Coffee House

An adult has finally intervened in the childish Cecil Rhodes debate

14 January 2016

5:26 PM

14 January 2016

5:26 PM

I’ve never had much time for Chris Patten, generally disliking the Tory Europhile and late Roy Jenkins impersonator.  But the whirligig of time brings in strange revenges and none is odder than Chris Patten emerging as the only adult in the room.  In the great Cecil Rhodes debate at Oxford – a debate which like all such ‘safe-space’ debates has been crying out for the intervention of an adult – Chancellor of the University of Oxford Chris Patten has intervened.

For anyone fortunate enough not to know about this embarrassing episode, it relates to a campaign by certain ‘Rhodes scholars’ at Oxford who will not rest until all memorials to the munificence of Cecil Rhodes are removed.  All, that is, except the students who are benefitting from that same man’s largesse by studying in Oxford.  They want to stay, and are sounding rather churlish, rude and entitled about doing so.  They also say that after taking down all the Rhodes signs they intend to force through a change of curriculum, among other things, at Oxford.

The other day a film crew from South Africa came to ask my opinion on this.  I told them that it was obvious that the campaign was led by people who were fundamentally insincere, looking to press some political advantage and who simply needed to be told ‘no’.  I also pointed out that the claim that modern-day Oxford University is ‘racist’ is so obviously untrue that it can only have been claimed by people pressing for some blackmail advantage or higher cash offer.  Anyhow, while checking to see which insults the editors left on the cutting-room floor I was pleased to notice that the film package also contained the young South African man Ntokozo Qwabe who is leading the anti-Rhodes campaign.

It is the first time I have watched this insincere little demagogue in action and I can highly recommend it.  For like all such opportunists he tries to push his tiny advantage as far as he possibly can.  For instance he says, while gesticulating wildly at an inanimate object, that this isn’t just about a statue on a building but about ‘structural violence’.  It would be, wouldn’t it?  He says:

‘The structural violence is like the curriculum, the lack of black professors.  Those things are not just exceptions. They go to the very heart of how Oxford is configured and how Oxford as a space is, to be quite frank, racist.  And this is what we are saying – that that blatant violence and assault and racism is unacceptable at a university that purports to be inclusive.’

Now it is some years ago since I was up at the university, but I would be surprised if Oxford had become a den of racism and oppression since then.  If it had done then it is surprising that Mr Qwabe or any other black students would want to stay around.

Of course it is true that there are more white professors than black, and I am certain that Oxford would dearly love to shift this balance.  But Mr Qwabe is clearly unaware of two factors that make this uphill work for the time being.  The first is that people tend to stay in academic posts for many years.  The second is that Britain is, historically, not a very black country.  In fact for quite a long time most people in this country have been white.  Not by design.  It just fell out like that.  Just as there are probably some places in the world where most people are black.

Anyhow, Chancellor of the University Chris Patten was admirably restrained in his intervention.  He has recommended that those students who don’t want to embrace freedom of thought and who want to censor both past and present can, ‘think about being educated elsewhere.’  Which is Oxonian for something often said more curtly.  Personally I would have pointed out that Mr Qwabe clearly has a particular animus and colonialist intent against the country he has been paid to be educated in.  Not the most sincere accusation in the world.  But no less sincere than Mr Qwabe’s own claims – and far less remunerative.

Show comments
  • Ivor MacAdam

    I would have thought that arguing specifically for more BLACK professors is racist!
    Surely Qwabe should be arrested for hate crime?

  • Sue Smith

    And now African-Americans are screaming that none from their community have been nominated for an Oscar or won a Golden Globe. And, to think, the white actors have to get by on talent and looks!! What’s the world coming to? It seems racism isn’t going to be part of the decision-making process in the awards ceremonies this year – just raw talent. About time too!!!!

  • Jiesheng Li

    As a Singaporean who studied in the UK, I faced some racist comments and I know about British racist colonial legacy. Never did I think of the idea of asking for statutes, pictures, memorials of Colonist to be removed.

    Grown up South Africas.

  • Liberanos

    The gigantic proportion of white role models to black in almost every sphere of life will never be re-balanced if black students don’t spend more time studying and less time toppling old statues of nineteenth-century imperialists.

  • Richard

    Black South African students are really getting a good name for themselves. In Cuba one was murdered recently by disgruntled locals. They seem to fight, pray and party all the time instead of studying medicine, which is supposedly why they are there. I believe this person graduated, but I wonder about peripherals?

  • Howard

    I live in Zambia, my father was born here, the place Cecil Rhodes founded in the middle of nowhere. Now a thriving country (as is Rhode’s other venture: ZImbabwe) albeit this slice of civlisation being overtly weakened by the rise and takeover of black nationalist communist fascistic terrorist thugs in the 1960s and onwards. Thank God Douglas Murray is on the case for the sake of Rhodes legacy today though.

    Though I enjoy having a good beer out in a Zambian pub, not sure I can stomach another entitled half wit denigrating Rhodes while celebrating Mugabe.

    • Richard

      Or celebrating Shaka.

  • Anna Brown

    The white Brits who are so snooty and “humorous” about #rhodesmustfall obviously don’t get it. As an Afrikaner, I absolutely do. Yes, there are more important things to worry about than a statue, and some of the demands and arguments are naive and extreme (most students are by definition young and inexperienced, after all). However, seeing the statue in pride of place every day must be painful. The man was a blatant racist and imperialist who scorned the lives and welfare of anyone who did not belong to the glorious British race. He was a thief and swindler on such a grand scale that it is regarded as politics (if you don’t understand what I mean by this, think land-grabs on the scale of countries and false “treaties”). So no, ex-colonists are not really impressed with his generous scholarships which were not meant for them anyway. I am sure you cheered the removal of Lenin and Stalin statues in after the fall of communism. Streets, statues and places dedicated to Kitchener are painful to me (remember the concentration camps, where blacks were treated even worse and died quicker than even the Boer women and children?). Before you talk of adult behaviour, try a little historical perspective.

    • Richard

      “Boereraad” or folk medicines were the Boer’s preferred medicines. You could still buy these in the 1970, and rural Boers still used them. Some I remember seeing were called “Duiwelsdruppels” (Devil’s Droppings) and were supposed to cure a variety of ailments. Boers, mainly illiterate and uneducated, did not trust Western medicines, and did not trust inoculation. There are books by doctors and nurses in the Boer War, which are worth reading, for their first-hand accounts, unfiltered through the grievance-politics of the National Party, aimed at winning votes. The rinderpest was raging at the time, with many people outside the camps dying too, in fact, sometimes at an even greater rate. A little historical research will enlighten you about this.

      Was Rhodes any more of a swindler than Lobengula, who had fled from Shaka’s despotism and seized the land from non-Nguni? Shaka, too, is a hero in South Africa, despite the Mfecane in which hundreds of thousands were killed and enslaved. Many ran to the protection of the British Cape Colony and Natal as refugees. Do you really think that Rhodes or Kitchener were like Lenin or Stalin? Stalin killed at least twenty million people directly.

      Rhodes was a man of his time, but he was no murderer. Certain things, like murder, have always been proscribed, but most other things are defined by the age. Paul Kruger, for instance, was also a despot, and the Boer Republics were created from the land of the tribes inhabiting the area at the time. Those tribes had dispossessed the Bushmen of the land in their turn. But where do you stop? H o m o Sapiens invaded Europe and stole the land from Neanderthals, should this also become a political issue?

      I think there is a lot of perspective in the piece. Using history in this way – as a tool for grievance and to win votes through that – was used by the National Party, and now by the ANC. Do you think that is helpful?

      • Anna Brown

        Yes, the tactic of blaming the victims of the concentration camps for their own suffering comes a long way, but this is the first time* I have heard the rinderpest used as an excuse as it had ended by 1897. The fact is, if the women, children and labourers had not been forced into the camps, to a large extent by burning their homes, burning their crops and slaughtering their livestock, they would not have died in such numbers. Why would they have trusted the British anyway?*

        *There was a camp for Blacks near Villiers in the Free State where the inmates were not provided with any food at all. They ate horses that had died of horse sickness. I suppose this was also their own fault?*

        *Does the fact that there have been wars and invasions throughout history excuse making a hero of a particular fairly recent war criminal? Does the fact that it is not possible to protest against the wrongs of history as far back as the Neanderthals mean that anyone can excuse the behaviour of any historical figure and make a hero of him, even Hitler? *

        *As for the argument that Rhodes was a man of his time, there was a considerable amount of criticism and rejection of his behaviour during his time. *

        *He may not personally have murdered anyone, but he was certainly responsible for the death of many people in Matabeleland. The fact is, the man had no conscience or compunction when it came to his overweening ambition.*

        *Making a hero of him is different from admitting that he played a historical role, and glorifying him does hurt and offend many people.*

        • Richard

          And in Port Elizabeth there were no deaths in the concentration camps. It takes two to tango. Boer women were re-supplying their men from the food from the farms, and so this had to be stopped to bring the war to a conclusion. It would have been pretty silly not to have stopped the resupplying of the Boers at source. When Boers migrated into the Transvaal and Free State, they burned villages and killed the local blacks through fire when they met opposition. In the US, the scorched earth policy was used in the Civil War, too. Indeed, it was used quite commonly, even into the late 20th Century, In fact, Mzilikazi himself used it to rid Matabeleland of its occupants, so that he could colonise the area. As to the rinderpest, the epidemic was still very much ongoing in 1900 at the very least. Where do you get 1897? There are historic photographs from 1900 onward showing the rinderpest, and diseased cattle.

          Many of the deaths in the camps were caused by refusal to use Western medicines, that much is not in dispute by anybody, to my knowledge.

          In Matabeleland, certainly many Matabele died at the hands of Rhodes. Like Shaka, or Mzilikazi, or Paul Kruger and all the Boers who colonised the interior of South Africa, he was a ruthless and conniving man.

          The point is: how far back do you intend to unpick? Should all statues to all people excepting scientists and poets be removed? In fact, should statues to Albert Einstein be removed because he was instrumental through his discoveries for the nuclear bomb that killed so many Japanese?

          Oriel College in Oxford, as UCT, had statues to the man who endowed them, not to the politician. I don’t see what is wrong with that, no matter what your politics.

          And as for likening Rhodes to Hitler, well, if that is really how you see things and how you reason, there is not point in further debate. It is completely irrational.

          • Anna Brown

            I, however, do see why black students object to it, as most of you don’t seem to, condemning the students on a very superficial level. The issue is still that the money used for the endowment was basically stolen. I know that the same applies to other beneficiaries of the university, but I simply fail to see that this, and all the other wrongs of history, makes Rhodes a hero. Statues have been removed and names changed before when conditions and perceptions have changed. It is not unheard of.

            • Richard

              On a purely emotional level, from their perspective, it may well be understandable. Or not, depending on how you see his role. On a rational level, given where the statue is, and the fact that it underscores his role as a donor, it is not reasonable. He is not being celebrated as a human rights hero. In fact, there is no heroism attached to it at all. It is a testament to his largesse. What I fail to understand is this idea that the money was “stolen”. From whom was it stolen? Were there funds in a bank account that were pilfered? Were there objects belonging to a state that were stolen? As I see it, Rhodes went to a hole in the ground, over which Britain had suzerainty, or for which treaties were signed, and exploited it. As far as I know, he is the only person of his type who endowed any bursary scheme of this sort.

              The “student” at Oriel College is using the statue as a small part of his rabble-rousing, now insisting that Oxford employ more black academics. Given that blacks form 3% of the population of the UK, and that blacks are represented at 3% of the academic staff, where is the problem? The statue is simply being used as an Aunt Sally and an excuse for the moralising of a rabble-rouser.

          • Anna Brown

            The concentration camps are a side issue. I only referred to them to show why I understand the feelings of the students. I never expected that anyone would still try to justify them. I just want to point out that your arguments about them lack consistency. If the people were starving as a result of the rinderpest, how could they support the commandos?

            • Richard

              I am not an expert on the Boer War. No doubt they prioritised supporting the men. Eventually, when the food ran out, the men surrendered. I do know that Britain had to pump large amounts of money into the country to help rebuild agriculture after the conflagration. I also know that a third of all Ethiopians died from starvation at that time, and a huge number in Tanzania, Kenya and down into southern Africa.

              Nobody is justifying anything. The camps were built as a way to concentrate the population so that the war could be concluded. You must also bear in mind that local tribespeople were preying on the people in the Boer houses, whom they saw as having stolen their land, and against whom aggression had been perpetrated. There were many reports of this sort of activity, and no doubt the military did not wish this to happen. Given the circumstances, the camps were probably seen as a good idea. However, they were not well run, and disease was rampant, as it was outside the camps, but the mere fact of so many people living in such close-quarters doubtless exacerbated the situation.

              The camps are a good example to show how grievances and victimhood can be used to perpetrate all sorts of political action. They were used to justify racial policy, and to disarm opposition. When the National Party was developing its Grand Apartheid, the Boer War was used as a rallying point. All sorts of exaggeration was created to intensify this, and it was later used to create a republic, in order the better to deflect international criticism and consolidate power in the hands of the National Party. South Africa is seeing similar things happening now, where a failing state is pointing to the past to find excuses for its behaviour in the present. It is nothing more than prestidigitation for political ends.

    • Leftism is a societal cancer

      You are dumb traitor to your people. Absolutely sick.

  • Digger52

    Douglas Murray’s sneer is as wide as the gap between his fact free rant and the actual issues being played out here. What a sad pompous fool he is.

    • orsonhinds

      Where was the sneer? I take it you are another pathetic little leftist-revisionist moron. Yes?

      • Digger52

        Too much coffee bear bum. Go and lie down.

    • Saturn 5

      The bitterness is strong in this one

      • Digger52

        The Empire is dead and gone thank God. Now we can gradually say goodbye to its sad and lonely apologists as they trot off to oblivion. No strike back in this version of the film old bean.

    • Leftism is a societal cancer

      You look like a stupid hippy.

      • Digger52

        Sorry chum, your cliche radar is faulty. Never mind little man

        • Leftism is a societal cancer

          The picture gives you away pillow biter.

          • Digger52

            Silly, sillyrepressed little man. The therapy is overdue

            • Leftism is a societal cancer

              Retarded effeminate leftist traitor.

              • Digger52

                Silly,misogynist,homophobic little man. Try Jesuit school you will fit right in

                • Leftism is a societal cancer

                  ooo never heard those words before. They really hurt!

                • Digger52

                  You can add anti Semite, the saddest, most onanistic past time for failed human beings, little lost BNP boy.

                • Leftism is a societal cancer

                  You’re a very good goy. Know all the buzzwords!

  • DP

    The Spectator, providing a loving home for colonial apologists since 1828.

    • orsonhinds

      I and no one else save those refugees from reality wishing to push some pathetic leftist agenda perceived any ‘apology’ for colonialism in this article. Besides, colonialism was what it was: something that happened long ago one way or another and which does not happen now. Get over it.

      Only you won’t, will you. You on the far left are the real colonists only the territories you seek to colonise are history, politics and freedom. You are constantly noisy in your endeavour but, in general, you are still laughed at.

    • Richard

      I don’t see the Spectator apologising for Zulu and Xhosa genocide of the Bushmen, and subsequent colonisation of the land of the Bushmen. Where do you see that?

  • jetboy24

    if Rhodes was a known anti-semite, the statue would have been long gone..

    • Richard

      There are plenty of statues to anti-semites all around the world.

  • jdp19808

    They see how easy it is in the States to claim racism which results in the weak-minded and weak-willed bureaucrats to cave under pressure. Guess they decided to try it across the pond.

  • anonuk

    “think about being educated elsewhere”.

    Self-described revolutionaries like Qwabe don’t want to be educated anywhere- they merely seek to re-educate others, by force if necessary.

    However, if Patten’s words translate into “combine fornication and travel”, then I agree with him.

  • John Steadman

    Chrurchill was no lover of Islam. He’s next for the chop by our our wonderful students seeking safety – eh? Let’s get his statue out of Westminster? Well…that’s the logic of it all….

    • jeremy Morfey

      When he’s on our fivers, I suggest that protesters, including all Muslims, burn all offending banknotes bearing his image.

      Should help the economy somewhat.

  • CharlietheChump

    Indeed. I was stunned to find myself agreeing with Patten, a man with whom I have never agreed on anything, including the correct way to eat oysters.

    Safe spaces be buggered, internationally Britain IS a safe space and anyone seeking to interfere or undermine it should Foxtrot Oscar in short order.