Oxford is ‘institutionally racist’ - Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh

“Rhodes Must Fall” campaigner tells BBC Radio 4 that university glorifies people who have committed acts of genocide against the ancestors of black people

Oxford University is ‘institutionally racist’ Rhodes Must Fall campaigner tells the BBC

The Chancellor of Oxford University, Lord (Chris)Patten and “Rhodes Must Fall” campaigner Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh have crossed verbal swords on the BBC’s Today” programme.  Patten says the university will fight pressure to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes outside Oriel College, while the young South African and son of the EFF representative  in Gauteng, Dali Mpofu, says its high time one of the world’s great universities sets about purging what he believes is its  racist track record. TREVOR GRUNDY reports –

OXFORD UNIVERSITY is institutionally racist.

Throughout its long history, it has been biased against black people.

To make matters worse, it continues to pay homage to men such as Cecil John Rhodes who committed acts of genocide against Africans.

That, in a nutshell, is what millions of Britons woke up to hear on their favourite radio programme this morning when the producers of ’Today’ invited Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh to speak up from Johannesburg and explain why he wants to see a statue of the man after who Rhodesia got its name removed from the front of Oriel College.

They heard him say -“Oxford University glorifies people who have committed acts of genocide against the ancestors of black people.”

Adding: ”We think Oxford is institutionally racist and by that we mean that it has had throughout its history significant biases against black people.”

He said that the first black student was only admitted in 1938 and that today there’s only one senior black professor at the prestigious university.

To make matters even worse, only 24 British black students were accepted in the university’s undergraduate system this year.

Asked what would be achieved by knocking down a statue of Rhodes, the PhD student who is seen by some in Britain and elsewhere as a figure of growing importance in South Africa, replied:“No-one’s talking about knocking anything down. We’re calling for the removal of the statue, something Oxford University has done at many points of its history.”

He did not provide examples.

Commenting on a demand by Lord Patten that those for and against the removal of the

statue engages in constructive debate, Mpofu-Walsh said: ”Debate involves speaking seriously and taking action, not just talking in abstractions. We believe that in Oxford, there’s a chance and an opportunity now to re-appraise the way it represents itself to the world and stop giving pride of place to the glorification and veneration of colonial genociders.”

He said that the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign is now part of a much broader campaign” which speaks about the lack of representation of black voices at Oxford University and the curriculum.

Mpofu-Walsh was responding to comments made on the same radio programme the previous day made by Lord Patten who said that those wanting to remove the statue were treading on the values that made Oxford one of the world’s great universities.

He said that Cecil Rhodes left all his money so that young people could go to Oxford and that so far there have been 8,000 scholarships, some going to people who bitterly opposed apartheid.

He said: “Rhodes Scholarships were endorsed by Nelson Mandela. He regarded Rhodes and himself as sharing a common cause. No-one is talking about Mandela-Rhodes must go. I think that the focus on Rhodes is unfortunate but it’s an example of what’s

happening on American campuses and on British campuses.””

He told his interviewer that the building on which the statue stands was out up with Rhodes’s money and he asked his interviewer: ”So do you pull the building down? ””

Lord Patten, the last British Governor of Hong Kong before it was handed over to China,, said that if some students could not accept the liberal way his university conducted its affairs then  they should go to China. “If you want universities like that, go to China where they’re not allowed to talk about ‘Western’ values which they regard as ’Global’ values.” ‘ “

He recommended that all students read Karl Popper’s  book ”Open Society ”and if they could not accept the ideas put forward by that great Austria-born British philosopher then they should go somewhere else.

He added: ”I think that we’re giving them (the ’Rhodes Must Fall’ campaigners) the respect of listening to them when we don’t agree with them. If people at a university aren’t prepared to demonstrate the sort of spirit and generosity of spirit that Nelson Mandela showed towards Rhodes and towards history, if they not prepared to embrace all those values which are contained in the most important book for any undergraduate, Karl Popper's ’Open Society ' if they are not prepared to embrace those issues, maybe they should think about being educated elsewhere. But I hope they will embrace those issues and engage in a debate.””

Commented Mpofu-Walsh: “We think it's scandalous that Lord Patten thinks that people who disagree with him should consider studying at another university. We’re doing exactly what Lord Patten suggested that a university is for.””

Meantime, one of Britain's top woman academics has entered the debate on free speech at universities.

Professor Louise Richardson, Oxford’s 272nd vice chancellor and the first woman to hold that position, has supported the view that students should be exposed to uncomfortable ideas and criticsed attempts by some campaigners to censor free speech.

At her inauguration in the company of Lord Patten, she asked: ” “How do we ensure that they appreciate the value of engaging with ideas they find objectionable, trying through reason to change another’s mind, while always being open to changing their own? How do we ensure that our students understand the true nature of freedom of inquiry and expression/?”

She said about the new America and British desire to create 'safe spaces 'at institutions, that universities should be places where the young are encouraged to think critically. “

She said: “If we can provide leaders for tomorrow who have been educated to think critically, to act ethically and always to question, these are the people who will prevent the next financial crisis: who will help us grapple with fundamental questions promoted by the accelerating pace of technological change as we confront profound ethical choices about the prolongation and even replication of life.”

Concerns have been growing that many American universities risk succumbing to political correctness by effectively blocking their ears to the views of people they do not like, people who hold views they do not hold.

In Britain, controversial religious and political leaders have been “”non-platformed”” and they include the former hero of the 1960s women’s’ liberation movement, Germaine Greer.

Last month, a group of professors wrote to the Daily Telegraph” to condemn campus censorship of anything that causes offence.

They said that a generation of students was being denied the “intellectual challenge of debating conflicting views. They said that Oriel College is considering removing a statue of Cecil Rhodes, one of its alumni and benefactors, over his role during the 19th century colonisation of Africa.