It’s not a surprise that Oxford has had a tumultuous response to the Rhodes Must Fall campaign. The reaction, and the response itself, has been shameful. They have sought to placate their own nostalgia by defending their outdated mythology. This has been a knee jerk scramble. Rather than respond to the challenge of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, they have simply tried to defend their own mythology.
The Rhodes Must Fall movement is one of many protests that have taken place on South African university campuses. These protests have ranged from the simple removal of a statue to a more complex attempt to democratize the university. Many of these protests have been branded as anti-colonial, and conservative media have been highly critical. Despite the controversies surrounding these protests, some of the most powerful messages have come from the movements themselves. Specifically, the movement has succeeded in removing the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, which has become a symbol of continued racism in South Africa.
While the Rhodes Must Fall movement initially focused on the removal of the statue, it later expanded to encompass the entire campus and discriminatory environment of the University of Cape Town. However, the movement has always had an intersectional component. There were numerous student activists involved, who facilitated its development. Students from other South African universities also began to follow in its footsteps. For example, the movement has been successful at the University of Witwatersrand, and the University of Stellenbosch.
Although the Rhodes Must Fall movement is a prominent topic of discussion on university campuses across South Africa, there is little academic literature about these movements. In the face of this gap, a recent PhD dissertation by Safiya Ahmed provides an illuminating analysis of these protests. Her research draws on interview data and existing theory, and contributes to the limited body of literature on these movements.
The #RMF UCT movement was the linchpin of the larger movement. It included a number of key players, including the Black Radical Feminism Movement, the Patriarchy Must Fall, the Black Consciousness movement, and the Black Justice League. As part of the movement, a “Redress Rhodes” process was initiated, which aims to produce a more informed and nuanced understanding of the legacy of Cecil John Rhodes. Eventually, a transformation memo was drafted.
During the same period, another movement, whose name is less than clear, emerged. The Black Justice League called for the removal of the names of Woodrow Wilson from various buildings on campus. Similarly, the Black Consciousness movement adopted the name Azania House as a symbol for South Africa.
One of the earliest and most important contributions of the RMF to the university was the creation of the Transformation Memorandum. The memo outlined a range of recommendations, such as the use of decolonisation techniques, the sourcing of outsourced university workers, and the removal of offensive artworks on campus. Some of the other major innovations of the movement include the development of the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ hashtag and the creation of a ‘RUReference List’.