Rhodes statue in Oxford will not be removed: report

The statue of Cecil Rhodes on the facade of Oriel College in Oxford on Dec 30, 2015.
The statue of Cecil Rhodes on the facade of Oriel College in Oxford on Dec 30, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - An Oxford University statue of a 19th century white supremacist empire-builder will not be taken down despite a heated campaign by students, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Friday.

Oriel College, which owns the statue of Cecil Rhodes, has ruled out removing it over fears that it could lose donations worth some £100 million (S$204 million) if it did, the newspaper reported.

"Following careful consideration, the college's governing body has decided that the statue should remain in place," the Telegraph quoted Oriel as saying in a statement.

Rhodes gave his name to the territories of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe and Zambia, and founded the De Beers diamond company.

The Briton was also a donor to Oriel, one of the 38 colleges which make up Oxford University, and endowed the Rhodes Scholarship, which has helped non-British students like former US president Bill Clinton and ex-Australian prime minister Tony Abbott study at the university.

Many current students objected to the presence of his statue in the heart of the historic city, inspired by the Rhodes Must Fall campaign which prompted the removal of a Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town last year.

"To put someone so literally on a pedestal is to tacitly condone their legacy," Daisy Chandley, one of the Oxford campaign's organisers, said last month.

But others have warned against taking the statue down, saying that to do so would be to rewrite history.

South Africa's last white president, FW de Klerk, wrote to Britain's Times newspaper last month calling the plan "folly" and adding: "If the political correctness of today were applied consistently, very few of Oxford's great figures would pass scrutiny."

Oxford's chancellor, Chris Patten, reportedly referred to the row in a speech this month, saying: "Our history is not a blank page on which we can write our own version of what it should have been".

The Telegraph reported that Oriel College had already seen £1.5 million in donations cancelled due to its ambiguous position on the statue and that some alumni had written in saying they were cutting the college out of their wills.

"The overwhelming message we have received has been in support of the statue remaining in place," Oriel's statement added.

"The college believes the recent debate has underlined that the continuing presence of these historical artefacts is an important reminder of the complexity of history and of the legacies of colonialism still felt today."