JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Nobel Peace Prize winner and South Africa's last apartheid President F.W. de Klerk criticized as "folly" a campaign to remove from Oxford University a statue of British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes.
"It is regrettable that the 'Rhodes Must Fall' folly has spread from South Africa to Oriel College," De Klerk wrote in a letter to the British newspaper The Times, published Dec. 26.
Oriel College at Oxford University is reviewing whether to leave the statue in place after receiving a petition from the Rhodes Must Fall movement, the college said in a statement earlier this month. Rhodes attended Oriel College, leaving 2 percent of his estate to the school on his death in 1902.
"We do not commemorate historic figures for their ability to measure up to current conceptions of political correctness, but because of their actual impact on history," wrote de Klerk. "Rhodes, for better or for worse, certainly had an impact on history."
Many Oxford alumni and other prominent historical figures like George Washington would not withstand the same political scrutiny today, he said.
"My people — the Afrikaners —have greater reason to dislike Rhodes than anyone else," de Klerk wrote, describing Rhodes as the architect of a colonial war.
A solution to Oriel College's struggle with Rhodes' legacy may be to return his donation, with interest, to the "victims of British imperialism in southern Africa," de Klerk said.
The Rhodes Must Fall movement began in South Africa at the University of Cape Town when students protested until a statue of Rhodes was removed in April.
Historians describe Rhodes as a segregationist who made a fortune in southern Africa. He is also remembered as a philanthropist, lending his name to the prestigious Rhodes scholarship.
Former Australian Prime Minister and Rhodes Scholar, Tony Abbot, also said the university should not bow to pressure by removing the statue.