Is This Really What We Want?

Reading through a National Daily this morning, I saw yet another article on the proposed toppling of the Rhodes statue outside Oriel College in Oxford. Half way through the article I was asked to vote as to whether I thought the statue should come down or not.

Naturally I suppose, I voted against taking it down and expected to be part of a small minority. However, when I had cast my vote, the newspaper informed me that ninety seven percent of readers were of the same mind and only three percent thought the statue should come down.

Why does that tell you? To me it shows that this country is being led toward disaster and anarchy by a tiny mob who are bent on mischief. Today’s young activists never miss an opportunity to congratulate themselves on their unprecedented moral self-righteousness.

Yet I can’t see anything admirable or clever about posturing in the street during a pandemic. Nor is there anything idealistic about haranguing journalists (I watched a video of protesters haranguing the columnist Peter Hitchens in Oxford last week) or anyone else who might happen to disagree with their cause.

What on earth is happening to the young people of today? I was brought up a child of the wartime generation who were genuinely brave and determined to do good. They were stoical and resilient, modest and self-effacing. Yes, they tried to keep their feelings to themselves but they never believed those feelings were important and refused to luxuriate in victimhood and self-pity like the snowflakes of today. How many times have you heard a World War II veteran insist he was not especially heroic and was just ‘doing his bit?’

Those wartime veterans survived hellish deprivation and in direct contrast with other news from Oxford last week, they remained steadfast and got on with their lives. Yet it seems that dozens of students are suffering ‘traumatic effects’ after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

I wasn’t there nor have I seen the video of Floyd’s death, but the American courts will have to decide whether it was legal or not. I find it frankly unbelievable that Oxford dons are now being encouraged to make allowances for these supposedly ‘mitigating circumstances’ which took place on another continent if their students perform badly in exams. The poor little turnips! However will they cope with the real world?

Yes there is racism everywhere as can be seen by the story of Ntokozo Qwabe, the South African-born Rhodes Scholar who founded the inane Rhodes Must Fall movement five years ago. 

On his Facebook page, this arrogant twonk actually bragged that when he was served by a white waitress, he took pleasure in telling her he would only give her a tip ‘when you return the land.’ The waitress, he wrote, started shaking and burst ‘into typical white tears.’

In other words, a hugely privileged, black Rhodes Scholar took great delight in taunting and humiliating a poorly paid young white woman so he could flaunt his supposedly progressive principles. How’s that for racism at its very worst?

No one dares correct the RMF campaigners when they describe Rhodes as an ‘architect of apartheid’ – despite the fact that he died in 1902, while apartheid was imposed on South Africa in 1948. In fact, far from facilitating apartheid, Rhodes opposed the attempt to take away the vote from black men in Cape Colony.

‘My motto is equal rights for every civilised man south of the Zambezi,’ he wrote at the time. ‘What is a civilised man? A man, whether white or black, who has sufficient education to write his name, has some property, or works.’

The modern leftie demonstrators don’t want to hear this.

Nor do they want to be told that Rhodes was an early sponsor of Izwi Labantu, the newspaper of what became the African National Congress, the party of the late Nelson Mandela. Nor do they care that, when Rhodes endowed the scholarships that have brought thousands of Commonwealth and American students to Oxford, he specified that: ‘No student shall be qualified or disqualified for election to a scholarship on account of his race.’

Nor that, within five years, one of those coveted places had been won by a black American. Nor that, as Chris Patten, the Chancellor of Oxford University, reminds us, Africa currently supplies a fifth of all Rhodes Scholars.

They don’t want to hear these things because they are not interested in Rhodes as a human being. They want him to be a target: a symbol of racist oppression that allows them to flaunt their supposed indignation.

Of course Rhodes was no saint. Many of his mines stood on land that he had arguably tricked out of the Matabele king Lobengula who had not understood the implications of the contracts they signed. 

That misunderstanding led to a brutal war but let’s bear in mind that wars over land were pretty much the norm in Africa at that time. The Matabele themselves had only recently acquired those lands by waging a far more gruesome campaign against the Shona.

That is not to excuse anything, simply to point out the difficulty of applying retrospective morality. ‘The study of the past with one eye upon the present is the source of all sins and sophistries in history,’ wrote the historian Herbert Butterfield. ‘It is the essence of what we mean by the word ‘unhistorical.’

Winston Churchill was in southern Africa at roughly the same time as Rhodes. So was Gandhi. The first opposed Indian independence, while the second viewed black Africans as dirty and savage.

Should we tear down their statues, too? Of course not.

Rhodes stands in stone because, having made a lot of money early in life, he did not spend it on himself, but gave it away to what he saw as deserving causes – including Oxford University, which he had first attended in 1873. None of this becomes any less true because of a killing in Minnesota that everyone agrees was stupidly indefensible. 

One thing is clear to me though is that an institution that treats a benefactor like this – not in the light of new revelations but simply because of the self-righteousness of a juvenile and noisy pressure group – will struggle to persuade anyone else to donate to it – ever!

I have spent the past few days reading up on Cecil John Rhodes and contrary to what seems to be popular belief, he was one hell of a man- and one of only three people to have a country named after him. The other two were Christopher Columbus and Simon Bolivar.

While I wonder with some trepidation whether the Oriel College statue of Rhodes will come down, I am reminded of similar happenings in Rhodesia when my country became independent and known as Zimbabwe. Rhodes’ statues were pulled down in Harare and Bulawayo which proved to be a symbolic event that set the country on a sad course to self-destruction under tyrannical rule.

Is this what the British people want?

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