Ntokozo Qwabe, a leading participant in the Rhodes Must Fall Oxford campaign, has been criticised following greater public awareness that he is a recipient of a Rhodes scholarship. Attacks came in the form of online comments, while a newspaper column by Mary Beard and comments in a televised interview with Channel Four also appeared to criticise Mr Qwabe.
Following widespread coverage of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign in Oxford, Mr Qwabe has been attacked on his Facebook page, with one comment condemning his actions as “disgraceful hypocrisy”, whilst another called for Qwabe to “Give back your scholarship and remove the chip off your shoulder.”
The online criticism spread well beyond Oxford University students, with one outburst stating, “Your hypocrisy is breath-taking. It would appear that you weren’t too principled when offered a Rhodes scholarship. If you object so much to this nation’s lack of political correctness, the answer is in your hands. I wasn’t lucky enough to go to university and I take your narrow minded attitude as a slap in the face to the freedoms we fought world wars to keep.”
Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Professor Beard also appeared to question Qwabe’s consistency. In her opinion piece, the Cambridge Classics Professor wrote, “I really don’t think that you can have your cake and eat it here: I mean you can’t whitewash Rhodes out of history, but go on using his cash.”
She added, “It’s won by empowering those students to look up at Rhodes and friends with a cheery and self-confident sense of unbatterability – much as I find myself looking up at the statues of all those hundreds of men in history who would vehemently have objected to women having the vote, let alone the kind of job I have.”
In a Channel Four interview on Monday evening, Mr Qwabe discussed the Rhodes Must Fall project and his own scholarship with Sophia Cannon, a regular contributor on national television for social and political matters. During the course of the programme, Mr Qwabe was told by Ms Cannon, “You are the colonial project”, in reference to his acceptance of a Rhodes scholarship. Mr Qwabe later stated that “she muted me in many ways with her tragic colonial apologism”.
Mr Qwabe has rejected the charges of inconsistency against him, asserting, “Rhodes did not have a scholarship. It was never his money. All that he looted must absolutely be returned immediately. I’m no beneficiary of Rhodes. I’m a beneficiary of the resources and labour of my people which Rhodes pillaged and slaved.”
Mr Qwabe has also supported by many within the Rhodes Must Fall campaign. One supporter, Brian Kwoba, recently stated, “I condemn the charges of “hypocrisy” and other similar attacks on RMF member Ntokozo Qwabe. The selection process to be a Rhodes scholar is rigorous. Scholars who are selected are encouraged to be world leaders and promote positive social change. If they decide to do this on uncomfortable issues like Rhodes’ legacy, that is their choice. No scholar should be silenced or forced to pledge allegiance to one of history’s most notorious colonialists. …Rhodes remains a despicable man, whose actions have had a lasting adverse impact in the lands he plundered.”
The Rhodes Must Fall movement aims to ‘decolonise’ the university, arguing that the Cecil Rhodes statue in Oriel College, alongside other monuments to Rhodes, undermine the “inclusive culture” of the university. In Mr Qwabe’s own words, “The focus of our project is dismantling the open glorification of colonial genocide in educational & other public spaces – which makes it easy for British people to believe that these genocides were ‘not that bad’ – and props up the continuing structural legacies of British colonialism, neocolonialism, and ongoing imperialism.” The campaign has made significant breakthrough in recent weeks, as Oriel College agreed to remove a plaque honouring Rhodes and has started a consultation with the university community to consider whether the statue should be removed.
Rhodes House are yet to comment.