11 June, 2020 13:55

UK confronts colonial past

Thousands of people have called for a statue of 19th century British imperialist Cecil Rhodes to be removed from an Oxford University college, as debate raged over the removal of other monuments to the nation's colonial past.

Protesters chanted "Take it down" and "Decolonise", and held placards urging "Rhodes Must Fall" and "Black Lives Matter" beneath the statue at Oriel College.

The "Rhodes Must Fall" movement, which began in South Africa, failed in a previous attempt to have the statue removed but has been revived by a wave of anti-racism protests.

Protesters sat with raised fists for nearly nine minutes in tribute to unarmed black man George Floyd, whose death in US police custody triggered outrage and condemnation worldwide.


Sylvanus Leigh, 44, said the limestone statue of the Victorian-era tycoon, who founded the De Beers diamond company in what is now Zimbabwe, represented "a colonial mindset". The care worker told AFP he could think of more deserving candidates for a statue. "Better to have Mother Teresa or Desmond Tutu," he said.

Local MP Layla Moran called Rhodes a "white supremacist who does not represent the values of Oxford in 2020".

The protest comes after activists toppled a statue to Edward Colton, a 17th century merchant who helped build the city of Bristol and played a leading role in slavery.

Years of local debate over what to do with the statue came to an end on Sunday when it was thrown in the harbour.

Campaigners in Wales are now demanding the removal of memorials to Napoleonic war hero Thomas Picton, who was accused of cruelty while serving as a governor in Trinidad.

In Scotland, activists have called for changes to the streets named after the 18th and 19th century tobacco and sugar traders who made their fortunes through slavery.

A central London statue of Winston Churchill was defaced, with protesters blaming his policies for the death of millions during famine in the Indian state of Bengal in 1943.

Late on Tuesday, an east London council said it had removed a statue of Robert Milligan, whose family owned sugar plantations in Jamaica, from the Docklands district and added it would "review" other monuments in the borough "to understand how we should represent the more troubling periods in our history".

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