But another reason one might think this movement has a longer history is the nature of its ambitions beyond the removal of these statues, though it is the issue of the statues, and allegations that the students involved wish to rewrite history to suit their sensitivities, that have attracted controversy, particularly in the British media. These larger ambitions of the movement – that is, to bring out into the open institutional racism in university life in South Africa and Britain, and to decolonise education – speak to concerns that many have had for a while. These concerns, by now, have a long itinerary, but they have been awaiting a forum for articulation.
Most of the controversy generated by the movement has revolved around the figure of Cecil Rhodes – but Rhodes himself is not really central to its aims. What is at issue is an ethos that gives space and even preeminence to such a figure, and hesitates to interrogate Rhodes’s legacy. That legacy does not merely include Rhodes’s financial bequests and their educational offshoots, like the Rhodes scholarships, but the vision embodied in his will, which called for: