When Cecil Rhodes was drawing up his will his final dream was of British world domination. He pledged funds for
'To and for the establishment, promotion and development of a Secret Society, the true aim and object whereof shall be for the extension of British rule throughout the world, the perfecting of a system of emigration from the United Kingdom, and of colonisation by British subjects of all lands where the means of livelihood are attainable by energy, labour and enterprise, and especially the occupation by British settlers of the entire Continent of Africa, the Holy Land, the Valley of the Euphrates, the Islands of Cyprus and Candia, the whole of South America, the Islands of the Pacific not heretofore possessed by Great Britain, the whole of the Malay Archipelago, the seaboard of China and Japan, the ultimate recovery of the United States of America as an integral part of the British Empire, the inauguration of a system of Colonial representation in the Imperial Parliament which may tend to weld together the disjointed members of the Empire and, finally, the foundation of so great a Power as to render wars impossible, and promote the best interests of humanity.'
When he was prime minister of South Africa in the 1890s, he instituted something close to Apartheid.
'We fail utterly when we put natives on an equality with ourselves. If we deal with them differently and say, "Yes, these people have their own ideas," and so on, then we are all right; but when once we depart from that position and put them on an equality with ourselves, we may give the matter up... As to the question of voting, we say that the natives are in a sense citizens, but not altogether citizens …they are still children....’
If you were a Zimbabwean, and knew that Rhodes had organised a gang of mercenaries to seize your ancestors’ lands, if you were a South African, who knew that part he had played in the development of white supremacy, how would you react to Rhodes’ defenders in Oxford today?
They say that we cannot rewrite the past, which is true. But no one accused East Europeans, who tore down Lenin’s statues in 1989, of being politically correct philistines, or said that the Iraqis, who did the same to the statues of Saddam Hussein in 2003, were cry-babies. Symbols matter. And statues on public buildings tell you what a society believes in; what vices it will tolerate, and which it will reject.
True, the views of hardly any figure in history meet rigorous modern standards. But Rhodes was not just any figure. He extended alien rule and domination over a large chunk of the African continent.
You cannot change the past. But you can learn from it, and resolve to do better in future. Is the desire to make a point of refusing to honour a colonialist and believer in Anglo-Saxon racial superiority, so terrible from that perspective? Do the students calling for Rhodes to fall deserve the abuse of the writer in the Telegraph this morning who described them as
Over-indulged children have become over-demanding teenagers, who expect their demands to be constantly satisfied. Don't like the politics of a visiting speaker? Well, then, just no-platform them. Worried about rude passages in a classic novel? Demand trigger warnings that certain scenes may cause offence. What a hypersensitive, unsophisticated, uneducated attitude to the world.
It would be easy for me to lampoon the Telegraph, particularly when it seems to think that the decision to honour a man is a free-speech issue. Unfortunately, the Telegraph is right, but for a reason it would never understand in a thousand years.
As I said, you cannot change the past but you can learn from it. Anyone with a genuine horror of colonialism and apartheid would oppose racism today. Anyone who rejected master races and white supremacy would oppose slavery and sexual slavery as well.
But Ntokozo Qwabe, co-founder of Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford does no such thing. After targeting Rhodes he declared that this next target was the French. Following last month's Paris attacks, in which 130 people were murdered by Isis, he wrote on his Facebook pagel : "I refuse to be cornered by white supremacist hashtagism into believing that showing my disgust for the loss of lives in France mandates identifying with a state that has for years terrorised – and continues to terrorise – innocent lives in the name of imperialism, colonialism, and other violent barbarities.”
French “imperialism” today consists of the Republic’s troops fighting Islamic State in the Middle East and its allies in Mali. Islamic State has engaged on a vast campaign of sectarian murder. It has taken young women into slavery and passed them among its troops, and murdered women who were too old to please its rapists.
Yet far from condemning the slavers of the 21
The ghost of Cecil Rhodes must be grateful that, when the moment of reckoning came, his supposed nemesis was a thoughtless, wicked child, he could shrug off with ease.