Posted in africa

The embodiment of controversy: Cecil John Rhodes

Rhodes Essay                           : A painted shadow referring to the colonial legacy left behind from                                           the podium where the statue of C J Rhodes once stood.

A desire for wealth and power leaves a legacy of hardship and a poor call for a national identity. There is an amazing ability of individuals to affect the course of history, leading to greater socioeconomic impact than ever envisioned. One’s legacy outlives one’s life, benefiting some and oppressing others through generations to come. Over time it transitions into its most dangerous state, cultural hegemony. For insight I interviewed a current student majoring in African history.

From Rhodes to Rhodesia

Cecil Rhodes was born in England on the 5th of July 1853. He was one of nine sons to a priest. Cecil’s health was poor and stayed close to home attending the local school. later he was sent to Natal, South Africa to help on his brother’s cotton farm. As all stories have a twist of human desire, so does the life of Cecil John Rhodes. Realising that cotton was not going to make him a wealthy man and thus followed the money in mining.

He trekked to the new diamond fields now known as Kimberly. He worked the mine for a while and opened De Beers mining company in 1880. His wealth was set into an upward spiral from there. Returning in 1881, with a Bachelor of Arts degree, from England, his most influential ideas were conceived while he roamed the unsettled plains of the Transvaal, alone for six months. He dreamed of white British imperialism where Britain ruled all of her colonies and eventually the United States of America.

Moving into the land of the Ndebele people (Zimbabwe) and manipulated their king, Lobengula, to mine in the area through the Rudd Concession. Very cunningly he used the language barrier to get Lobengula to sign a document, handing the land over to Cecil J Rhodes. Legend has it that Lobengula, being illiterate, signed the document using a simple X. Upon discovering the true meaning, Lobengula tried to renounce the document but it was too late.

Rhodes took political interest and after six seats opened in the ‘Cape House of Assembly’, Rhodes became a member of the ‘Cape Parliament’ in 1880. Later becoming the Prime Minister of the Cape in 1890. With his wealth and influence he created the ‘Glen Grey Act’ to push black Africans off their land and “stimulate them to labour”. Black people who were previously allowed to vote, could no longer.  Eventually in 1913, one of Rhodes’ main projects materialised, the ‘Natives Land Act’. Dissalowing black people from buying land and also from leasing “white owned land”, forcing black people in these areas into wage labour. This was the cornerstone of ‘Apartheid’ that disallowed white and black people from sharing the same areas and officially implemented in 1948.

From liberation to oppression: why these go hand in hand

After the independence of African countries, the leaders, liberators, becoming oppressors. Their ideals were shaped by colonisation, yet this is what they fought against. Where ideals of capitalist society cause greed and destroy a nation, evident in Zimbabwe.

However, Cecil John Rhodes was only a cog in the machine, that was colonialism and imperialism, built by Europe. An extremely central cog nonetheless. Europe wanted to expand their territories. However, with total disregard to Africans, perceived as ‘savages’ and ‘barbarians’. Desiring wealth and power, humans were dehumanised. With the arrival of the Europeans, the people who called Africa their home had their world turned upside down. Consequently, this greed gave birth to a social epidemic affecting society, long after colonisation seemed to be over. Apart from social inequality to this day, colonialism still effecting almost every country in Africa and hindering their progress as a nation due to the colour of their skin. The effects of colonisation is clearly evident outside Africa. The Northern and Southern Americas are faced with the same social division.

Botswana opposed Rhodes. It was a British protectorate, governed by England and did not fall under Cecil Rhodes’ empire. Three kings traveled to England to oppose the incorporation of Bechuanaland (now Botswana). They won and defeated Rhodes who stated “it is humiliating being utterly beaten”. Botswana has turned out to be one of the most politically stable countries in Africa.

The ultimate rhetoric question must be asked. What if Europeans had left Africa alone? What would we find if we arrived today? However, it is too late for what ifs! The damage has been done. Although I seem to wonder if this machine knew what legacy it would leave behind and the destruction it would cause or just concerned with personal gain? Who knew that the actions of one man would have such major repercussions long after he has come and gone? But one thing is certain, a terminal illness in the form of greed paved the way for a raging social issue driven by factors that seemingly were only skin deep. With a generation in a search for answers and capitalism driving onward, I ask myself how it could all have been different.

Responding to this, my interviewee (Jamie), shared his point of view in context, stating “Ordinate 50 of 1828, gave Khoisan and other people of colour the ability to choose where to work and limited power of ‘masters’ and ‘mistresses’ over them. They could own land and move ‘freely’ within the Cape Colony. However, it seems as though Rhodes managed to reverse this, almost completely, later. So had it not been for Cecil John Rhodes, its arguable that South Africa could have been a more unified country, possibly a true ‘rainbow nation’”.



A guy with a dream. Dreaming leads to new experiences if you dare chase them. Pieter van Wyk, I am from Botswana studying at University of Cape Town currently in my second year with a love for nature and traveling. Life is not about the destination but the journey.... or something along those lines.

2 thoughts on “The embodiment of controversy: Cecil John Rhodes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s