(The UWI Regional Headquarters Jamaica) On October 30, 2017, The Finance and General Purposes Committee (F&GPC) of The University of the West Indies (The UWI)—a body comprising all stakeholders, from governments to graduates—accepted a unanimous recommendation from the University’s Senior Executive Management, that its Milner Hall of Residence at the St Augustine Campus in Trinidad and Tobago, after 90 years of existence, should receive a name change, in accordance with the recommendations of the report by Pro Vice-Chancellor, Alan Cobley on this matter.
While recognising that the gravity of the matter is one that transcends the St Augustine Campus and threatens the reputation of The UWI as a whole, the F&GPC has asked that the management and student leadership of the St Augustine Campus complete its internal consultations with a view to proposing an alternate name for the Hall by mid-December 2017.
The decision came after three months of internal discussion, some of it divisive and at times emotionally charged. Pro Vice-Chancellor Alan Cobley, a Professor of South African History, was asked by Vice-Chancellor, Sir Hilary Beckles—himself an historian, and a UNESCO editor of the General History of Africa—to investigate the life and times of Lord Alfred Milner and to make recommendations with respect to Milner’s fitness to be celebrated as an icon within the 70 year old UWI. Milner was a British Colonial Governor in South Africa at the turn of the 20th century.
The Cobley Report sets out, among other things: Lord Milner’s political identity as a self-proclaimed “British race supremacist”; his role as a formulator of British racial theory in which he described Africans as “savages”; the part he played as a founder of the criminal system of racial apartheid which was institutionalised in South Africa in 1948; the principal part he played as an architect of brutal Indian indentured servitude in the colony; his role as a proponent of military colonialism in Africa and Asia as the God given right of the English; and his function as an aggressive imperialist who is known for his part in the crimes against humanity committed in Africa.
The hall of residence took the name of Milner in 1927 when he contributed to the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture established in Trinidad, to train white colonialists, with a view to creating a pool of frontier farmers to settle on lands in the Empire taken from natives. Milner saw this strategy as necessary to secure the long term future of British rule in Africa, Asia and Australia.
Milner’s active political hostility to the human and civil rights of Africans, Asians, and devastated indigenous people, propelled his anger towards the early Pan-Africanists such as Sylvester Williams and Marcus Garvey, as well as Indian nationalists such as Mahatma Gandhi. He was a vehement opposer of Independence movements and saw nationalists as criminal and dangerous subverters of empire.
Milner’s role as a foundation thinker of apartheid has gone largely undetected for decades in the Caribbean. The global movement to highlight his political crimes in Africa is now connecting to The UWI’s effort to clean-up its internal colonial legacies as an independent University.
Sir Hilary acknowledged that while he wasn’t aware until two years ago while lecturing at the University of Johannesburg that the Milner who committed the crimes against humanity in South Africa in service of the British Empire was the same person whose identity is emblazoned on The UWI St Augustine Campus.
The discovery of this truth has invited The UWI to reaffirm its commitment to the principle of justice for all regardless of race, colour or religion, and to turn its back on all forms of racial discriminatory practices.