A statue of Cecil Rhodes, a controversial historical figure, outside of Oriel College in Oxford, the UK, June 11 2020. Picture: REUTERS/ANDY COULDRIDGE
A statue of Cecil Rhodes, a controversial historical figure, outside of Oriel College in Oxford, the UK, June 11 2020. Picture: REUTERS/ANDY COULDRIDGE

London — An Oxford University college said on Wednesday it wanted to remove from its facade a statue of 19th-century colonialist Cecil Rhodes that has been a target of antiracism protests, though the decision would be made independently.

Oriel College has been under pressure for several years from the #RhodesMustFall campaign, which argues the statue glorifies racism and is an insult to black students, but the college has previously resisted calls to remove it.

The movement was reinvigorated by the global wave of antiracism protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the US, and on June 9 a large demonstration took place outside the college, renewing calls for the statue's removal.

In Britain, the Black Lives Matter protests have ignited a debate about monuments commemorating the nation's imperialist past.

A student at Oriel in his youth, Rhodes left the college money and also endowed the Rhodes Scholarships, which have allowed more than 8,000 students from countries around the world, including former US president Bill Clinton, to study at Oxford.

The mining magnate was a central figure in Britain's colonial project in Southern Africa, giving his name to Rhodesia, present-day Zimbabwe, and founding the De Beers diamond empire.

The governing body of Oriel said it would launch an independent commission of inquiry into the issues surrounding the statue, to which it would recommend that it be taken down.

“The Commission will deal with the issue of the Rhodes legacy and how to improve access and attendance of BAME (black and minority ethnic) undergraduate, graduate students and faculty, together with a review of how the college’s 21st Century commitment to diversity can sit more easily with its past,” Oriel said in a statement.

The inquiry will invite submissions from students, representatives of the #RhodesMustFall campaign, Oxford city council, alumni of the college and others.

Reuters