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Cecil Rhodes

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The Right Honourable
Cecil Rhodes
Cecil Rhodes ww.jpg
Rhodes, c. 1900
7th Prime Minister of the Cape Colony
In office
17 July 1890 – 12 January 1896
Monarch Queen Victoria
Governor Henry Loch
Sir William Gordon Cameron
Hercules Robinson
Preceded by John Gordon Sprigg
Succeeded by John Gordon Sprigg
Personal details
Born Cecil John Rhodes
(1853-07-05)5 July 1853
Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, England
Died 26 March 1902(1902-03-26) (aged 48)
Muizenberg, Cape Colony
(now South Africa)
Resting place World's View,
Matopos Hills, Southern Rhodesia
(now Zimbabwe)
Nationality British
Relations Reverend Francis William Rhodes (Father)
Louisa Peacock Rhodes (Mother)
Francis William Rhodes (Brother)
Alma mater Oriel College, Oxford
Occupation Businessman
Politician

Cecil John Rhodes PC (5 July 1853 – 26 March 1902)[1] was a British businessman, mining magnate and politician in South Africa, who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896. An ardent believer in British imperialism, Rhodes and his British South Africa Company founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia), which the company named after him in 1895. South Africa's Rhodes University is also named after him. Rhodes set up the provisions of the Rhodes Scholarship, which is funded by his estate, and put much effort towards his vision of a Cape to Cairo Railway through British territory.

The son of a vicar, Rhodes grew up in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, and was a sickly child. He was sent to South Africa by his family when he was 17 years old in the hope that the climate might improve his health. He entered the diamond trade at Kimberley in 1871, when he was 18, and over the next two decades gained near-complete domination of the world diamond market. His De Beers diamond company, formed in 1888, retains its prominence into the 21st century. Rhodes entered the Сape Parliament in 1880, and a decade later became Prime Minister. After overseeing the formation of Rhodesia during the early 1890s, he was forced to resign as Prime Minister in 1896 after the disastrous Jameson Raid, an unauthorised attack on Paul Kruger's South African Republic (or Transvaal). After Rhodes's death in 1902, at the age of 48, he was buried in the Matopos Hills in what is now Zimbabwe. At the time of his death he was already a very controversial figure.[2]

One of Rhodes's primary motivators in politics and business was his professed belief that the English-speaking peoples were destined to greatness as, to quote his will, "the first race in the world".[3] Under the reasoning that "the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race",[3] he advocated vigorous settler colonialism and ultimately a reformation of the British Empire so that each component would be self-governing and represented in a single parliament in London. Ambitions such as these, juxtaposed with his policies regarding indigenous Africans in the Cape Colony—describing the country's black population as largely "in a state of barbarism", he advocated their governance as a "subject race" and was at the centre of moves to marginalise them politically—have led recent critics to characterise him as a white supremacist and "an architect of apartheid."[4]

Historian Richard A. McFarlane has called Rhodes "as integral a participant in southern African and British imperial history as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln are in their respective eras in United States history. Most histories of South Africa covering the last decades of the nineteenth century are contributions to the historiography of Cecil Rhodes." According to McFarlane, the aforementioned historiography "may be divided into two broad categories: chauvinistic approval or utter vilification".[5] Paul Maylam identifies three perspectives: works that attempt to either venerate or debunk Rhodes, and "the intermediate view, according to which Rhodes is not straightforwardly assessed as either hero or villain".[6]

Childhood

England

Rhodes as a boy
Rhodes' birthplace, now part of Bishop's Stortford Museum; the bedroom in which he was born is marked by a plaque

Rhodes was born in 1853 in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, England. He was the fifth son of the Reverend Francis William Rhodes and his wife Louisa Peacock Rhodes. His father was a Church of England clergyman who was proud of never having preached a sermon longer than 10 minutes. His siblings included Francis William Rhodes, who became an army officer.

Rhodes attended the Bishop's Stortford Grammar School from the age of nine, but, as a sickly, asthmatic adolescent, he was taken out of grammar school in 1869 and, according to Basil Williams,[7] "continued his studies under his father's eye (...) His health was weak and there were even fears that he might be consumptive, a disease of which several of the family showed symptoms. His father therefore determined to send him abroad to try the effect of a sea voyage and a better climate. Herbert [Cecil's brother] had already set up as a planter in Natal, South Africa, so Cecil was despatched on a sailing vessel to join Herbert in Natal. The voyage to Durban took him seventy days, and on 1 September 1870 he first set foot on African soil, a tall, lanky, anaemic, fair-haired boy, shy and reserved in bearing." His family's hope was that the climate would improve his health. They expected he would help his older brother Herbert[lower-alpha 1] who operated a cotton farm.[8]

Expanding the British Empire

Rhodesia

Rhodes and the Ndebele izinDuna make peace in the Matopos Hills, as depicted by Robert Baden-Powell, 1896

The BSAC had its own police force, the British South Africa Police, which was used to control Matabeleland and Mashonaland, in present-day Zimbabwe. The company had hoped to start a "new Rand" from the ancient gold mines of the Shona. Because the gold deposits were on a much smaller scale, many of the white settlers who accompanied the BSAC to Mashonaland became farmers rather than miners. When the Ndebele and the Shona—the two main, but rival, peoples—separately rebelled against the coming of the European settlers, the BSAC defeated them in the First Matabele War and Second Matabele War. Shortly after learning of the assassination of the Ndebele spiritual leader, Mlimo, by the American scout Frederick Russell Burnham, Rhodes walked unarmed into the Ndebele stronghold in Matobo Hills.[9] He persuaded the Impi to lay down their arms, thus ending the Second Matabele War.[10]

By the end of 1894, the territories over which the BSAC had concessions or treaties, collectively called "Zambesia" after the Zambezi River flowing through the middle, comprised an area of 1,143,000 km² between the Limpopo River and Lake Tanganyika. In May 1895, its name was officially changed to "Rhodesia", reflecting Rhodes' popularity among settlers who had been using the name informally since 1891. The designation Southern Rhodesia was officially adopted in 1898 for the part south of the Zambezi, which later became Zimbabwe; and the designations North-Western and North-Eastern Rhodesia were used from 1895 for the territory which later became Northern Rhodesia, then Zambia.[11][12]

Rhodes decreed in his will that he was to be buried in Matobo Hills. After his death in the Cape in 1902, his body was transported by train to Bulawayo. His burial was attended by Ndebele chiefs, who asked that the firing party should not discharge their rifles as this would disturb the spirits. Then, for the first time, they gave a white man the Matabele royal salute, Bayete. Rhodes is buried alongside Leander Starr Jameson and 34 British soldiers killed in the Shangani Patrol.[13] Despite occasional efforts to return his body to the United Kingdom, his grave remains there still, "part and parcel of the history of Zimbabwe" and attracts thousands of visitors each year.[14]

"Cape to Cairo Red Line"

Map showing almost complete British control of the Cape to Cairo route, 1914
  British control

One of Rhodes' dreams (and the dream of many other members of the British Empire) was for a "red line" on the map from the Cape to Cairo (on geo-political maps, British dominions were always denoted in red or pink). Rhodes had been instrumental in securing southern African states for the Empire. He and others felt the best way to "unify the possessions, facilitate governance, enable the military to move quickly to hot spots or conduct war, help settlement, and foster trade" would be to build the "Cape to Cairo Railway".

This enterprise was not without its problems. France had a rival strategy in the late 1890s to link its colonies from west to east across the continent and the Portuguese produced the "Pink Map", representing their claims to sovereignty in Africa. Ultimately, Belgium and Germany proved to be the main obstacles to the British dream until the United Kingdom seized Tanganyika from the Germans as a League of Nations mandate.

Notes

  1. This is not the same person as the cricketer Herbert Rhodes

References

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