Rhodes Must Fall? A Question of When Not If

Then, in January this year, the college suddenly announced that the statue would stay – reportedly in response to wealthy alumni threatening to withdraw bequests worth up to £100 million.

.. Statues are not history in the sense of having significant pedagogical value. They are political symbols, which drift in or out of favour along with political and aesthetic tastes. The protesters who hauled down Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad in 2003 did not deny or diminish the history of Iraq. They remembered Saddam’s legacy; for that reason, they rejected his glorification. Many in the West cheered when rebels in Hungary tore down Stalin’s statue in 1956 and when those in Ukraine knocked over several of Lenin in 2013-14. The history of the Soviet Union and its satellites may still be told and freely debated regardless of the loss of these monuments.

.. A campaign now aims to restore Volgograd’s former name, Stalingrad, changed by Khrushchev in 1961 as part of his de-Stalinisation programme. New statues of Stalin went up last year in several Russian towns.

.. In much of the criticism of Rhodes Must Fall, the question echoes: where will it stop? Who will be next? Cromwell, Clive, even Churchill? The answer is that it will not stop. Future generations can and will interrogate the past. Whatever happens to Rhodes’ statue, it is a sign of healthy public engagement with history that there is such a vigorous debate. Monuments to historical figures and regimes stand not by divine right, but by the grace of those who live alongside them. No vision of the past can be set permanently in stone.