‘Crossing historical divides’
30 December 2015 at 10:58am
By: Emeritus Professor Tim Crowe
Cecil John Rhodes was the sickly, poorly educated and otherwise unremarkable son of an English parson of meagre means.
He knew from an early age that he was doomed to a short life, dying at 48.
Relatively late in life, he supplemented his poor school education by attending Oxford University.
Like many contemporary Victorian English academics, politicians, men of the cloth, soldiers, scholars and capitalists, he became convinced that expanding the British Empire (including the recovery of the US) was his global mission, no matter the price: the English “are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race”.
He even advocated forming a secret society to further that mission.
His ultimate goal for the Empire was transforming the colonies into a federation of states under local rule.
To that end, despite his view that my ancestors, the Irish, were a “low class” race, he supported their cause for Home Rule because it fit his grand plan.
He came to South Africa in 1870 (at age 17) hoping that the climate might be kinder to his health, living initially off a loan from his aunt.
After a failed farming venture in Natal, he moved to Kimberley to become involved in the diamond mining boom.
Over the next 30 years: he amassed one of the world’s great fortunes; engineered (with the support of the British government) the conquest of millions of square kilometres of the continent (creating two colonies that bore his name); precipitated war to undermine the independence of the Afrikaners (leading to the creation of the Union of South Africa); and laid the political/legal foundations of the apartheid regime. Africa, he believed, was “devoted to barbarism”.
So, “it is our duty to take it”. In his endeavours, he was steadfastly assisted first by his beloved private secretary (and sole beneficiary in one of his early wills) Neville Pickering (who died in his arms), and then by his lifelong friend Dr (Sir) Leander Starr Jameson, who acted as one of Rhodes’s executors.
Rhodes was a megalomaniac, imperialist, voracious capitalist/ monopolist, unscrupulous politician/newspaper publisher, misogynist (homosexual?), white supremacist.
Despite his interest in their languages/cultures, he described black Africans as “despicable specimens of human beings”, nothing more than “extra employment”. In his own words: “I prefer land to n*****s.”
No wonder Hitler des-cribed him as “the only Englishman who truly understood Anglo- Saxon ideals and destiny”.
Rhodes bribed, outmanoeuvred or, if necessary, crushed anyone who opposed him. For his various nefarious nature and acts, he is generally hated by Afrikaners and, especially, by black Africans. In stark contrast to his behaviour in life, when he died in 1902, he bequeathed his estate to benefit the world.
His home, Groote Schuur, became the official residence for the premier of the Cape Colony (and later for prime ministers and presidents of South Africa).
Other of his properties were designated to become Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens and UCT.
Thus, he delivered on his famous quote: “Pure philanthropy is very well in its way but philanthropy plus 5 percent is a good deal better.”
But his arguably most significantly positive act was to leave $10 million to create an educational trust.
However, rather than to foster the development of a society of like-minded white supremacist, Anglophile capitalists, he founded the Rhodes Scholarships Trust to support the first international education fellowships in the world.
Every year, 89 Rhodes Scholars from 32 countries are supported.
The Rhodes Scholarships’ aim is to educate international young leaders (who are committed to public service) at his beloved Oxford University.
According to his express wishes, successful applicants must exhibit anti-Rhodesean “qualities of truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for the protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship”.
More specifically, Rhodes Scholars were to strive at “promoting cross-cultural understanding and peace between nations”.
By bringing a culturally diverse group of young people to undergo a common educational experience, he envisioned that these future leaders of the world would “prevent war and promote the best interests of humanity”.
Even more surprisingly, he specified that the scholarships be awarded without regard to race or religion.
This is undeniably a deliverable on his most uncharacteristic quotation: “I could never accept the position that we should disqualify a human being on account of his colour.”
Finally, he instructed his trustees to adapt his plans for the scholarships to “respond effectively to changing circumstances”.
To date, there have been 7 688 Rhodes Scholars representing a broad spectrum of human “race”, gender and sexual orientation.
Some of the most noteworthy Scholars are:
– Alain L Locke (1907): First black scholar – gay writer, philosopher, educator – “Dean” of the Harlem Renaissance.
– Jan H Hofmeyr (1910): South African educationalist and liberal politician who anticipated an end to racial discrimination.
– Edwin Hubble (1910): Astronomer of Hubble Telescope.
– Norman W Manley (1914): First Premier of Jamaica, one of Jamaica’s seven National Heroes.
– John Marshall Harlan (1920): US Supreme Court Justice.
– Howard Walter Florey (1921): Nobel Prize winner in physiology for discovering penicillin.
– John Carew Eccles (1925) 1963: Nobel Prize winner in neurophysiology.
– William Fulbright (1925): US senator and originator of the Fulbright Fellowship programme. To date, more than 325 000 individuals from 155 countries have received Fulbright Grants, including winners of 53 Nobel Prizes.
– Carl Albert (1931): Speaker of US House of Representatives.
– Dean Rusk (1931): US Secretary of State.
– Bram Fischer (1931): Anti-apartheid activist and lawyer.
– Jack de Wet (1935): Theoretical physicist, greatest of the University of Cape Town’s Deans of Science.
– Sir Richard Luyt (1935): Soldier, statesman, vice-chancellor – University of Cape Town.
– Byron White (1938): US Supreme Court Justice.
– William Jay Smith (1947): US poet laureate.
– Bob Hawke (1953): Prime Minister of Australia.
– Kris Kristofferson (1958): US singer, songwriter, actor.
– David Woods (1963): Vice-chancellor Rhodes University.
– Wasim Sajjad (1964): President of Pakistan.
– Bill Bradley (1965): Hall of Fame basketball star, US Senator and presidential General.
– Wesley Clark (1966): Commander of Nato forces.
– Bill Clinton (1968): 42nd President of the US.
– Edwin Cameron (1976) South African Supreme Court Justice, gay rights and HIV and Aids activist.
– Max Price (1980): Vice-chancellor, University of Cape Town – his daughter is a current Rhodes Scholar.
– David Kirk (1985): All Black rugby captain.
– Naomi Wolf (1985): Author of the international best-seller The Beauty Myth.
– Neel Mukherjee (1992): Booker Award nominee.
– Maxine Williams (1992): Global Head of Biodiversity Network Silicon Valley.
– Siddhartha Mukherjee (1993): 2011 Pulitzer Prize Winner non-fiction.
– Rachel Maddow (1995): Lesbian American television host, political commentator.
– Annette Salmeen (1997): American gold medallist 1996 Olympic Games.
– Roxanne Joyal (2001) and Marc Kielburger (2000): Founded the Free the Children International Charity.
– Eusebius McKaiser (2003): South African public intellectual.
– Cheikh M’bengue (2006): Caribbean studies expert.
– Yusuf Randera-Rees (2007): Founded Awethu Project in South Africa – aims to incubate 500 entrepreneurs from under-resourced backgrounds.
– Kingwa Kamencu (2009): Presidental candidate, Kenya.
In 2003, to promote non-racial leadership development for Africa, the Rhodes Trust joined in the creation of The Mandela Rhodes Foundation.
It provides scholarships for African students, chosen on criteria very similar to those for the Rhodes Scholarships, to undertake postgraduate study in South Africa. According to Nelson Mandela: “We see The Mandela Rhodes Foundation as a significant initiative within that broader framework of South Africans taking responsibility for the transformation of their society, so grievously skewed by a history of colonialism and apartheid.
“We shall once more take hands across historical divides that others may deem unbridgeable.” In the end, had there been no Rhodes, one thing is certain, today’s world would be profoundly different.
* Crowe served as an academic in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town for 40 years, retiring in 2013, and elected as a Lifetime Fellow at UCT
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.