Huge row breaks out over whether Oxford law student who wants Cecil Rhodes statue removed should have taken Rhodes scholarship cash

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By Thomas Connelly on

Bust-up provides some light relief from the BCL


An Oxford Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) student has called for the removal of a Cecil Rhodes statue from a university building, despite accepting a scholarship in the name of the top imperialist to help him to study there.

And a huge social media row has blown up about the rights and wrongs of his position.

Ntokozo Qwabe (pictured), who is originally from South Africa, is the co-founder of a campaign pushing for a statue of Rhodes to be removed from the front of Oxford University’s Oriel College.

The student completed his law degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he was forced to drop out after just one semester due to financial difficulties.

Securing a job as a cashier, determined Qwabe raised enough funds to return to the university, completing his law degree ‘summa cum laude’ — the highest possible praise given — obtaining 34 distinctions.

Catching the eye of Oxford University, Qwabe was offered the Rhodes Scholarship to study for the prestigious BCL qualification that is held by many top barristers. According to the Rhodes Scholarship website, the award covers all university fees, plus pays living expenses of £13,658 each year.

But having accepted the scholarship funded by the Rhodes estate, Qwabe is now calling for the late politician and business magnate’s statue to be removed due to his unacceptable views on race.

Rhodes, who was the founder of the southern African territory of Rhodesia now know as Zimbabwe and Zambia, was a ardent believer in British colonialism, with many critics claiming he paved the way for apartheid by working to alter laws on voting and land ownership.

Backed by the members of the Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford movement — that has almost 4,000 members on Facebook — Qwabe believes that the British imperialist’s views are at odds with the “inclusive culture” which the university should be promoting.


But the BCL student’s position has seen him come in for some heavy criticism. Taking fire on his personal Facebook page (screenshots below), Qwabe’s actions were described by one Facebook user as “disgraceful hypocrisy,” while another suggested he should “give back your scholarship and remove the chip of your shoulder.”


Defending his decision to accept the scholarship, Qwabe said:

I’m no beneficiary of Rhodes. I’m a beneficiary of the resources and labour of my people which Rhodes pillaged and slaved.

Late last week Oxford University bowed to student pressure and agreed to remove a plaque of the bust of Rhodes from one of its buildings. However, the university has called for patience regarding the Rhodes statue, claiming it is an issue “which cannot be resolved quickly. In a statement released late last week, Oriel College said:

In view of these complexities, the College has decided to launch a structured six-month listening exercise on the statue, running from early February 2016, seeking the views and ideas of students and staff of the College and the wider University, alumni, heritage bodies, Oxford City Council, residents of Oxford, and other members of the public, as we seek a positive way forward. This is a commitment to seek views in as inclusive a way as possible on how controversial associations and bequests, including that of Rhodes to Oriel, and the record of them in the built environment, can be dealt with appropriately.

For now, a temporary sign has been placed in the window below the statue by the university “clarifying its historical context”.


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