Rhodes will not fall: Oxford college says statue will stay

Oriel College voted last year in favour of removing the statue but said it would now not do so due to "regulatory and financial challenges".

FILE: A statue of British businessman and imperialist Cecil John Rhodes is pictured outside Oriel College at the University of Oxford in Oxford, west of London. Picture: AFP

LONDON - An Oxford University college said on Thursday it will not take down a controversial statue of the 19th-century colonialist Cecil Rhodes, despite having backed its removal.

Oriel College voted last year in favour of removing the statue but said it would now not do so due to "regulatory and financial challenges".

"In light of the considerable obstacles to removal, Oriel's governing body has decided not to begin the legal process for relocation of the memorials," it added.

The four-year campaign to remove the statue was reignited by the global explosion of Black Lives Matter demonstrations last year, following the killing in the United States of African-American George Floyd by a police officer.

It followed a similar protest - "Rhodes Must Fall" - against a statue of the colonialist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa

"It has been a careful, finely balanced debate and we are fully aware of the impact our decision is likely to have in the UK and further afield," said Oriel's provost Neil Mendoza.

"We understand this nuanced conclusion will be disappointing to some, but we are now focused on the delivery of practical actions aimed at improving outreach and the day-to-day experience of BME (students)."

The college, which was founded in 1326, will instead focus on "improving educational equality, diversity and inclusion amongst its student cohort and academic community," it added.

An independent commission, established to consider the legacy of Rhodes, backed the college's original wish to remove the statue.

READ: Rhodes will go - Oxford college backs statue removal

But more than 500 students, alumni and members of the general public sent letters calling for it to stay in place.

The commission filed its report earlier this month after a 10-month study.

The report acknowledged "the considerable planning and heritage considerations involved in the removal of the statue which is situated on the college's Grade II listed High Street building.

"Removal of the statue would be subject to legal and planning processes involving the City Council, Historic England and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government," it added.

Campaigners had also demanded changes to the Rhodes scholarship, which has been awarded to more than 8,000 overseas students to study at Oxford University, since 1902.

Famous Rhodes scholars include US president Bill Clinton, astronomer Edwin Hubble, US television host Rachel Maddow, and former Australian prime ministers Bob Hawke, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.

Rhodes - a white supremacist like many builders of the British empire - gave his name to Rhodesia - now Zimbabwe and Zambia - and founded the De Beers diamond company.

He studied at Oxford and left money to Oriel College after his death in 1902.

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