In Quest To Fell Rhodes Statue, Students Aim To Make Oxford Confront History At Oxford University, a group is pushing to have a statue of Cecil Rhodes removed. Student Tadiwa Madenga explains the group's objections to the colonialist namesake of the Rhodes Scholarship.

In Quest To Fell Rhodes Statue, Students Aim To Make Oxford Confront History

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There's a statue that stands in front of one of the colleges at Oxford University. It's of Cecil Rhodes, the namesake of the prestigious Rhodes scholarship. The successful South African businessman started the De Beers diamond company. He was also a colonialist who believed in the superiority of Anglo-Saxons, and he enforced a policy of racial segregation in South Africa. Now, a growing number of students on campus at Oxford say it's time to take down the Rhodes statue. Our next guest is a student at Oxford and an organizer with the Rhodes Must Fall campaign. Her name is Tadiwa Madenga. Thanks so much for being with us.

TADIWA MADENGA: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: When you see this statue, what does it represent to you?

MADENGA: To me, it represents two things. First, as a Zimbabwean person, I've known about Rhodes's legacy and there's never been this oh, he was a wonderful, successful businessman. We understood that he came and plundered the land as many colonizers did, and that a lot of people died from what he did. And there's a lot of structural injustice that resulted from the acts that Rhodes committed. And so when I look at the statue, I know of that legacy. But I also see the way Oxford wants to imagine itself today because they have not tried to reflect on Rhodes's legacy prior to the movement. It is only now that we have made them engage with this history that they have decided that perhaps, you know, they don't condone his actions.

MARTIN: The chancellor of Oxford, Lord Chris Patten, has said that the statue should stay. He told the BBC - and I'm quoting here - "People have to face up to facts in history which they don't like and talk about them and debate them." How do you respond that?

MADENGA: The comments from the chancellor were surprising to us and, quite honestly, scandalous because on one hand, he was saying that we should have a generosity of spirit and we should be open-minded, but he's not open-minded to anyone who disagrees with his opinion. We think that debating means really seriously engaging with issues of colonial legacy and taking action to make sure the university is not institutionally racist, as opposed to just discussing over tea what our opinions are. And so Patten's comments, to me, just show this entitlement that certain people in administration have where if you disagree with them specifically, they feel like you should leave.

MARTIN: Well, I imagine an extension of his argument is that learning from history means confronting sometimes very uncomfortable truths and ugly realities, and that removing the statue could potentially silence those conversations or symbolically erase history instead of having the statute there to promote debate.

MADENGA: First, I want to say that once again, the university was not confronting this history prior to the movement. We want to say - what is a public space, and what are statues for? Statues are there to commemorate and to honor particular people. We do not put up statues of people we demonize for the sake of, you know, thinking of history or just debating. And so we are saying that you can remove the statue, you can put it in a museum where you can continue to discuss and debate. But where it is, at the entrance of Oriel College, at the very highest position above kings and provosts, is just ridiculous. It is not appropriate, and it is not the place where we should try to debate history. I think a museum would be a better place for that statue to be in.

MARTIN: What has your experience at Oxford been like as a minority student?

MADENGA: I think that it's been a shocking in terms of how much people in England really truly believe that colonization was a good thing. For example, one of our first actions for Rhodes Must Fall was at matriculation. That is your formal introduction to the university. And so we were outside and we were kind of trying to get engaged with students, see where they were at in terms of what they know about Rhodes. A lot of people don't know Rhodesia was a country. A lot of people really think colonization was this project to bring civilization in the form of schools and hospitals. And I think part of the problem in England is that a lot of people maybe who haven't traveled outside of England have not seen the consequences and the legacies of colonialism. So for some of us students who come from southern Africa, who still know about the racial inequality from particular economic structures, find this shocking when we come to England and people are not aware of the other side of colonization.

MARTIN: Why is this movement happening now?

MADENGA: First, our movement started with different types of protests happening. So you had the Black Lives Matter coming up. You had the Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa. And we see these connections, and we say this is also connected to how people look at history. So the fact that the university cares more about Rhodes being a benefactor as opposed to the lives that were lost because of his actions shows the way that people don't care about black lives. And I think globally, there has been a movement to kind of reveal this uncritical way of looking at history and the way that this uncritical reflection of history has led to some of the situations we have now, where black people are still dying over institutional oppression.

MARTIN: Oxford student Tadiwa Madenga is an organizer of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign. Thank you so much for talking with us.

MADENGA: Thank you for having me.

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