Jamaica Observer: Desmond Allen, Executive Editor – Some of Jamaica’s best known Rhodes scholars agree that the statue of their benefactor and British imperialist Cecil Rhodes should be removed from the University of Oxford, as protesters pressed their campaign for the fall of icons of racism.
“Cecil was no angel and certainly not one to be admired and emulated as a person. He was an imperialist who exploited the working people of Southern Africa,” said Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, the 1973 recipient of the prestigious Rhodes scholarship.
Sharing Chuck’s view generally in comments sought by the Jamaica Observer were professors Trevor Munroe and Stephen Vasciannie, as well as Rev Ronald Thwaites and Peter Goldson, an attorney and secretary of the Rhodes Trust here.
Among the Commonwealth of nations, a resume adorned by the Rhodes Scholarship opens doors to some of the best jobs, and instant intellectual adulation for its outstanding recipients. Jamaicans have received one every year since 1904, except during the Second World War when they were not awarded.
Chairman of the Rhodes scholarship selection committee is Governor General Sir Patrick Allen who needed more time to study the issue before commenting.
The more well known Rhodes scholars also include: Dennis Morrison; Dr Michael Abrahams; Mervyn Morris; Daniel Thwaites; Jeffrey Mordecai; Dr David Panton; Dr Nigel Clarke, the current finance minister; David McBean; the late Professor Rex Nettleford; National Hero Norman Washington Manley; Dudley Thompson; Noel Nethersole; Anthony Abrahams and Hector Wynter.
“I support the removal of the Rhodes statue from Oriel College in Oxford and its relocation in a museum,” offered Dr Munroe who is perhaps Jamaica’s best known Rhodes scholar and current head of the corruption agency, National Integrity Action.
Thwaites, a Roman Catholic deacon and former education minister, fully adopted Munroe’s position. The two became Rhodes scholars two years apart – in 1966 (Munroe) and 1968.
Last Wednesday, the governors of Oxford’s Oriel College voted to take down the controversial statue of Rhodes, bowing to demands by the “Rhodes must fall” campaign which started in 2015 in South Africa and was bolstered by the protests triggered by the cold-blooded murder of Black American George Floyd on May 25.
Professor Vasciannie, the 1981 Rhodes scholar, accused Rhodes of taking part in colonialist excesses and enriching himself by “means that were open to moral challenge even by the standards of his time”.
“Rhodes was undoubtedly an imperialist who sought to establish British colonialist interests ‘from the Cape to Cairo’, and who was prepared to capture resources which properly belonged to persons and groups in Southern Africa,” the former UTech president added.
Goldson who gave his personal view, saw Rhodes as a complicated historical figure but “there is no denying that he was an imperialist and racist who exploited the peoples of Southern Africa”.
“I recognise that the presence of Cecil Rhodes’ statue at Oriel College may give the impression that Cecil Rhodes is celebrated without thought being given to the full and accurate measure of the man,” the 1985 scholar suggested.
The University of the West Indies, Mona in a benign description of Cecil Rhodes on its alumni website, painted him as “a British diamond magnate and imperialist whose life is part of the history of Southern Africa”.
“The colony of Rhodesia took his name and is today known as the independent state of Zimbabwe. Rhodes’ name is now remembered principally because of his foundation of the Rhodes Scholarships. He left the greater part of his substantial fortune to establish this scheme in his will.
“Candidates for Rhodes Scholarships are selected on the basis of ‘qualities of character’ as well as of intellect. Rhodes’ aim was to provide future leaders of the English-speaking world with an education which would broaden their views and develop their abilities.
“He chose to endow these scholarships at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, because he believed that its residential colleges provided an environment specially conducive to personal development.”
But for the Rhodes must fall campaigners, Rhodes who first went to Africa aged 17 and gradually became the dominant force in the diamond mining trade, was a strong advocate for colonial power in Africa.
“He believed he was part of ‘the first race in the world’, writing to a friend that ‘the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race’. And some saw him as one of the people who helped prepare the way for South Africa’s apartheid by working to alter laws on voting and land ownership.
However, the Jamaican Rhodes scholars were willing to give Rhodes his due, all of them recognising the great benefits of the scholarships and regarding it as a give-back to Black people by a man who had wronged their forbears.
“To his credit, he (Rhodes) bequeathed some of his wealth to provide for the Rhodes Scholarship which allowed thousands of scholars around the world to benefit from an Oxford education. From evil exploitation, some goodness did emerge,” Chuck acknowledged.
Munroe reasoned that the removal of the statue “should not blind us, however, to the positive in Rhodes’ complex legacy – in particular the establishment of the Rhodes Trust, the Rhodes Scholarship, and the Rhodes Mandela partnership (welcomed by Nelson Mandela himself in 2003)…”
Goldson suggested that his legacy of benefaction which established the Rhodes Scholarships around the world had allowed many talented young men and women of all races to have the limited opportunity to receive an education (in the broadest sense of the term) at the University of Oxford, the world’s premier university.
“This experience has meant that they have become members of a world-wide fellowship charged with ideals of leadership and service and of fighting the world’s fight. Many outstanding world leaders (in politics and other fields) have emerged from amongst their ranks.
Professor Vasciannie said the Rhodes scholarship had provided many students with life-changing opportunities to go to Oxford, opportunities which they would otherwise not have obtained.
“Cecil Rhodes’ generosity, as set out in the will, and some of the terms of the scholarship, have guided hundreds towards lives of public and private service. The instruction to fight the world’s fight has been nurtured and cultivated as essential components of Rhodes’ legacy.”