Councillors join demands Oxford University removes Rhodes statue

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Dozens of councillors have backed growing calls for Oxford University to bring down a statue of the imperialist Cecil Rhodes.

A group of 26 representatives, half of Oxford City Council, have written to university officials demanding its “immediate” removal and calling on them to work together “to make Oxford a truly anti-racist city”.

Pressure is mounting on the university over the figure honouring Rhodes – a 19th century businessman and politician who worked in South Africa – which sits on the walls of Oriel College.

The long-running Rhodes Must Fall campaign was reignited after a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston was toppled and dumped in a harbour by protesters in Bristol on Sunday.

Oriel College said in a statement that it “abhors racism and discrimination” and will “continue to examine [its] practices” but did not say the statue would be removed.

A spokeswoman told the Standard: “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.”

The Black Lives Matter group is staging a protest beneath the statue, on the High Street, at 5pm on Tuesday.

Councillors have joined students in demanding the statue be taken down (PA)

A large banner reading “Rhodes, you’re next” was draped on The University Church of St Mary the Virgin, opposite the statue, on Sunday.

Author Jason Hickel tweeted: “Today, Rhodes Must Fall. If the students choose to remove the statue themselves, I support them. There is no justification for elevating an imperialist who vandalized a continent in the name of white supremacy. The statue has to go.”

Student groups and academics have rallied behind an open letter claiming the university has “failed to address its institutional racism”.

The 26 mostly Labour councillors wrote in their letter that the “city’s public art and monuments should reflect its values”.

“The presence of this statue on our high street is incompatible with our city’s proud internationalist heritage and commitment to anti-racism,” the letter said.

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat Oxford West and Abingdon MP, said the Rhodes statue “must come down” but said she did not endorse “vigilante action”.

Oxford East MP and Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds said the “critical thing is to listen to the black community within Oxford.”

She said: “My view is that it staying where it is without any other symbol there that would highlight what occurred during those awful times is not helpful.

A protest will be held at the university this afternoon (Getty Images)

The Rhodes Must Fall campaign first emerged in 2015 at Cape Town University, in South Africa, and spread to Oxford.

Oriel College stood by the statue in 2016 despite donors threatening to withdraw £100 million in gifts and bequeathments, insisting it “was a reminder of the complexity of history and of the legacies of colonialism”.

The downing of the Colston statue, which held fiercely divisive presence in Bristol city centre for decades, has prompted calls to remove other statues.

A “racist” 18th century sign above Greenman pub in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, which was likened to a gollywog became the latest to be brought down on Tuesday following thousands signing a petition.

Oxford University and Oriel College have not responded to requests for a comment.

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