Saturday, 26 Sep 2020

Thousands of protesters demand removal of Oxford's Cecil Rhodes statue

More than a thousand protesters descended onto the streets of Oxford in a loud but peaceful anti-racism protest over the statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes.

A campaign to remove the statue from the second floor of Oxford University’s Oriel College has gained renewed attention in light of Black Lives Matter rallies, which led to the dramatic toppling of the monument to slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol on Sunday.

Thousands signed new petitions to have the monument taken down and this evening blocked the entrance of Oriel College as speakers called for its removal.

Ndjodi Ndeunyema, a law student and one of the organisers of Tuesday’s demonstration, said: ‘We are here to shame the college that seeks to venerate and glorify someone who is not worthy of glorification or veneration.

‘We demand an official and public acknowledgement of the colonial violence on which Oriel is built.

‘We demand the immediate removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes.’

As protesters gathered in Oxford, the statue of slave trader Robert Mulligan outside the Museum of London Docklands was pulled down on the authorisation of Tower Hamlets Council.

At one moment, attendees spent eight minutes and 46 seconds silently sitting on the floor to remember Geroge Floyd, who died after a white police officer was seen to kneel on his neck for that length of time as he gasped ‘I can’t breath’.

His death has sparked the biggest global uprising against racism since the 1960s, with protests taking place across the US, UK and Europe.

Following the toppling of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol, campaigners have put together a list of about 60 statues and memorials of slave traders and imperialists across the UK.

Many have been the subject of petitions calling for their removal for years.

In 2016, Oriel College decided to keep the statue if Cecil Rhodes despite widespread student demands to remove it. The 19th-century figure supported apartheid-style measures in southern Africa and is viewed as a white supremacist steeped in colonialism and racism.

University of Oxford associate professor of African politics Simukai Chigudu said: ‘This campaign has been important for a very long time, one of the challenges of being black in this country or belonging to a minority group is that you feel that your presence is unwelcome, and that’s true of Oxford University as well.

‘The institution is structured according to a legacy and a culture that is very white and very elitist.’

Dr Chigudu added that the campaign to remove Rhodes’ statue could help highlight a deeper set of structural issues in society.

The campaign is calling for the university curriculum to be changed to reflect diversity of thought beyond the western canon.

Several vans worth of police officers were in the area of the demonstration.

After the protest ended and numbers reduced, an officer in a blue liaison uniform knelt in the middle of the crowd and was met with cheers.

Many of the protesters wore masks or gloves at the demonstration while organisers also handed out masks and drew chalk crosses on the floor to encourage distancing.

Local councillors support the Rhodes Must Fall campaign but the decision lies with the university.

Ahead of the protest, the leader of Oxford City Council Susan Brown invited the college to apply for planning permission to have the statue removed – despite its Grade II listed status.

She suggested the statue should be placed in the Ashmolean or the Museum of Oxford.

Labour councillor Dr Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini addressed the crowd and said the statue commemorated white supremacy.

Oritel College said it supported the right to peaceful protest but did not say it would remove the statue. In a statement, a spokesperson for the college said it ‘abhors racism and discrimination in all its forms”, adding that its governing body is ‘deeply committed to equality within our community at Oriel, the University of Oxford and the wider world’.

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