Rhodes scholars face dilemma over racist benefactor

Rhodes scholars face dilemma over racist benefactor

See full texts of their comments

Monday, June 22, 2020

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Some of the most outstanding Jamaicans who are Rhodes scholars give their comments on the campaign to remove the statue of the racist Cecil Rhodes after whom the scholarship was named and which adorns the University of Oxford's Oriel College in the United Kingdom.

Following is the full text of their comments:

Delroy Chuck, minister of justice

Cecil Rhodes was no angel and certainly not one to be admired and emulated as a person. He was an imperialist who exploited the working people of southern Africa. To his credit, however, he bequeathed some of his wealth to provide for the Rhodes Scholarship which allowed thousands of scholars around the world to benefit from an Oxford education. From evil exploitation, some goodness did emerge.

Interestingly, it has always been felt that Cecil Rhodes himself would not be selected as a Rhodes Scholar, as he would not meet the stringent qualifications required. I would not object to the removal of his statue at Oriel College, Oxford. I rather doubt anyone sees it as a monument to be blessed and revered.

Professor Trevor Munroe, head of National Integrity Action

I support the removal of the Rhodes statue from Oriel College in Oxford and its relocation in a museum. In the current context of 'Black Lives Matter' the public display of this statue is unavoidably regarded as symbolising, even celebrating, the racist, colonial, absolutely unacceptable element in Rhodes' vision.

The removal of the statue should not blind us, however, to the positive in Rhodes' complex legacy – in particular the establishment of the Rhodes Trust, the Rhodes Scholarship, and the Rhodes Mandela partnership [welcomed by Nelson Mandela himself in 2003] - all of which continue to fund intellectual distinction, focus on public service, and 'energy to lead' amongst young people black, white and brown from Africa, North America, the Caribbean, and most recently, the Middle East, South Asia, and China.

Notably, the all-male, obsolete aspect of Rhodes' bequest was justifiably jettisoned by the Rhodes Trustees in the 1970s and the scholarship then opened to women.

In fact, the Rhodes Scholarship, and, I can testify as one who has often served on the Jamaican and Caribbean Selection Committees, has, over the years, financed scholars, including the economically disenfranchised, who as students, and who in later life , have led struggles against racism, colonialism, and injustice in all its many forms.

Indeed, on a personal note, I recall the day before my own interview for the Rhodes Scholarship by the Rhodes Selection Committee in November 1965. I was leading a protest demonstration in downtown Kingston against the racist Ian Smith's 'Unilateral Declaration of Independence' in then Rhodesia, designed to establish an apartheid racist State in what is now Zimbabwe.

The next day, during my interview with the Rhodes Selection Committee, a committee member asked me: 'How could I have just led a demonstration against racism in Rhodesia and be here applying for Rhodes Scholarship?'

I replied then, as I would now: 'More now than ever the funds extracted by racist exploitation of black people should come to those who would utilise those ill-gotten gains to fight against racism and injustice.'

In pursuit of that purpose, many scholars applied and extended Cecil Rhodes' encouragement of public service and leadership to strengthen the combat of racism and to advance the cause of justice throughout their careers.

Rev Ronald Thwaites

Rev Thwaites, an attorney, fully adopted the position of Dr Munroe who is now a retired professor of government and politics.

Peter Goldson, managing partner in the legal firm of Myers Fletcher and Gordon

My personal view is that, undoubtedly, Cecil Rhodes is a complicated historical figure. There is no denying that he was an imperialist and racist who exploited the peoples of southern Africa.

However, his legacy of benefaction, which established the Rhodes Scholarships around the world, has allowed many talented young men and women of all races to have the limited opportunity to receive an education [in the broadest sense of the term] at the University of Oxford, the world's premier university. This experience has meant that they have become members of a worldwide fellowship charged with ideals of leadership and service and of fighting the world's fight. Many outstanding world leaders [in politics and other fields] have emerged from amongst their ranks. Rhodes' vision of world impact is being fulfilled in a very different and far superior way than he originally conceived.

One example of this is the launching of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, formed through a remarkable partnership between Nelson Mandela and the Rhodes Trust by a 10m gift from the Rhodes Trust to celebrate its centenary in 2003.

The Mandela Rhodes Foundation, which is one of President Mandela's three official legacy organisations, is dedicated to developing exceptional leaders for Africa through education, leadership, entrepreneurship, and reconciliation. Since its founding 17 years ago, it has provided scholarships to over 500 Mandela Rhodes Scholars from 28 African countries.

I had the privilege of being present at the launch function when President Mandela delivered the toast to the Trust and marveled at the closing of the circle of history.

I recognise that the presence of Cecil Rhodes' statue at Oriel College may give the impression that Cecil Rhodes is celebrated without thought being given to the full and accurate measure of the man. I agree with the view expressed by some other Jamaican Rhodes Scholars that the statue should be placed in a museum where the complicated nature of the man and his legacy can be displayed and taught.

Dr Stephen Vasciannie, professor of international law, UWI

Under the banner of 'Rhodes Must Fall', many persons have argued that the statue of Cecil Rhodes should be removed from its elevated position on the outer wall of Oriel College, Oxford University, Rhodes' former college.

My view on the 'Rhodes Must Fall' issue has two main elements:

(1) The Rhodes Scholarship has provided many students with life-changing opportunities to go to Oxford, opportunities which we would otherwise not have obtained. Cecil Rhodes' generosity, as set out in the will, and some of the terms of the scholarship, have guided hundreds towards lives of public and private service. The instruction to fight the world's fight has been nurtured and cultivated as essential components of Rhodes' legacy.

Speaking personally, I remain grateful for the scholarship, and would not wish to do anything to deprive others of its benefits. I also note that modern administrators of the Rhodes Trust have introduced initiatives such as the Mandela Rhodes scholarships that go some way towards rectifying certain inequities associated with the Trust.

(2) Rhodes was undoubtedly an imperialist who sought to establish British colonialist interests “from the Cape to Cairo”, and who was prepared to capture resources which properly belonged to persons and groups in southern Africa. He took part in colonialist excesses, and enriched himself by means that were open to moral challenge even by the standards of his time.

With these two countervailing considerations in mind, I am inclined to support the removal of the statute. I would also support its placement in a museum, with a statement concerning the pros and cons of Rhodes' personal legacy.

Retaining the statue in place at Oriel implies public veneration for colonial processes that have worked fundamentally to the detriment of persons in Africa and the African Diaspora. The statue, in its current place, is a symbol of heroism, when - in the light of history - heroism is not justified.

Incidentally, when I served as ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS), I suggested that the institution should have more images [busts and portraits] of Caribbean heroes and heroine for symbolic purposes.

If memory serves me right, only Marcus Garvey and Toussaint L'Ouverture are represented. Many Latin American figures are featured, but the Caribbean is sharply under-represented. My call went unheard.


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