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Lord Christopher Patten, the chancellor of Oxford University, has warned against pandering to contemporary views over the Cecil John Rhodes statue row. Patten, a former governor of Hong Kong and the BBC Trust, was speaking at a ceremony to appoint a new chancellor for the university. He said “Education is not an indoctrination.” The #RhodesMustFall movement kicked off in South Africa last year and saw the statue removed from the University of Cape Town. Two South Africans – one, ironically, Rhodes scholar Ntokozo Qwabe – and the other St John’s-educated Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, son of former ANC stalwart Dali Mpofu replicated the campaign in the UK. The campaign has been met with retorts, none more controversial than James Delingpole, while former South Africa president FW de Klerk also weighed in against the removal. The students have however won part of the battle, Oxford University has removed a plaque which honoured Rhodes, while it’s also conducting a six-month “listening exercise” on whether to remove the statue. – Stuart Lowman
The chancellor of Britain’s Oxford University on Tuesday warned history should not be rewritten to meet modern notions of what is acceptable, in an apparent rebuff to a student campaign to remove a statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes.
The student push to remove the statue from Oriel College has ignited a debate about Britain’s colonial past and whether one of the country’s most revered educational establishments should distance itself from that history.
Chris Patten told a ceremony to appoint a new vice-chancellor that many of the university’s greatest buildings were erected using the “proceeds of activities that would be rightly condemned today”.
“Education is not indoctrination,” he said according to media reports, in an apparent reference to the Rhodes campaign.
“Our history is not a blank page on which we can write our own version of what it should have been according to our contemporary views and prejudices.”
The university was not immediately available to verify the comments.
Rhodes was a Victorian-era tycoon and politician who founded the De Beers diamond company, created Rhodesia — now Zimbabwe and Zambia — and is seen as a founding father of South Africa.
Revered by some and reviled by others as a racist, his legacy remains controversial 100 years after his death — including Oxford’s Rhodes scholarship, which boasts many high-profile recipients.
The campaign to remove his statue was inspired by a popular movement that forced the removal of a statue of the famous imperialist from the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
The Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford group aims to “decolonise the space, curriculum, and institutional memory” of the university, and says Rhodes is currently celebrated in an uncritical way.
The university has so far agreed to remove a plaque honouring him and to conduct a six-month “listening exercise” on whether to remove his statue.
One of the leaders of the campaign, Ntokozo Qwabe, is himself a recipient of a Rhodes scholarship and has faced accusations of hypocrisy in the media and online.
In response, nearly 200 recipients of the scholarship sent a statement to Britain’s Guardian newspaper on Tuesday saying the award does not “buy our silence”.
“There is no clause that binds us to find ‘the good’ in Rhodes’ character, nor to sanitise the imperialist, colonial agenda he propagated,” they said.
© 1994-2016 Agence France-Presse
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