The last white President of South Africa, Frederik W. de Klerk, has criticized a campaign calling for the removal of the statute of Cecil John Rhodes at Oxford University’s Oriel college.
In a Letter to The Times, he attacked the campaign calling it ‘folly’ and its student leaders as ‘full of sound and fury’.
He went on to say it was ‘regrettable’ that the Rhodes Must Fall campaign had spread from his country to Oriel College. The campaign launched in the UK has seen more than 2,300 people sign a petition calling for the removal of the statue.
It follows one that led to the withdrawal in April of another statue of Rhodes from the University of Cape Town in South Africa. There, students saw a symbol of oppression imposed by the white minority that dominated South Africa until 1994.
Rhodes (1853 – 1902), was a politician and mining baron often described as philanthropist, he was also a racist who saw to the colonial expansion of the British Empire in Southern Africa.
Rhodes who founded the De Beers, the diamond giant, is also the source of a scholarship that bears his name and allows students to attend school in Oxford.
Oriel College which decorates the controversial statue said last week that the colonizer’s views were in stark contrast to the current ethics of the scholarship program and the University of Oxford.They promised to consult on the issue and decide on the fate of the statute in six months.
De klerk, 79, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela in 1993 for helping to bring an end to the apartheid system said “we do not commemorate historical figures for their ability to meet current conceptions of politically correct but their true historical impact”.
“My people, the Afrikaners, have good reason to hate Rhodes more than anyone. He was the architect of the Boer War which had a disastrous impact on our people,” said Mr. De Klerk.
“Yet the government of the National Party never thought his name removed from our history,” he said in a reference to his former party.
In the statement to the BBC, the Rhodes Must Fall Oxford Movement (RMFO) said it considered it “despicable that someone who claims to be an ‘icon for reconciliation’ uses apartheid’s national party as a model for how to deal with colonial symbols”.
The Movement added that: “his comment that white Afrikaners ‘have greater reason to dislike Rhodes than anyone else’ embodies precisely the distortion and whitewashing of colonial history that we at RMFO are challenging”.
On its part, the party of South African populist leader Julius Malema said Sunday that “the defense of the statue of Rhodes by de Klerk demonstrated that he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize received jointly with Nelson Mandela because his views correspond to a man who does not repent of apartheid”.