A Letter to Oxford University

With controversy continuing around the planned removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College I thought it pertinent and enlightening to publish the recent submission to the Independent Commission by Dr. Duncan Clarke, author of ‘Rhodes’ Ghost‘.


Testimony: For Independent Commission of Inquiry 

Rhodes’ Statue: Oriel College, Oxford University


 Dr Duncan Clarke

For the Commission’s background, I write as one born in Salisbury, Rhodesia, 1948, as a third-generation Rhodesian, and one from a family that had two Rhodes Scholars: my uncle, Francis Joseph Clarke, and cousin Michael McGarry. Both are now deceased, and I am sure would both endorse the views that I offer.

It was my good fortune in the early 1970s to meet and make the personal acquaintance of Miss Georgia Rhodes, Cecil Rhodes’ last surviving niece, in both Salisbury then (now Harare), and later, staying with her once in London and at Hildersham Hall, Cambridge. I feel entirely confident, following long discussions with her, that Miss Rhodes’ views would accord with mine.

I have several close friends, too, scholars, who were elected beneficiaries of the Rhodes Scholar endowment, and who studied under its auspices at Oxford. In all cases, their views would fully align with mine. One has already made a Submission; another is intent to do the same. One has passed away, but I know that he would share this perspective.

Equally, I have done exhaustive research on Cecil Rhodes, published in July 2020 in Rhodes’ Ghost: The Conquest of Zambesia, available on Amazon in UK. I sent this book earlier to the Chair of the Commission, Carole Souter, Master of St Cross College, Oxford, as a gesture to provide more detailed insight into the life of Rhodes, for her interest and hopefully for the Commission. While it would be my desire that the content would be taken into account in the final deliberations of the Commission – as it traces the truth of Rhodes’ record – that is a matter solely for the Commission.

For the record, I went to Rhodes University, 1965-69, and read for the Ph.D (Economics) at University of St Andrews, 1975, having taught Economics at the University College of Rhodesia 1970-74. In my research and writings, now for over fifty years, with numerous books published on Rhodesia / Zimbabwe, one for the International Labour Office, Geneva, I have been intimately engaged in the economics and historiography of the country, from its earliest times prior to and after its inception, and so I am well informed on the legacies Rhodes left in that country, quite apart from the Rhodes Scholar endowments.


My intent here is to be brief, as a full account of Rhodes’ achievements may be found in Rhodes’ Ghost, along with a voluminous set of references and citations in an extensive Bibliography and Historiography.

It is my contention that Rhodes should be rightly honoured, both now and in future, and the Statue retained in-place at Oriel College as a gesture to this end.

The following points should be kept uppermost in the Commission’s review:

  • Rhodes’ endowment of Rhodes Scholars has to date generated enormous benefit to worldwide society, in Africa and elsewhere, with over 8,000 or so beneficiaries during a period of nearly 120 years. No other world figure or endowment matches this illustrious record. To remove Rhodes’ Statue would be to negate that noble achievement, and permanently devalue the worth of Oxford University and Oriel College.


  • It is a matter of history and record that Rhodes’ foundation of Rhodesia and its aftermath permanently halted predation and slavery in Zambesia, coming then from fifty-three years of Ndebele tutelage over weak and disparate Shona clans; and from the Portuguese prazeros – feudal-styled slavers – based in Portuguese East Africa at that time. These entities had been involved for decades in the slaughter of innocents, the abduction of thousands of women and children, and the impressing of many diverse ethnicities into Ndebele impis or slave-controlled militias.


  • Rhodes’ direct acts at indabas with the Ndebele indunas or chiefs founded lasting peace, after conflicts in 1896-97, to allow for the first modern state to be established in the heart of central Africa, one that lasted 90 years.


  • Rhodes’ efforts enabled the epochal shift from antiquarian, quasi-feudal economic regimes to modernity and prosperity in Rhodesia, that later allowed for the ‘jewel of Africa’, so depicted in 1980, to be inherited by Zimbabwe. This followed both rising demography and real income/capita growth for all – both in the Rhodesian era, 1890-1980, and for Zimbabwe’s inheritance at its outset of Independence.


  • Oxford, and especially Oriel College, should protect this valued heritage and status, both for its own benefit and wider social interest. It should not be persuaded to take the Statue down, or relocate it, to satisfy a minority of a tiny minority, whether ‘crowds’ assembled and/or so ‘organised’ for such purpose, or a small minority of few only-recent ‘dissident’ Rhodes Scholars so inclined. Neither ‘speak’ for any majority or with any verity.


  • If a consensus is to be sought and found amid ‘living Rhodes Scholars’, Oriel’s famed alma mater, then the Commission should in fairness poll all existing Rhodes Scholars worldwide, to ascertain their views on retaining the Statute. I believe that this poll would yield an overwhelming intent for the Statue to remain in-place. It is in the power of the Commission to do so. To not engage in such a course would, in my view, leave Oriel and the Commission open to having conducted an imperfect process before any reasoned and reasonable adjudication.


  • It should be noted that many thousands of Rhodesians, and since 1980 many thousands of Zimbabweans, have been the beneficiaries of Rhodes University, an institution founded in Rhodes’ name, and endowed from funds so provided. That institution went through an exhaustive review of its name a few years ago, and found that any name change thereto would be wanting, and so ill-advised. If Rhodes University in South Africa can act with such honour, so should Oriel College and Oxford University – both highly esteemed, at least for now.


  • While Oriel College and/or Oxford University might be inclined to diminish its valued heritage – by removal of the Statue – and so disrespect Rhodes and his legacies in such a manner, including the benefits it has to date been accorded, in my view this would not be seen in in concord with the views of the vast majority of scholars who have been to Oxford University, even to Oriel College, or those worldwide who have long held Rhodes in high esteem: among them hundreds of thousands of Rhodesians, across the world, and including those now living at home as Zimbabweans.


  • In the light of many destructive initiatives taken elsewhere to remove old statues, Oriel College and Oxford should uphold the tenets of its history and stand against all minority forces – student, lobbies, social or political – that wish to airbrush historical reality, enforce an ‘anti-history’ ethic, and regrettably apply an anti-intellectual mode to thought or action. It is for the evident benefit of current and future generations that such temporal whirlwinds, lacking substance, be resisted, and Oriel College stand firm.


  • Reminders from old and more modern history should be noted, for the consideration of the Commission – the views of the Ndebele, and the ideas and intent of Nelson Mandela. They link the past to the present.


  • On the former: Rhodes was the only man – apart from the Ndebele king, Mzilikazi – to be given the ‘royal salute’, Bayete, at burial in the Matopos Hills in April 1902. Over three thousand Ndebele warriors with their indunas or chiefs called him Nkosi or chief in 1902, after he had negotiated lasting peace following war and rebellion in 1896-97.


  • On the latter: Nelson Mandela created the Mandela-Rhodes Foundation in an association and twinning with Rhodes’ heritage, in Cape Town on 1 February 2003, when Mandela said: “We are meeting here with the memories, if not the ghost of … Cecil Rhodes tangibly present … it is reassuring … to know that after all these centuries there are moments and occasions when men like … Rhodes are remembered for posterity”.


In sum, it is my view and those of many others, both distinguished and humble, that Oriel College and Oxford University should uphold their inheritance and rights, as done in the past, with historic obligations to its benefactors, and for the future, to retain Rhodes’ Statue in-place.


Oriel College should not fudge this matter, or elect to ‘display’ the Statue in any appointed ‘museum’, or elsewhere. That would rightly be regarded as supine, dishonourable, even as an act of cowardice in the face of minority pressures.


Dr Duncan Clarke

Brancaster, Norfolk






15th September, 2020

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