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Oxford University ‘rejects’ call for Ntokozo Qwabe to have Rhodes Scholarship revoked

University's response that 'Oxford is a place where non-violent speech can be expressed' is criticised by signatories

Aftab Ali
Student Editor
Friday 06 May 2016 10:38 BST
(Ntokozo Qwabe/Facebook)

The University of Oxford has been seen to ‘reject’ a petition which called for the institution to take action against controversial law student, Ntokozo Qwabe, on the grounds that all students have the right to free speech.

The petition, which launched on Monday, had gathered over 42,000 signatures after Mr Qwabe was criticised for boasting in a Facebook post that he, and his friends, had reduced a waitress to tears after refusing to tip her until white residents in South Africa “return the land” to black residents.

Despite an Oxford spokesman saying the institution’s duty of care to all members of the university means it does not discuss individuals, in a statement, he added: “Oxford is a place where non-violent speech, however objectionable, can be expressed and challenged.

“Our students may voice opinions which others believe to be misguided, or which they find offensive. They have a right to do this but, in exercising it, we expect them to respect other people and the law.”

One of the co-founders of the Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford movement, Mr Qwabe, himself, has received the Rhodes Scholarship, despite campaigning to have a “racist” statue of the former 19th Century colonialist, Cecil Rhodes, removed from Oriel College.

8 questions you could face

The petition, which had been started by London-based social worker, Jan Hendrik Ferreira, sought to highlight two of the criteria candidates must uphold in order to be eligible for the scholarship.

“Truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship” is one, according to the website, while the other reads: “Moral force of character and instincts to lead, and to take an interest in, one’s fellow beings.”

Addressed to Oxford’s vice-chancellor, Louise Richardson, Mr Ferreira wrote: “Mr Qwabe and friend(s) violated a person’s dignity, publicly degraded and humiliated her, and created a highly offensive situation which Mr Qwabe has since taken great pleasure in narcissistically boasting over her reaction across social media.”

He also added how Mr Qwabe does not uphold the values expected of an institution such as Oxford, and continued: “His actions have ultimately brought your educational establishment’s image into disrepute.

“We ask the university to consider the irony that Mr Qwabe is pursuing a career in law when his personal conduct in this situation is highly questionable.”

The statement from the university has largely been criticised, with hundreds of comments being posted to the petition’s site.

A supporter of the petition wrote that Mr Qwabe’s speech is “far from non-violent,” while one other user said: “I would have applauded Oxford Uni had they expelled him but now this is a disgrace and a mockery.”

Another has written: “It would appear that Oxford University is failing dismally at instilling a sense of respect in this particular individual.”

One user has even called for a separate petition to the Home Office which, he said, should be “established to have his entry and all further entry refused on ‘public good’ grounds.” His suggestion has, so far, received more than 700 likes.

The Independent has contaced Mr Qwabe for comment. However, according to South African news site, Sowetan, he said: “To all media outlets wanting to speak to is a message…: WE WILL ONLY ENGAGE THE WHITE MEDIA WHEN WE HAVE THE LAND BACK.”

This isn’t the first time Mr Qwabe has stirred up controversy. In December last year, the student sparked outrage after calling for a ban on the French flag at universities after November’s terrorist attacks in Paris.

Comparing it to the Nazi swastika, he accused France of having “terrorised innocent lives” in the past, and said: “You can miss me with the buffoonery of changing Facebook profile pictures to violent imperial flags & hashtaging [sic] ‘prayers for Paris’. I will silently pretend to but not kneel to carry out.”

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