The Old Library in Hertford College, Oxford was packed for the Oxford Marxist society’s meeting on Tuesday 9th February on the topic of “The Fight Against Racism and Exploitation from South Africa to Oxford”, following the recent the decision that the Rhodes statue will not fall in Oxford. The story of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign in Oxford is clearly not over; ‘it’s really only just beginning.’
Cecil Rhodes, one of the orchestrators of the colonial regime in South Africa, will remain standing at Oriel College, after a call for a prolonged period of debate and discussion was foreshortened at the demand of ‘a small number of donors.’
Discussion goes on, however, and what increasingly comes to light is that this issue is but a single thread in a vast fabric of history and class struggle.
Simukai Chigudu, a student at Oxford University and an instigator of the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ Oxford movement, and Ben Morken of the International Marxist Tendency in South Africa, who joined us via Skype, placed the recent debates in a context of oppression, imperialism, and exploitation.
Rhodes is not only a symbol of a shameful regime of the past, but, for the people of South Africa and those in solidarity with them, a sort of anti-figurehead for change; for the fight ‘against the status quo’, in a country where inequality is still as rife - and as institutional - as when the African National Congress came to power in the 1990s. Property was not a consideration in the post-apartheid settlements, keeping those with vast wealth very much in the same position.
Within Oxford itself, Rhodes was discussed as merely one aspect of a history ridden with colonialism and exploitation. A point which was particularly emphasised was that the protests are not an effort to forget, but a gesture of rejecting the glorification of those who stamped down on the masses to pursue their own elitist ends.
What is next then? At a university level, the Rhodes Must Fall Oxford campaign is speaking against the euro-centricity of many of the syllabuses; to keep bringing latent injustice into public spaces for discussion and education.
Most importantly, we need to realise the relationship of this issue to the mechanics of capitalist society: those with money make the decisions; threats to the status quo are squashed and stemmed.
This movement is a single element of a greater international solidarity movement with those still in the shadow of the apartheid regime in South Africa; and, beyond that, with the all those who are oppressed and exploited by capitalism and imperialism across the world.