The Oxford Pan-Afrikan Forum (OXPAF) sends its warmest greetings and solidarity to the #RhodesMustFall movement that has taken the University of Cape Town by storm. As OXPAF – with a membership that includes Black people and people of Afrikan descent from across the continent and throughout the diaspora – we support the removal of the Cecil Rhodes statue at UCT. We see it as an egregious and shameful symbol of colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism.
Therefore, we are happy to see that the senior UCT leadership has reportedly agreed to a proposal that the statue be “moved”. This is a step in the right direction and would never have happened without the various protest actions and publicity you have generated. We also recognize that the university adminstration’s agreement to “move” the statue is a bid to defuse the anger and energy of the movement, which has, via the Change.org petition, articulated demands that go way beyond the Rhodes statue to include overturning the institutional oppression faced by Black students, academics, and workers at UCT. Your demands represent a powerful model for the international struggle to decolonize education!
Oxford University is the institution where Cecil Rhodes was trained, and it continues to host the massive Rhodes House (where most of Oxford’s Afrikan Studies library is housed), the Rhodes Trust (which has given most Rhodes scholarships in the last century to privileged white men – most of whom were not even from the Southern Afrikan region where Rhodes plundered his wealth), a statue of Rhodes near the Oxford city center, and various other homages to this most infamous practitioner of colonial violence, dispossession and genocide. It is these symbols of the most repugnant of colonial criminals that contribute to the overall Euro/Brit/white/male supremacist make up of the Oxford environment – which can be suffocating to Black students, workers, and community members like us who were on the receiving end of the systems of oppression which Rhodes pioneered and brutally enforced in Afrika, and indeed continue in the form of economic apartheid in so many countries across the continent.
As pan-Afrikan Black people in Britain, we note that the UK today is the largest source of “foreign direct investment” in South Afrika (according to the Royal Institute of International Affairs), and therefore that British capitalism continues to profit from the exploitation of South Afrikan labour and natural resources. It was, after all, the London-based British company Lonmin, whose profit-making interests were at stake when 34 protesting miners were gunned down in Marikana just recently – all because they were challenging the company’s failure to honour its previous agreements with the workers. Barclays Bank initially got rich off an Afrikan holocaust (the trans-Atlantic “slave trade”) and was so deeply invested in the white apartheid regime in South Africa that British students built a boycott movement in the 1980s which forced “Boerclays” Bank to end its investment in apartheid.
In recent years Barclays, rather than return the dirty money it looted as a financier of apartheid, colonialism, and slavery, has instead purchased the controlling stake in the Amalgamated Banks of South Africa (ABSA), the largest retail bank on the continent. Last May, the CEO of Barclays Africa was the keynote speaker at Oxford University’s “African Transformations” conference, a telling example of the way in which Britain (including its most prestigious university) is complicit in the exploitation of Afrika, not just as a matter of historical interest but as an ongoing reality that continues to this day. There are many such cases of British companies continuing where Rhodes left off in South Afrika, and inflicting untold suffering and human rights violations on workers – in addition to irreparably damaging the environment. The only difference is that these crimes are now disguised as ‘investment’ and ‘business’ and ‘transforming Afrika’ for the economic benefit of foreign powers and their neocolonial collaborators on the continent.
For the above reasons, we have decided to show solidarity by initiating discussion about a “Decolonize Education” movement at Oxford – which we kickstarted with a banner drop under the most prominent Rhodes statue here at Oriel College. We plan to do more when the next term begins in a few weeks. In the meantime, we note with great pleasure the spread of the #RhodesMustFall movement to young people throughout South Afrika, particularly to Rhodes University, Wits University, and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. We hope that students across the continent and the Afrikan diaspora will take a lead from your example.