Australia is a long way away but what I’d picked up about their former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott (in charge from 2013-2015) didn’t fill me with deep-seated admiration. However, I have to admit that I’m not disagreeing with his recent contribution to the debate about what should happen to the statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College in Oxford.
There have been calls for the statue to be pulled down because Rhodes was an imperialist and an architect of the apartheid system that blighted life in southern parts of Africa for decades. However, if we are going to expunge Rhodes from our history because some of his views are now regarded as repugnant, how far does that logic carry us? Personally, I think we could do with writing Henry VIII, glutton and sociopath, out of history although, once you start on that line you will end up having to use a significant amount of whitewash on the royal family tree!
I can understand why idols of deposed dictators get pulled down and destroyed but that is a reaction in the heat of the moment. Surely Cecil Rhodes lived too long ago to justify the white heat of iconoclasm? Better instead to change the way we frame him? Here is a statue of a man, once vaunted and now pilloried, who reminds us that history won’t necessarily judge us by our lights and that it is all to easy for us humans to entwine philanthropy and oppression.