After Rhodes Falls

Natalya Din-Kariuki

In a postscript to his will, dated 8 September 1893, Cecil Rhodes quoted Horace: ‘non omnis moriar’ (‘I shall not wholly die’). The phrase comes from the ode that describes his poetry as a ‘monument more lasting than bronze’. Rhodes, too, was after something more than a physical monument in his quest for immortality. He sought to memorialise himself not in poetry, but by bolstering the edifice of the British empire. One legacy was the establishment of the Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford to educate future generations of empire builders. One of the doorways in Rhodes House has ‘non omnis moriar’ inscribed above it.

Rhodes also laid the groundwork for apartheid and colonial domination more generally in southern Africa. The physical monuments created in his honour included several statues. One, at the University of Cape Town, was removed after pressure from the Rhodes Must Fall protest movement in 2015. Activists in Oxford called for the statue of Rhodes adorning the façade of Oriel College to fall, too. The Oriel governors have now acceded to the movement’s demands and ‘expressed their wish to remove the statue’.

Rhodes Must Fall Oxford has always been about more than a statue, however. Its demands today are broadly similar to those first made in 2015: ‘official, public and permanent acknowledgment’ of the university’s involvement in colonialism and slavery; the immediate renaming of the Codrington Library at All Souls College; the immediate renaming of the Rhodes Scholarship and of Rhodes House; a ‘reparatory scholarship scheme for Southern Africans of African descent’ at Oriel; the ‘establishment of a review committee for the decolonisation of the curriculum’; a ‘commitment to bringing Black British undergraduate student numbers in line with the British population’; a ‘commitment to doubling the number of Black faculty’; and ‘anti-racism and implicit bias training’ for students and staff.

At the faculty level, Black people are underrepresented in the professoriate but overrepresented in the precariat. The University and College Union’s (UCU) report on precarious work in higher education shows that BAME academics are more likely to be on fixed-term contracts than their white counterparts. Worse, Black academic staff are twice as likely as their white colleagues to be on zero-hours contracts, and more likely to be on hourly-paid contracts.

Casualisation is especially rampant at Oxford, where more than three-quarters of academic and academic-related staff are on fixed-term or other casualised contracts. Oxford’s annual equality report doesn’t offer statistics on the proportion of BAME staff on such contracts. To find out, you could perhaps write to the university’s singular, unnamed policy adviser for race equality. Statistics on gender would be easier to find: there are several named administrators working on gender equality. The visibility of the Rhodes statue, towering over the High Street, makes a glaring contrast with the invisibility of BAME staff.

As the #CoronaContract campaign documents, casualised staff at universities across the UK will be hit especially hard by the fallout from Covid-19. Many have experienced financial hardship already, through the loss of promised work hours or their institutions’ refusal to furlough them. Some have had their contracts terminated prematurely. And things will get worse, as universities across the country announce the non-renewal of casual contracts, hiring freezes and redundancies. To fight racism at universities, we need to concern ourselves not only with the future recruitment of Black academics (there are only seven or so Black professors at Oxford), which the mechanisms of casualisation obstruct, but also with the urgent difficulties facing insecure workers currently in the university’s employ.

Black people work at universities in a number of non-academic capacities: in administration; in libraries; in IT; in estates services, including as catering staff; as cleaners; and more. Many of these workers, in particular those on lower pay grades, are especially vulnerable to Covid-19, both its health risks and its economic effects. Our efforts need to include not only students and faculty, but other workers, too, without whose labour the university cannot function. When the statue of Rhodes is taken down, it seems likely that the strenuous and dangerous job of removing it will be undertaken by workers of colour.


  • 29 June 2020 at 3:46pm
    gracelyn7 says:
    It seems odd that during a time of BLM campaigning, the RMFO compaign seems to be demanding not only the removal of all imperialist and colonialist connections at Oxford, but the redressing of personal professional complaints on the grounds presumably that BAME academics job insecurity is due to racism and not to the world-wide economic job insecurity encouraged by neo-liberal capitalism which has long affected academia.

  • 30 June 2020 at 4:03pm
    staberinde says:
    I admire the clarity and focus of RMF's demands. One of the movement's strengths is that these demands cannot be dismissed as 'left wing'. In other words, conservatives can't object to anti-racism and anti-imperialism on the grounds that it implies tax rises to fund the lifestyles of feckless spongers.

    Natalya Din-Kariuki makes a mistake, in my view, of extending the RMF agenda into traditional left-right political territory.

    First, because if racism cannot be tackled meaningfully without socialism, then it becomes an all-or-nothing proposition which will repel many people unnecessarily.

    Second, because it also creates bad faith. For whatever reason, you might believe that casualisation, the gig economy, is a good thing. Ordinarily, we might debate this in good faith. But now, casualisation is a process of racist oppression and you are a racist for exploring or defending it. Or indeed, for preferring low taxes or a small state.

    This is, I fear, the problem with BLM. It risks becoming a pill too big to swallow. Of course there is a relationship between racism and inequality. But we already have a political vehicle to address inequality; the Labour Party. If you didn't buy the Labour agenda to address inequality, you won't buy it from BLM either. It just stops you buying anything at all from BLM.

    What are the three things we want central government, local authorities, big employers, British brands, schools, the NHS, universities, the police and the media to do? Make sure each of those 27 demands is operational rather than ideological. Then, perhaps, real change might occur. RMF is doing a great job of showing the way.

  • 30 June 2020 at 6:08pm
    Craig Hunt says:
    Re the LRB, white men will have to surrender the privilege they have
    of seeing their words printed and disseminated; they will have to take a backseat so that people of color and women and gender nonconforming scholars of color benefit from the privilege of seeing their words on the page. Again, however, I emphasize that this is an economy of scarcity that at the level of journal publication will remain zero sum (until and unless this system of publication is dismantled): every person of color who is to be published will take the place of a white man whose words could have or had already appeared in the pages of the LRB. And that would be a future worth striving for.

  • 30 June 2020 at 8:48pm
    ralph wortley says:
    Every person important enough to have a statue erected probably has some done something to offend some interest, and I foresee a time when London will look a bit like Olympia - plenty of plinths but no statues.

  • 1 July 2020 at 1:14am
    neddy says:
    While I personally don't give a damn about statues of heroic men and women in public places - museums and art galleries are more appropriate - how would many of us feel if Italians destroyed their cultural heritage, eg the colosseum, because of its association with very odious regimes? Or the Trevi Fountain? Or Michelangelo's David because the Catholic Church was his patron (one of), and committed some atrocious acts, the crusades against Muslims being probably the worst, and the Inquisition being as ugly a crime as any ever committed. In addition the holocaust was committed by Christians; how should Christian culture be cleansed? And what of the Taliban's destruction of Buddhist relics in Afghanistan some years ago? In this context, did they have the right to do that? I believe they did.

    • 1 July 2020 at 10:14am
      Charles Evans says: @ neddy
      There's a fundamental misunderstanding here, in the difference between statues and other structures. The Colosseum isn't a direct attempt to glorify one specific person. It may have reflected some glory onto Vespasian or Titus and their successors, but the building itself served a far different primary purpose.

      The same could not be said of Rhodes' statue at Oriel - its only purpose is to glorify the man it depicts. All statues of individuals serve that purpose- that makes them distinct from other edifices. Take Colston Hall in Bristol - no-one called for it to be demolished, only renamed. Renaming it means the structure no longer glorifies Colston. The same cannot be said of Colston's statue, which can only ever serve a single purpose and is inextricably linked to the man. Take Rhodes' House in Oxford (familiar to any denizen of the labs on South Parks Road) as another example. RMFO don't call for the building to be demolished, but that it is renamed.

    • 2 July 2020 at 1:43am
      neddy says: @ Charles Evans
      An edifice to one man or many men? A statue or other structure? That's it? Persons like Rhodes are representative of their societies and cultures at large. The colosseum is supremely representative of Roman society. Roman culture venerated violence and militarism, was dependent on slaves to a very large extent, was misogynistic and racist. The colosseum is built of stones and rocks - just like statues. While saying this, I acknowledge the power and beauty of Roman culture, and acknowledge that we are all its beneficiaries. And the Roman empire still lives. I studied Latin in high school in Australia: it was a compulsory subject. And I am German born of Russian/Polish parents. My point about statues/architecture/artworks is simply that cruelty, misogyny, racism, slave owning, murder and other foul deeds are everywhere in the past and committed by all cultures/ polities/religions. Wiping out our very human past perhaps dooms us to repeat it. Remembering it at least credits us with some progress.

    • 6 July 2020 at 1:33pm
      Reader says: @ neddy
      Then let us remember it by removing the Rhodes statue from a position where it implies approval, and putting it somewhere (the Ashmolean? Pitt-Rivers?) together with an explanatory rubric that tells the reader about his historical significance.
      Get RMF done! To coin a phrase.

  • 1 July 2020 at 8:22pm
    JANE KELLY says:
    Apartheid became law in South Africa in 1950 so I don’t think, as this blog asserts, that Rhodes can be held responsible for that. People keep making fatuous links which have no basis in fact.

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