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ISJ Spring 2021: Historical Vignette: Rhodes Must Fall: The tale of two statues / George Walker


On 6 November 2015 a group of several hundred students gathered in the square outside Oriel College in Oxford chanting the slogan ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ (RMF). The demonstrators, encouraged by a similar protest 6,000 miles away at the University of Cape Town, had three objectives:

  • the removal of colonial symbols in the form of statues, plaques and paintings that whitewash and distort history;
  • the reform of Oxford’s Eurocentric curriculum which recognises the West as the only source of universal knowledge;
  • an inquiry into the causes of the under-representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Groups (BAME) amongst Oxford’s academic staff and students.

The students’ anger was directed against a prominent statue of Cecil Rhodes, alumnus and benefactor of Oriel, arch-imperialist and the embodiment of white supremacy. His statue must fall, insisted the students, but the university’s establishment, led by its chancellor and vice-chancellor, accused them of seeking to erase the past. Then Oriel College leaked a memo claiming that £100 million of donor funding would be at risk if the statue were toppled. The protest fizzled out.