Nearly 200 international students at Oxford University have come to the defense of South African Ntokozo Qwabe, who they claim has been accused of hypocrisy for joining a campaign to remove a statue of Rhodes from the university’s Oriel College.
In a report by the UK Guardian, Redress Rhodes, a group of Rhodes scholars condemned what it said was “hateful racism and personal attacks Ntokozo Qwabe is facing” after he began a campaign to have a statue of Cecil Rhodes removed from Oriel College, a constituent college of the University of Oxford.
Qwabe is the co-founder of Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford – “an organisation determined to decolonise the space, the curriculum, and the institutional memory at, and to fight inter-sectional oppression within, Oxford”.
Qwabe, a former law student at KwaZulu-Natal, received the Rhodes Scholarship to further his studies at England’s Oxford University, in 2013.
A statement, signed by 198 Rhodes scholars said:
“Over the past few weeks, we have seen an onslaught of attacks in the British media against our fellow Rhodes scholar Ntokozo Qwabe in response to his involvement in Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford. Since then, a wave of ad hominem and unfounded accusations, hate speech and racism have flooded social media, the press and indeed Ntokozo’s personal inbox.”
The students added: “This scholarship does not buy our silence…It is not an instrument of censorship”.
“There is no hypocrisy in being a recipient of a Rhodes scholarship and being publicly critical of Cecil Rhodes and his legacy – a legacy that continues to alienate, silence, exclude and dehumanise in unacceptable ways. There is no clause that binds us to find ‘the good’ in Rhodes’ character, nor to sanitise the imperialist, colonial agenda he propagated.”
In an interview with SABC, Qwabe said that the struggle goes beyond a statue, pointing to a ‘structural violence’ within the world’s most recognised tertiary institution through its curriculum, and 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. That blatant, violent, assault and racism is unacceptable at a university that purports to be inclusive,” he said.
The college has agreed to review the Rhodes statue in due course.