The row over Oxford University‘s Cecil Rhodes statue has deepened after the university's vice-chancellor used Nelson Mandela‘s words to defend the memorial to the British imperialist, who is seen by historians as an architect of apartheid.
Fourteen dons at the university criticised Professor Louise Richardson in a letter after she appeared to suggest that Mandela would not have backed removing the controversial statue, which has been the focus of renewed protests amid the Black Lives Matter movement.
In an interview last week, Prof Richardson said Rhodes was a man of “deep nuance” who needed to be considered in the context of his era.
She referenced a speech made by Mandela in 2003 at the launch of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, a partnership that offers Oxford scholarships to African students.
Prof Richards said the late South African president had recognised “that we have to acknowledge our past but focus on the future,” adding hiding history was not the “route to enlightenment”.
A group of history, politics, English and law professors at the university said the comments were “inappropriate” and said it was wrong for Prof Richardson to “ventriloquise” the late anti-apartheid leader.
They accused Prof Richardson of using Mandela’s words to “defend colonial-era statues" and said she should not “presume to speak for black students or people of colour”.
The vice-chancellor has not publicly responded to the letter.
Hundreds of people protested outside the university's Oriel College to call for the removal of the Rhodes statue last week as anti-racism demonstrations spread around the world in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
It came after Black Lives Matter activists pulled down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston and flung it into Bristol Harbour.
Demonstrators say the Rhodes statue is a symbol of racism and imperialism and are demanding that it be removed from its plinth above the entrance to the college.
It is among a number monuments across the UK that are facing calls for removal due to their links to the slave trade and imperialism.
Rhodes was a British industrialist and politician who benefited greatly from the slave trade.
He served as prime minister of the Cape Colony in southern Africa from 1890 to 1896 and was ardent supporter of imperialism.
Rhodes and his British South Africa Company founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia - now Zimbabwe and Zambia - which the company named after him in 1895.
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