Cecil John Rhodes

In 1870 a pale, sickly youth of 17 landed in Durban, weary after the sea voyage from England but with a strength of spirit that was to change the face of Africa. The youth was Cecil Rhodes.

He was born on 5 July 1853, the fifth son of an Anglican clergyman who lived in Bishop’s Stonford.

Cecil developed tuberculosis and immigrated to South Africa in the hope of building up his health on a cotton farm run by his brother, Herbert, in Natal.

A year after Cecil’s arrival came the diamond rush to Griqualand West. The Rhodes brothers abandoned their farm and joined the human maelstrom of the rush.

They established three claims and soon prospered, but tragedy was to follow. Herbert was burned to death on a camping trip.

In 1880, Cecil formed the De Beers Mining Company. In a struggle for supremacy against his great rival, Barney Barnato, the frail Cecil emerged as the victor in 1888. By now he was able to buy out his competitor with a cheque for £5 338 650.

Meanwhile, he had found time to study at Oxford. He was awarded his B.A. degree in 1881. He had also had to surmount a health crisis, his heart and lungs being badly weakened. Nevertheless, in 1887 he had expanded his empire by forming the gigantic Gold Fields of South Africa Company. By 1893 his British South Africa Company was a major force in Rhodesia’s economy.

Rhodes’s influence and energy as a parliamentarian was equally marked. In 1881, he became Member of Parliament for Barkly West, and Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in 1890.

Rhodes dreamed of a South Mrican federation within the British Empire of the then four states (the Cape, Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal). In an attempt to overthrow President Paul Kruger and gain supreme po”wer, Rhodes supponed the ill-fated Jameson Raid from Rhodesia into the Transvaal. The raiders, led by Sir Leander Starr Jameson, were routed.

Rhodes was forced to resign the premiership in 1896. In the same year he had to cope with a rebellion of the Matabele tribes in Rhodesia, but he continued his innumerable activities, building the railway across the Zambezi at Victoria Falls, launching the Rhodes Fruit Farms in the western Cape and drawing up a will which ploughed back into Southern Mrica the seeds of futUre prosperity.

Rhodes died in his holiday cottage in Muizenberg on 26 March 1902. His body was taken by train to Rhodesia and buried in a grave he had chosen on top of a granite dome in the Matopos Hills.

Cecil John Rhodes Statue – Company Gardens 1910. Higher up from the Sir George Grey statue, is a statue by Henry Pegram A.R.A. of Cecil John Rhodes. The left hand of Rhodes is outstretched to the North and an inscription on the Pedestal of Table Mountain sandstone reads, “Your hinterland is there”.

From: ‘The South Africans’ By Sarah Gertrude Millin – 1926

In this same year in which the Transvaal went to war, Rhodes formed the De Beers company. He was then was then twenty-seven.

Seven years later he acquired all the holdings in the De Beers mine, and founded the Goldfields of South Africa. And, in 1888 and 1889, his companies, the Imperial British East Africa Company and the British South Africa Company, were granted their charters.

Rhodes might now consider himself the dictator of South Africa.

In the course of centuries there arises, now and then a man who is accounted great because he has that within him which makes him conceive life on the grand scale. Greatness is, after all a matter as much of capacity as of performance. An artist is not made great only by a picture he has chanced to paint or a book he has chanced to write. He is a great artist or not in so I far as his work is the expression of that which is himself.

There are people who have executed one splendid work, and there they ended. They could do no more. The greatness was out of them. Is a coward who performs one courageous deed a courageous man ? Greatness, like courage, is an inherent quality. The people of solitary distinction are merely lucky people.

They have struck treasure. They are not themselves compounded of treasure, so that whatever is dug out of them, although it may be combined with dross, has value. On the Vaal River Diggings, one may stumble on a pocket of diamonds. Al1 the surrounding ground is barren, and there, in a sudden hole, one comes upon a nest-diamond after diamond-as in a dream. And as suddenly as it began it ends.

There is no more of it. It is not a Kimberley Mine or a De Beers Mine in which one can go on delving inexhaustibly for a century. It is not a mine at all.

One calls it a pocket.

Rhodes, with not less vice in him than virtue, was a big man. That was his quality. His aspirations, his desires, his schemes, his appetites, his admirations, his successes, and his failures were all big.

1 want the big and simple, barbaric if you like”, he said, when he was getting himself a home, and he would have about him no little fragile objects, however rare and beautiful they might be. He surrounded his house with fifteen hundred acres of ground, and bought part of a mountain for a background. He filled a vale with hydrangeas. When he wanted to think he sat on a ledge in his grounds from which he could see both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The writer he admired was Gibbon. He liked to imagine that he resembled, in feature, the Emperor Titus.

His ambition was bounded only by the limits of the earth : “The extension of British rule throughout the world,” he wrote in the will he made at the age of twenty-four. And he, Rhodes, was the man to inaugurate that extension.

When he was concerned with diamonds, he amalgamated all the diamond companies. When he sought wealth, he made a million a year. When he entered politics, he became a Prime Minister. When he needed a jumping-of ground to raid the Transvaal, he had Bechuanaland transferred from Imperial to Colonial control. When he went colonising-or, more simply, when he acquired rights over Rhodesia in the name of the British Empire-he added to his interests a land larger than France, Germany, and the Low Countries combined. When he was besieged in Kimberlcy, he wanted the course of a war defected to the immediate purpose of relieving him. When he died, he mingled his dust with the dust of a mountain-top. Like the greatest of the Caesars, he left his possessions to the people.

His manner was large. His way with men was royal. He met a young, unknown architect, decided immediately that he was the man to make a home for him, gave him a free hand there, and sent him “to see Thebes, Paestum, Athens and the tomb of Lars Porsena” that he might apply to south Africa what he found in Greece, Egypt, and Italy. That was Mr. Herbert Baker, the architect of the Union Buildings, now assisting in the reconstruction of Delhi.

He wanted an expedition led to Mashonaland. He chanced on a young man of twenty-three, called Johnson, who seemed to know what he was about.

How much will it cost ?” . . . Give me four hours,” said the young man; and, after four hours, came back: “89,285 10s” . . . “I accept your offer, and you shall command the expedition”

But not under the Chartered Company, the young man stipulated.

Rhodes thought it over, and yielded the point.

Everybody tells me you are a lunatic, but 1 have an instinct you are right and can do it” His largest gesture of all-that he might hear the grievances of the hostile Matabeles, and exact from them concessions-was to stake his life on the honour he himself had helped to reduce, and, with three friends, to attend their council in the depths of the Matoppo Hills.

It is peace then?” he asked finally. “How do we know that it is peace?”

You have the word of Somabulane-of Babiaan, of Dhliso, chiefs of the House of the Kumalo.”

The chiefs laid down their sticks as a symbol of surrendered arms.

It is good, my children. Go in peace”

Hambe gahle, aminduna.”

Hamba gahle, Baba”

But he was large too in his influence for evil.

When he stood upon the Cape Peninsula,” said Mark Twain, “his shadow fell on the Zambesi.” But not for good alone. He soiled charity. “Philantropy-plus five percent,.” he said. He despised freedom: “I object to the ballot. in toto . . . because I like to know how a person votes,” he said.

He was boundlessly arrogant. “Mr Rhodes” declared Jan Hofmeyr, that man whom the Dutch call Onze Jan-our Jan, and who had, at one time, believed that he and Rhodes might work together for a great South Africa, – “Mr. Rhodes has been spoilt. He imagines himself a young king, the equal to the Almighty.” . . . And so, like Lucifer, he fell too, destroying more than men-destroying the faith of men.

And he cared for men (excepting only the one whose too impetuous and mistimed obedience ruined him-Dr. Jameson), he cared for them just as they were subservient to his aims. If his amiability was the condescension of an emperor, his Imperialism was the expression of an autocrat. “We must adopt a system of Indian despotism in our relations with the barbarians of South Africa, so that by means of it there may be a possibility of creating a United South Africa stretching to the Zambesi.” (“A very reasonable man,” said Sir W illiam Harcourt. “He only wants two things. Give him Protection and give him slavery and he will be satisfied.”)

He lowered the standard of public life in South Africa, and, staking his ideals on the wild gamble that culminated in the Boer War-the Jameson Raid-fell with a crash that maimed for ever the spirit which, enlarged by prosperity, was found, in adversity, to be not unconquerable. “What am l to do?” he cried to Jan Hofmeyr after the Raid. “Live it down? How can l do it? Am l to get rid of myself?”

He could not live it down. He could not get rid of himself. He had hoped to emulate Shepstones who had so casually taken the Transvaal not twenty years before; he had hoped to achieve his end, and then to smooth over his means. “I am just beginning my career” he said with bravado. But he had ended his career, and he knew it.

Happy?” said Rhodes. “I happy ? Good God, no!” He indicated General Booth. “I would give all I possess to believe what that old man believes.” . . .

Everything in the world is too short,” he told Lord Rosebery. “Life and fame and achievement, everything is too short.” . . .

He lay in a little cottage near Cape Town, facing the Indian Ocean, dying at forty-nine. “So little done so much to do.” . . .

But to-day there exists-what he wanted: a Union of South Africa within the British Empire.

And, as his body was being lowered into the rocks of the Matoppos, the black men he had charmed and robbed and charmed again gave him the royal salute: they saluted him, alone among white men, as they salute their kings.”



Comments are closed.