Amidst a great deal of student-led hot air, it now seems almost certain that the statue of Cecil John Rhodes will be removed from the campus of the University of Cape Town. This follows a stormy meeting at UCT this week, and also several weeks of protest by students, angry at Rhodes’ racism, including a prolonged Twitter campaign #RhodesMustFall
UCT’s leadership apparently agrees with the students. Government, too, is unhappy with the statue. So its fate seems assured. Whether it will be shuffled off to some quiet corner of the campus, hidden away in a museum or completely destroyed remains to be seen.
Fair enough. Leave aside that Rhodes was a major benefactor of UCT, he was clearly a dyed-in-the-wool racist – the historical record is abundantly clear on that score – and there’s nothing in our modern world as bad as racism, is there? We should also leave aside the fact that the vast bulk of Europe were also racists back then. That’s just the way it was in those days.
Times change, mores change, so it would be fruitless to speculate what Rhodes might or might not have been had he been alive today. Rhodes University itself also faces a similar crisis and, in time, will probably have to change its name to something more politically correct.
But in the name of consistency, we should now expect the same students and academics behind this campaign to call for an end to South Africa’s involvement in the Rhodes Scholarships. Those are the world-famous scholarships that enable post-graduate study at Oxford University and which have benefited some of the most distinguished and gifted students ever produced by this country, to say nothing of thousands more from the US, Canada and other parts of the Commonwealth.
Nor should we boycott just the Rhodes Scholarships, but also immediately bring a halt to the Mandela Rhodes Scholarships. According to the Rhodes Trust website, these were established “in 2003 by agreement between the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Rhodes Trust. Its principal activity is to offer Mandela Rhodes Scholarships to African students undertaking postgraduate study in South African universities, alongside further leadership development opportunities for Mandela Rhodes Scholarships.”
Go to the Mandela Rhodes Scholarships website and you’ll find the following words: “The central purpose of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation is to build exceptional leadership capacity in Africa. The bringing together of these two names represents a symbolic moment in the closing of the historic circle; drawing together the legacies of reconciliation and leadership and those of entrepreneurship and education.”
They were written by Nelson Mandela himself, who was clearly able to associate himself with Rhodes, despite the latter’s racism. It seems inconceivable that Mandela was unaware of Rhodes’ past utterances on race, but certainly, no South African student, however promising, should in future be permitted to make the same mistake and benefit from Rhodes’ bounty.
It would be a pity, of course. A brief glimpse at the list of distinguished Rhodes Scholars’ reveals the likes of Jamaican Prime Minister Norman Manley, two Prime Ministers of Australia, Bob Hawke and Tony Abbott, ex-US President Bill Clinton and current Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal. There are also three Nobel Prize winners
You’ll also find a video of Kopano Mabaso, a South African who studied for a DPhil in Public Health at Oxford in 2010. She points out that many recipients of the scholarships “have gone on to live lives that have had a profound impact on our society.”
Despite their very fine intellects and extraordinary academic achievements, I can only assume that Kopano and the many other black South Africans who have benefited from either a Rhodes Scholarship or Mandela Rhodes Scholarship were unaware of Rhodes’ racism.
We can’t have that happening again in future. That’s why both institutions should be closed down in this country with immediate effect.