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The Controversial Legacy of Cecil Rhodes

Wednesday, 20 January 2016 - 12:00am

In the last few months a group of students at the University of Oxford has been applying pressure on the governing body of Oriel College to remove a memorial plaque and statue of Cecil Rhodes, the nineteenth-century British colonialist and businessman who attended Oriel and bequeathed a substantial legacy to it on his death in 1902.  In a statement released on 17 December, the college said that it would remove the plaque from 6 King Edward Street and consider the future of the statue as part of a six-month consultation process.  

In an opinion piece for The Times on 22 December, Nigel Biggar argued that although Rhodes was a committed imperialist, the charges of racism against him are unfounded.  The article prompted a separate article in the same edition.  On 26 December, The Times published a letter in support of its appraisal of Rhodes from the Australian moral philosopher and Emeritus Professor of Law and Legal Philosophy at Oxford, John Finnis.  Prof. Biggar's response was also reported in The Independent, The Australian, and The Oxford Mail, as well as the leading Anglican blog, Anglican Mainstream.  The story has now been the subject of a feature article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

The "Rhodes Must Fall" protest campaign began in South Africa at the University of Cape Town in March 2015 as part of an attempt to "decolonise" higher education.  In the wake of Oriel's announcement, one of South Africa's leading national radio stations, SAfm, invited Prof. Biggar to be interviewed about his contribution to the ongoing debate for an edition of "Morning Talk".  To listen to this programme, please click here.  Prof. Biggar was also interviewed by Michael McLaren for Radio 2GB, a local news channel in Sydney, Australia.  The interview can be heard here

On 19 January, the issue was debated in front of a packed chamber at the Oxford Union.  The debate was narrowly won by those in favour of the statue's removal (245-212), although a recent poll conducted for The Cherwell indicates that only 37% of students support the campaign's objective.  Nigel Biggar's speech can be viewed here.  The debate has been widely reported in national and international news-sources, including The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Daily Mail, and The Wall Street Journal.