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Oxford protesters target statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes

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Javan Ravindian, a student, said the statue showed the university was failing to engage with issues faced by students from ethnic minority backgrounds

Dramatic images on Sunday of protesters in the port city of Bristol tearing down a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston and throwing it into the harbour inspired campaigners in Oxford to seize the moment. Demonstrators hold placards during a protest for the removal of a statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes on the outside of Oriel College in Oxford, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis, Oxford, Britain, June 9, 2020. (Reuters) More than 1,000 protesters converged on a college at Oxford University on Tuesday, chanting “take it down” and “shame on you” to demand the removal of a statue of 19th century British colonialist Cecil Rhodes.

A wave of anti-racism protests sweeping across the United States and Europe has reignited a debate about monuments glorifying Britain's imperialist past, which many people see as offensive in today's multi-ethnic society.

Rhodes represents such a violent legacy of colonialism, imperialism, slavery, particularly in southern Africa,” said protester Morategi Kale, a South African graduate student at Oxford

“The beginning is to take down a statue that celebrates that.”

A statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes is seen on the side of Oriel College in Oxford, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis, Oxford, Britain, June 9, 2020. (Reuters) Many academics and public figures oppose the removal of such monuments, arguing they merely reflect history and should be used as points of discussion.

But demonstrators said the statue of Rhodes should no longer have pride of place on the facade of Oriel College, which overlooks Oxford's High Street.

“I think what he did should be in the museum, but not on an institution of higher education. It's just the wrong place,” said Butch Smith, a chef, who had brought his young daughter to the protest.

Javan Ravindian, a student, said the statue showed the university was failing to engage with issues faced by students from ethnic minority backgrounds.

A demonstrator is seen with a placard during a protest for the removal of a statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes on the outside of Oriel College in Oxford, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis, Oxford, Britain, June 9, 2020. (Reuters) “For black and brown students to have to walk around this university and see these symbols of slavery and colonisation is frankly quite abhorrent,” he said.

Contested heritage

A previous student campaign in 2015, modelled on the “Rhodes Must Fall” movement in South Africa that led Cape Town University to remove its statue of Rhodes that year, failed to convince Oriel to follow suit.

In a statement ahead of Tuesday's demonstration, the college said it abhorred racism.

“We understand that we are, and we want to be, a part of the public conversation about the relationship between the study of history, public commemoration, social justice and educational equality,” it said.

A statue of Robert Milligan is pictured being removed by workers outside the Museum of London Docklands near Canary Wharf, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis, London, Britain, June 9, 2020. (Reuters) “As a college, we continue to debate and discuss the issues raised by the presence on our site of examples of contested heritage relating to Cecil Rhodes.”

A mining magnate, Rhodes was a central figure in Britain's colonial project in southern Africa, giving his name to Rhodesia, present-day Zimbabwe, and founding the De Beers diamond empire.

He made his fortune from the exploitation of African miners, secured power through bloody imperial wars and paved the way to apartheid with his beliefs and measures on racial segregation.

A student at Oriel in his youth, Rhodes left the college money when he died and also endowed the Rhodes Scholarships, which have allowed more than 8,000 students from countries around the world to study at Oxford over the past century.

The demonstration was peaceful, and there was no attempt to remove the statue, which stands in a niche high up on a building whose construction was partly funded by Rhodes.

Robert Milligan's statue also removed

A statue of Robert Milligan, an 18th century slave trader, was removed from its plinth outside a London museum on Tuesday after global anti-racism protests triggered a debate about how Britain commemorates its imperial past.

Statues glorifying slave trader s and colonialists have come into sharp focus in recent days, as part of a broader movement inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests that started in the United States following the death of George Floyd.

“While it's a sad truth that much of our city and nation's wealth was derived from the slave trade, this does not have to be celebrated in our public spaces,” said London Mayor Sadiq Khan in a tweet with a photo of the statue.

Earlier, Khan ordered a review of statues and street names across London, in response to mass protests in the city and elsewhere.

Source: Reuters