A Rhodes Scholar from South Africa, Ntokozo Qwabe, is demanding that Oriel College, Oxford, should remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes. I think he is wrong. Rhodes was an arrogant, greedy and ruthless man who epitomised all that was worst about the racist, colonialist and jingoistic attitudes which were prevalent in the days of the British Empire. However, removing his statue would be all too like the old Soviet trick of of airbrushing political rivals out of photographs; it is an attempt to rewrite history, but it is only by retaining such reminders of the less savoury aspects of our past that we guard against similar behaviour in the future. Britain has changed out of all recognition since the end of the Second World War, in part because we have learnt the lessons from our past. Tear down the statues of those who disgust us, destroy their memorials, and we shall cease to learn from them. In any case, who should decide which statues should be torn down? I particularly disliked Margaret Thatcher but it is surely not for me to demand that her statues be demolished. Some revere Charles I, others Oliver Cromwell. Whose statues should be removed? There is a statue to George Washington outside the National Gallery in London. He committed treason against the British crown but I've never heard anyone suggest that his statue should go.
Is Ntokozo Qwabe a hypocrite for accepting a Rhodes Scholarship when he holds such strident views about Rhodes? Possibly not, although I can't help being reminded of certain Islamic preachers of hate who lived off benefits for many years while inciting violence. His language is certainly inflammatory. When his wish to remove the statue was was compared to ISIL's destruction of ancient monuments, he dismissed it, saying that it fed 'a racist narrative'. He has also said that the 'racist and violent way in which the space is configured normalises and props up the existence of systematic racism, patriarchy and other oppressions that students at Oxford go through daily.' So, no, he is probably not a hypocrite, just a rather nasty, foolish, long-winded young man with a hatred of all he has chosen to surround himself with. I'm afraid he'll probably become a politician. It is the last thing the modern South Africa needs.