Rhodes statue: Donor discontent behind Oriel College's decision

Trevor Grundy says it reportedly was a looming cash crisis that led college to terminate 'listening exercise' early
Cash crisis forced the governing body at Oriel College to keep statue of Rhodes standing in place

January 29, 2016

A looming financial crisis forced the governing body of Oriel College to dismiss demands by a group of students at Oxford University to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes.

A front page lead story in today’ “The Daily Telegraph” shows a five column picture of the Rhodes statue under a banner headline – “Rhodes will not fall.”

A strapline reads - “Cash crisis forces Oriel College to defy student activists who wanted controversial statue toppled.”`

The paper’s report is by Javier Espinoza and Gordon Rayner. It said that the controversial statue will stay in place after “furious donors” threatened to withdraw gifts and bequests worth more than £100 million if it was removed.

The report said the governing body ruled out the statue being taken down after being warned that £1.5 million in donations had already been cancelled and that it would face “dire financial consequences” if it bowed to the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ student campaign. It claimed that Oriel is preparing to make redundancies among its staff because of the collapse in donations and has cancelled its annual fundraising drove that should have taken place in April. It could not make an operating loss of around  £200,000 a year.

It added: “The college fears that a proposed £100 million gift to be left in the will one donor is now in jeopardy.”

It revealed that a leaked copy of a report prepared for Oriel governors had disclosed that wealthy alumni angered by the “shame and embarrassment” brought on the 690-yesar old college by its consideration of the campaign have written it out of their wills. It added: “The donors were astonished by a proposal to remove a plaque marking where Rhodes lived and to hold a six-month consultation over whether the statue of the college’s biggest benefactor should be taken down.”

Last night, Oriel College confirmed in a statement that the statue would not fall saying, in part – “Following careful consideration, the College’s Governing Body has decided that the statue should remain in place, and that the College will seek to provide a clear historical context to explain why it is there. The College will do the same in respect of the plaque to Rhodes in King Edward Street. 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. By adding context, we can help draw attention to this history, do justice to the complexity of the debate, and be true to our educational mission. “

The official statement made no mention of a potential financial crisis determining the governing body of Oriel College’s decision to keep Rhodes standing.

According to this conservative newspaper that was often praised by Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Government for its “fair-minded” reporting and editorials about the Rhodesian War which ended with Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980-”Oriel’s agreement to enter into discussion about the future of the statue triggered a wider row about free speech in universities and whether students need to be protected from offence. It said: “The college has now been panicked into cancelling the proposed consultation. The plaque on the building where Rhodes lived while a student at Oriel will also stay but it and the statue will have an accompanying sign providing historical ‘context.’ “

It said that at a meeting on Wednesday (January 27) the governing body was told that because of its ambiguous position on the removal of the statue at least one major donation of £500,000 that was expected this year has been cancelled.

In addition, a potential £750,000 donor has stopped responding to messages from the college and several alumni have written to Oriel to say that they are disinheriting the college from their wills. One of those who has already cancelled their legacy was going to leave a seven figure sum, said the report.

 It added: “  . . . another major donor is furious with the College whose legacy could be in excess of £100 million.”

The report does not mention a single donor by name. It describes its coverage of the latest twist in the Rhodes Must / Must not Fall as “exclusive.”

The paper’s second editorial today was headlined ‘Rhodes Stands.’ It said that “an attempt by a self- righteous lobby to purge the university of any blemish of historical bigotry was akin to the Maoist exercise in cleansing the popular mind during the (Chinese) Cultural Revolution. The proposal was designed not to liberate Oxford’s students but to breed conformity. Some activists dream of a politically correct future where the entire world is a ‘safe space’ from alternative opinion. It is satisfying to see that sterile vision defeated.”

This morning, the veteran African National Congress (ANC) campaigner, Denis Goldberg (b.1933-) told the BBC’s Radio Four programme that the controversy over the Rhodes statue at Oxford University was “trivial.”

He said that the removal of the Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town had not changed what he called “the exploitation that is our legacy.”

Asked if the students who want the statue at Oxford to be removed should now be told that the issue is unimportant, Goldberg – sentenced to four life imprisonments at the 1964 Rivonia Trial but released in 1985 after serving 22 years imprisonment – replied- “No! I’d say, re-shape your campaign to expose what Rhodes did and how the legacy continues in South Africa today and that’s what you just fight.”

Earlier, he told his interviewer that 52 years after the Rivonia Trial, South Africa was “a sadly, crony capitalist society with some leaders using their position for self- enrichment.”

He was speaking during a visit to London.

Goldberg said he was not prepared to name names but the time had come for the ruling party in South Africa to say “Enough!”

He added: “I think President Zuma is at the centre of a cronyist group of people. Whether he gives the orders or whether this is him trapped . . .  I don’t know. I’m not party to the discussions. But it’s a tragedy because President Zuma is, in my opinion, a hero.”