Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

In Any Debate, Money Talks

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

In Any Debate, Money Talks

Article excerpt

It's less of a press conference and more of a wake. In a crowded room at Regent's Park, a small Oxford college of limited means, the Rhodes Must Fall campaign meets to announce its next move.

The students have been arguing for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, the British businessman and mining magnate who donated considerable sums to Oriel, an Oxford college some distance wealthier than Regent's Park. It is part of a movement to "decolonise" the university: to put a greater number of non-white faces on the curriculum and in the classroom.

The campaign against statues of Rhodes has gained prominence in Britain thanks to the work of a handful of Oxford students, but it started in South Africa, where Rhodes was an ardent colonialist and landgrabber.

Just under a year ago, in April 2015, activism at the University of Cape Town led to a prominent statue of Rhodes being removed, sparking copycat protests across South Africa. It arrived later in the UK. For a few weeks, the campaign appeared to be heading in the right direction: eight undergraduate common rooms voted to bring down the statue and Oriel itself, usually regarded as a bulwark of conservatism (of the upper-and the lower-case varieties) declared that it would review the placement of the statue in a "listening exercise".

However, money talks. A few days later Oriel declared that, following pressure from donors, the statue would remain in place. "Oriel sold out," says Andre Dallas, one of the organising committee and a student at St Edmund's Hall.

"We don't accept that we lost the game," says Max Harris, a fellow at All Souls College. "The game was never fair."

Regardless, the Oxford campaign seems unlikely to emulate the successes of its Cape Town parent, barring a sudden influx of donations from anti-Rhodes billionaires. …

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