage in civil and political movements freely, sharing their views and becoming active participants without fear of judgement (Lowry 2016). But sharing violent video recordings incites violent behaviour that can cause the vandalism of property (Luescher, Loader, and Mugume 2017) as was evident by these events. ...
The use of social media in the rural areas of South Africa is growing, with the youth being the prominent users. The growth of social media has incited a growing knowledge about impending forthcoming social events. However, there are concerns about mental illness, such as depression, owing to the increase in social comparison. There is a lack of literature on the use of social media in rural areas. The aim of this study was thus to investigate the effects of social media on the psychosocial well-being of the youth in selected rural areas of the Eastern Cape. The study was conducted in the Amathole District Municipality in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Using a qualitative research approach, 30 youths from the Amathole District Municipality were purposively sampled. The data were collected through in-depth interviews and analysed using a thematic analysis. The findings revealed that using social media has a negative bearing on the psychosocial well-being of the youth owing to the discrepancies between appearance, reality and expectations. Some youths use social media as a means of recreation whereas some use social media as a networking method. The study concluded that the extensive use of social media among the youth can lead to comparison and ultimately depression and, therefore, recommended awareness campaigns on the good use of social media so the youth benefit rather than become victims.
Full-text available
Appel à contributions/Call for papers - Ce numéro de la revue Archipélies vise de façon générale à alimenter les réflexions sur l’antiracisme – thème qui cristallise de nombreuses interrogations – en réunissant des contributions ancrées dans les approches transnationales, panafricaines et/ou décoloniales. Il invite à porter un regard renouvelé sur les enjeux épistémologiques, les défis institutionnels et politiques de la lutte contre le racisme et donc sur les nouvelles dynamiques à l’oeuvre dans les milieux politiques/académiques/militants et au sein des instances internationales. Nous sollicitons des contributions émanant des champs de l’histoire (des idées), la civilisation, les Black/Cultural Studies, la littérature, la sociologie, la science politique ainsi que la géographie des migrations pouvant permettre d’appréhender l’antiracisme dans toute sa complexité et son évolution.
Full-text available
In 2015, South African higher education witnessed student-driven activism in the form of various #Movements, beginning with the #RhodesMustFall campaign at the University of Cape Town which morphed into the national #FeesMustFall movement. A corollary to these #Movements was a language-specific #Movement namely #AfrikaansMustFall movement. Very little literature exists on this latter movement in contrast to the sizeable literature corpus on the other two #Movements. While highlighting this hiatus in the research literature, through a combination of extensive literature review and polemical analytic autoethnographic analysis, the article argues that the language contestations in South African higher education post #RhodesMustFall transcend the provincialism that hitherto defined language politics in the sector. To advance this thesis, the article argues that South African higher education language politics post #RhodesMustFall are an invitation to the terrain of advanced language politics. Advanced language politics transcends the traditional (and somewhat normalised) realm of the analogous relationship between language, the nation(-state) and reductionist ethnocentrism and ventures onto the realm of language as a marker and means to (re)affirm, celebrate and advance value in the furtherance of human dignity, (social) justice, diversity of peoples and knowledges, fluid and multiple identities, fraternity, equality, globalism and egalitarianism - including egalitarian knowledge access.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.