Cecil John Rhodes, a mining entrepreneur, colonial politician, and empire builder, was born in Bishop's Stortford (Hertfordshire, England) as the fifth son in a family of eleven children headed by Francis William Rhodes, the local vicar, and Louisa Taylor Peacock.
Cecil Rhodes was educated at the local grammar school, supervised by his father. A wished-for higher education in Oxford did not materialize. Instead, Rhodes went to South Africa in 1871 to join his eldest brother Herbert, a cotton planter in the British colony of Natal. On his arrival, Cecil left for the newly discovered diamond fields in Griqualand West. Rhodes set himself up as a cotton planter, but he was unsuccessful and became one of the region's many diamond prospectors within the year.
The brief Natal experience made Rhodes aware of his latent managerial skills, which he later exploited to the maximum, first as manager of his brother's diamond claims at Kimberley, and later as a businessman in his own right and as a politician. In the social conundrum of the diamond mines of the early 1870s, Rhodes formed a group of close friends, including John X. Merriman (1841–1926), a member of the Cape Legislative Assembly and future prime minister, and John Blades Currey (1829–1904), secretary of the British administration in Griqualand West. They introduced Rhodes to colonial politics.
By 1873 Rhodes had accumulated enough capital to go to Oxford University. The first phase of his Oxford career was short and incomplete, and it would take until 1881 and several more short periods of study before Rhodes acquired a degree. Although he was admitted at the Inner Temple in London (one of the traditional English "law schools") in March 1876, he never seriously pursued a career in the law. Though not much of an academic himself, Rhodes's relationship with academia extends to the present day with a legacy of scholarships and fellowships, the Rhodes House Library in Oxford, and funds set up to support several South African universities. In 1891 Rhodes received an honorary degree from his alma mater.
In the mid-1870s the diamond industry went through a crisis and rapid change. Adverse weather, the need for complex technologies to work hard rock in deep open pits, and the resulting squabbles between black and white small-claim holders led to unrest and the departure of many diggers from the business. On his return from Oxford, Rhodes positioned himself in the camp of the larger claim-holders and colonial authority. With his partner, Charles Dunnell Rudd (1844–1916), Rhodes strongly advocated rationalization and amalgamation of the mines, not only for the common good of the mining industry, but also with personal motives.
By the late 1880s, the De Beers Consolidated mining company, grown out of the De Beers mine set up by Rhodes and Rudd, had turned into a worldwide concern with a board in the Cape and in London and a virtual monopoly over diamond production and trade from South Africa. The amalgamation of the mines also meant extensive rationalization of business practices. De Beers introduced new systems of labor control, including the reorganization of black migrant labor into closed compounds, and rigorous and systematic strip searches of workers to prevent theft and smuggling of diamonds.
The enforcement of labor-control measures went hand in hand with British imperial expansion and the annexation of Griqualand West to the Cape Colony. It bought Rhodes a seat in the Cape parliament, and made his labor-control laws and institutions a model for twentieth-century South Africa.
Rhodes's entry into Cape politics in 1881 was forceful and set the tone for his imperial ambitions and handiwork in later years. He became the spokesman for the mining industry, pushing forward the Diamond Trade Act of 1882 in parliament, with the help of the Cape Argus newspaper, which he had bought for the purpose. Mining interests were soon allied to an expansionist imperial interest when Rhodes successfully argued for the disannexation of Basutoland (now Lesotho) from the Cape Colony and the expansion of British rule toward the north of Griqualand West in order to curb both Afrikaner and Tswana ambitions for control over land and water in the area.
After 1886, when gold was first prospected on the Witwatersrand, the northward expansion of British colonial control increased its pace. Rhodes was interested in gold, but decided to go for the exploration of this mineral north of the Limpopo River in the Ndebele kingdom, thus bypassing the Boer-controlled South African Republic (Transvaal) and at the same time leading the British effort in the scramble for this part of Africa, now contested by Britain, Germany, Portugal, and Belgium.
The formation of the British South Africa Company (BSAC), chartered by the British government in 1889, allowed Rhodes and his partners to exploit and extend administrative control over a vast, if ill-defined, area of southern and central Africa. Within a couple of years, the BSAC not only annexed most of the territory now known as Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia), but the company also incorporated what are now Zambia and Malawi by way of treaties with local leaders. Underlying the BSAC's actions was a promise to populate the areas brought under its control with settlers, which would allow for an effective British occupation against contending European powers, and introduce the necessary capitalist development to the interior at minimum cost.
In the Cape, Rhodes's political star was rising. From the mid-1880s, Rhodes supported the policies of the powerful Afrikaner Bond, a political party founded in 1880, with regard to the control of African land ownership, franchise, and labor in the Cape. Through judicious agreements with the Afrikaner Bond and some of the liberal parliamentarians, Rhodes managed to become prime minister of the Cape Colony in 1890. When he lost the support of the liberals in 1893, a general election brought him back stronger and with enhanced support from the Afrikaner Bond.
Rhodes's second ministry, in which he also acted as minister for Native Affairs, saw the inclusion of all the remaining independent African polities into the Cape Colony. In Britain, his status as a colonial politician was confirmed with his appointment to the Privy Council, the traditional council of advisors to the British Crown, similar to a council of state, in 1895.
The construction of a railway line between the Cape and Transvaal in 1892 was popular with the Bond, but eventually led to a sharp conflict with the South African Republic led by Paul Kruger (1825–1904). In the next four years, the conflict built up and eventually led to a plan to incorporate the South African Republic. Rhodes and others, backed by British businessmen on the Witwatersrand and the British colonial secretary, made use of a trumped-up conflict about disenfranchised British immigrants (Uitlanders) in the South African Republic to stage an armed overthrow.
Leander Starr Jameson (1853–1917), a BSAC agent, invaded the Republic on his own accord, and against Rhodes's wish to postpone the invasion, in late 1895 with the British South Africa Police Force, only to find that there was no support from inside. The raid forced Rhodes to resign and lost him much of the Afrikaner sympathy he had so carefully built up. It also caused a final rift between Afrikaners and the British, both in the Cape and the Boer republics. The affair also lost Rhodes his position as managing director of the BSAC and threatened the charter of the company. It was only Liberal parliamentarian Joseph Chamberlain's (1836–1914) support of Rhodes before a House of Commons inquiry, in exchange for Rhodes's silence about the former's complicity, that prevented the revocation of the charter.
In the aftermath of the raid, the Ndebele of Southern Rhodesia rose against the white settlers in their area, and they were soon followed by the Shona people. Rhodes intervened personally and managed to diffuse the uprising by initiating successful secret negotiations with the Ndebele leadership, against the wishes of the white settlers. One result of the uprising was that the British government for the first time intervened directly in BSAC affairs by appointing a resident commissioner to the area. The era of colonialism and settler domination had started.
Despite the political setbacks of the 1890s, Rhodes returned to the political scene of the Cape Colony in the 1898 election, now as leader of the so-called Progressives in the Cape parliament, and against the Afrikaner Bond. When the latter party won the general election, Rhodes's role in Cape politics was finally over.
In the last four years of his life, Rhodes stayed in England for a considerable time. He also took time to fight legal battles against accusations made over his role in the Jameson Raid, and against the Polish fortune-seeker Princess Catherine Radziwill (1858–1941), who first tried to attach herself to Rhodes and later—when unsuccessful in her attempts—blackmailed him. Suffering from deteriorating health, Rhodes died at his Cape cottage on March 26, 1902. At his own request, he was buried on the Matopo Plateau in Southern Rhodesia two weeks later.
see also Afrikaner; Cape Colony and Cape Town; Diamonds.
Marks, Shula and Stanley Trapido. "Rhodes, Cecil John (1853–1902)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Michell, Lewis. The Life of the Rt. Hon. Cecil John Rhodes, 1853–1902, 2 vols. London: Edward Arnold, 1910.
Rotberg,Robert,I.and Miles F. Shore. The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Tamarkin, M. Cecil Rhodes and the Cape Afrikaners: The Imperial Colossus and the Colonial Parish Pump. London: Cass, 1996.
Vindex. Cecil Rhodes, his Political Life and Speeches, 1881–1900. London: Chapman and Hall, 1900.
Rhodes, Cecil 1853-1902
Cecil John Rhodes, a British immigrant to southern Africa, founded the De Beers diamond monopoly, served as prime minister of Britain’s Cape Colony, and colonized Southern and Northern Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe and Zambia). Rhodes was the embodiment of late nineteenth-century rapacious capitalism and imperialism. His activities did much to shape important objects of social scientific study with respect to southern Africa: monopoly capitalism, migrant labor, and colonialism.
Rhodes was born to an English parson of modest circumstances. At the age of seventeen, he emigrated to southern Africa. Rhodes arrived in 1870, three years after a diamond-mining rush had begun in an area soon to be annexed by Britain and incorporated into the Cape Colony. The following year, Rhodes left for the diamond fields, where the town of Kimberley emerged to support the mines. Diamonds quickly transformed the region’s political economy, becoming the Cape Colony’s largest export by 1875 and leading to calls for confederation of the region’s colonies and settler states.
In 1880 Rhodes and Charles Dunnell Rudd (1844–1916) formed the De Beers Mining Company to pursue amalgamation of claims, by then considered essential to continued profitability of the mines. By the end of the decade, De Beers completely controlled the diamond mines; more than a century later, De Beers remains the world’s largest miner and seller of diamonds and controls the world market in these gems. Amalgamation was intended to remedy major problems of production and marketing. First, as the mines went deeper, enormous amounts of machinery and technical expertise were needed to shore up walls and to cart ore to the surface. Though operations were capital-intensive, they were also labor-intensive, requiring increasing numbers of African men who came to the mines as migrant workers. Second, the huge volume of diamonds being produced from the Kimberley mines meant that it was necessary to limit the numbers reaching the market in order for sales to be profitable. Amalgamation enabled De Beers to solve these problems through centrally organizing flows of capital and labor into the mines and the flow of diamonds out of them. Key innovations, introduced in 1882, were closed compounds to house African workers and legislation to control illicit diamond buying. Closed compounds enabled mining concerns to closely supervise workers, bringing about tighter labor discipline and providing a model for later mining enterprises in southern Africa.
In the late-1880s, prospectors discovered the world’s largest gold deposit on the Witwatersrand (Rand) in the Boer-ruled Transvaal. The city of Johannesburg grew up above the mines, becoming the subcontinent’s largest city. Kimberley capitalists invested heavily in the Rand, but Rhodes was late to do so, securing poor claims. As a result, his interest was drawn in two directions: toward politics and toward possible mineral discoveries in areas then beyond colonial control north of the Limpopo River.
At the end of the 1880s, Rhodes’s agents fraudulently secured from Ndebele king Lobengula (c. 1836–1894) a concession (the Rudd Concession) to exploit all the minerals in his domain. On the strength of this concession, Rhodes obtained a royal charter for his British South Africa Company (BSAC) and sold shares for an enterprise to settle and mine what became Northern and Southern Rhodesia. When the areas the BSAC first exploited failed to produce a “second Rand,” the BSAC provoked war with and swiftly defeated the Ndebele. The politics of the Cape, the Transvaal, and BSAC-occupied territories to the north now became deeply entwined. Rhodes, then the Cape’s prime minister, conspired with others to topple the Transvaal government in order to install a government more conducive to mining and British imperialism. An armed force under Rhodes’s aide, Leander Starr Jameson (1853–1917), launched a hapless invasion from the north in late 1895; its failure forced Rhodes’s resignation as prime minister. Tensions over the Jameson raid helped precipitate war between Britain and the Boer republics (the Transvaal and Orange Free State). The Boer War, later known as the South African War, led to uniting South Africa as a white settler state within the British Empire. Meanwhile, oppressive BSAC policies toward Africans in Rhodesia led to a widespread uprising in 1896 to 1897 that was put down at great cost in African lives.
As he gained wealth and power, Rhodes promoted a broad imperialist vision, summed up in his scheme for a transportation network that would span Africa from the Cape to Cairo and parodied in a contemporary political cartoon that showed Rhodes astride the African continent as the “Colossus of Rhodes.” As the Cape’s prime minister, in 1894 he secured passage of the Glen Grey Act, designed to limit African access to land, force Africans onto the labor market, and reduce African voting strength. His rhetoric and actions thus place him as one of a handful of white power brokers in late nineteenth-century southern Africa who shaped the regimes of alienation of land, exploitation of minerals, and racist regimentation of labor that were to define white-ruled southern Africa for most of the twentieth century. Not yet fifty when he died, Rhodes’s will founded the Rhodes Scholarship program for anglo-saxon men from settler societies to study at Oxford University, where he had taken a degree in 1881. He is buried on a hilltop in the Matopos hills of southwestern Zimbabwe, a site sacred to indigenous peoples. His grave thus is a continual reminder of colonial conquest and insensitivity, while its broad vistas give expression to imperial desires to be master of all one surveys.
SEE ALSO Diamond Industry
Davenport, T. R. H., and Christopher Saunders. 2000. South Africa: A Modern History. 5th ed. Houndmills, U.K.: Macmillan.
Rotberg, Robert I., with Miles F. Shore. 1988. The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power. New York: Oxford University Press.
Worger, William H. 1987. South Africa’s City of Diamonds: Mine Workers and Monopoly Capitalism in Kimberley, 1867–1895. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Born: July 5, 1853
Bishop's Stortford, England
Died: March 26, 1902
Muizenberg, South Africa
English businessman and imperialist
The English businessman and financier Cecil Rhodes founded the modern diamond industry and controlled the British South Africa Company, which acquired Rhodesia and Zambia as British territories. He was also a noted philanthropist (working for charity) and founded the Rhodes scholarships.
Cecil John Rhodes was born on July 5, 1853, at Bishop's Stortford, England, one of nine sons of the parish vicar (priest). While his brothers were sent off to attend better schools, Cecil's poor health forced him to stay at home and attend the local grammar school. Instead of attending college, sixteen-year-old Cecil was sent to South Africa to work on a cotton farm. Arriving in October 1870, he grew cotton with his brother Herbert in Natal, South Africa, a harsh environment. Soon the brothers learned that growing cotton was no way to build a fortune and by 1871 "diamond fever" was sweeping the region with promises of fame and fortune. The two brothers soon left Natal for the newly developed diamond field at Kimberley, South Africa, an even less inviting environment.
In the 1870s Rhodes laid the foundation for his later massive fortune by working an open-pit mine where he personally supervised his workers and even sorted diamonds himself. The hard work would pay off as Rhodes developed a moderate fortune by investing in diamond claims, initiating mining techniques, and in 1880 forming the De Beers Mining Company.
In 1873 Rhodes returned to England to attend Oxford University. During his education, Rhodes split his time between South Africa and Oxford, where he did not fit in socially but finally earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1881.
Birth of an empire
During the mid-1870s, Rhodes spent six months alone, wandering the unsettled plains of Transvaal, South Africa. There, he developed his philosophies on British Imperialism, where the British Empire rules over its foreign colonies. These philosophies consisted of a "dream" where a brotherhood of elite Anglo-Saxons (whites) would occupy all of Africa, the Holy Land in the Middle East, and other parts of the world. After a serious heart attack in 1877, Rhodes revealed his ideas of British Imperialism when he made his first will. In it, Rhodes called for the settlement of his as-yetunearned fortune to found a secret society that would extend British rule throughout the world and colonize most parts of it with British settlers, leading to the "ultimate recovery of the United States of America" by the British Empire.
From 1880 to 1895 Rhodes's star rose steadily. Basic to this rise was his successful struggle to take control of the rival diamond interests of Barnie Barnato, with whom he partnered in 1888 to form De Beers Consolidated Mines, a company whose extraordinary powers led to acquiring lands for the purpose of extending the British Empire. With his brother Frank he also formed Goldfields of South Africa, with several large mines in the Transvaal.
During this same time Rhodes built a career in politics. He was elected to the Cape Parliament in 1880, the governing body of South Africa. In Parliament, Rhodes succeeded in focusing attention on the Transvaal and German expansion so as to secure British control of Bechuanaland by 1885. In 1888 Rhodes secured mining grants from Lobengula, King of the Ndebele, which by highly stretched interpretations gave Rhodes a claim to what became Rhodesia. In 1889 Rhodes persuaded the British government to grant a charter (authority from the British throne) to form the British South Africa Company, which in 1890 put white settlers into Lobengula's territories and founded Salisbury and other towns. This sparked conflict with the Ndebele, but they were crushed by British forces in the war of 1893.
By this time Rhodes controlled the politics of Britain's Cape Colony. In July 1890 he became premier of the Cape with the support of the English-speaking white and nonwhite voters and the Afrikaners (descendants of the Dutch settlers of South Africa). Rhodes won their support by creating a "Bond" where some twenty-five thousand shares of the British South Africa Company were distributed among them. His policy was to aim for the creation of a South African federation (union of states) under the British flag, and he gained the trust of the Afrikaners by restricting the Africans' educational and property qualifications in 1892 and setting up a new system of "native administration" in 1894.
At the end of 1895 Rhodes's fortunes took a disastrous turn. In poor health and anxious to hurry his dream of a South African federation, he organized a plot against the Boer government of the Transvaal, which was run by the Dutch settlers. Through his mining company, arms and ammunition were smuggled into Johannesburg, South Africa, to be used for a revolution by "outlanders," mainly British. A strip of land on the borders of the Transvaal was awarded to the chartered company by Joseph Chamberlain (1836–1914), the British colonial secretary. Leander Jameson, administrator of Rhodesia, was stationed there with company troops. The Johannesburg plotters did not rebel but Jameson, however, rode in on December 27, 1895, and was captured. As a result, Rhodes had to resign his premiership in January 1896. Thereafter he concentrated on developing Rhodesia and especially in extending the railway, which he dreamed would one day reach Cairo, Egypt.
When the Anglo-Boer War broke out in October 1899, Rhodes hurried to Kimberley, which the Boers surrounded a few days later. It was not relieved until February 16, 1900, during which time Rhodes had been active in organizing defense and sanitation. His health was worsened by the takeover, and after traveling in Europe he returned to the Cape in February 1902, where he died at Muizenberg, South Africa, on March 26.
In death, Rhodes's fortune allowed him to leave behind a legacy that is still relevant today. Rhodes left six million pounds, most of which went to Oxford University to establish the Rhodes scholarships to provide places at Oxford for students from the United States, the British colonies, and Germany. Land was also left to eventually provide for a university in Rhodesia.
For More Information
Flint, John. Cecil Rhodes. Boston: Little, Brown, 1974.
Roberts, Brian. Cecil Rhodes: Flawed Colossus. New York: Norton, 1988.
Rotberg, Robert I. The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Thomas, Antony. Rhodes: Race for Africa. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.
Cecil John Rhodes
Cecil John Rhodes
The English imperialist, financier, and mining magnate Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902) founded and controlled the British South Africa Company, which acquired Rhodesia and Zambia as British territories. He founded the Rhodes scholarships.
Cecil Rhodes was born on July 5, 1853, at Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, one of nine sons of the parish vicar. After attending the local grammar school, his health broke down, and at 16 he was sent to South Africa. Arriving in October 1870, he grew cotton in Natal with his brother Herbert but in 1871 left for the newly developed diamond field at Kimberley.
In the 1870s Rhodes laid the foundation for his later massive fortune by speculating in diamond claims, beginning pumping techniques, and in 1880 forming the De Beers Mining Company. During this time he attended Oxford off and on, starting in 1873, and finally acquired the degree of bachelor of arts in 1881. His extraordinary imperialist ideas were revealed early, after his serious heart attack in 1877, when he made his first will, disposing of his as yet unearned fortune to found a secret society that would extend British rule over the whole world and colonize most parts of it with British settlers, leading to the "ultimate recovery of the United States of America" by the British Empire!
From 1880 to 1895 Rhodes's star rose steadily. Basic to this rise was his successful struggle to take control of the rival diamond interests of Barnie Barnato, with whom he amalgamated in 1888 to form De Beers Consolidated Mines, a company whose trust deed gave extraordinary powers to acquire lands and rule them and extend the British Empire. With his brother Frank he also formed Goldfields of South Africa, with substantial mines in the Transvaal. At the same time Rhodes built a career in politics; elected to the Cape Parliament in 1880, he succeeded in focusing alarm at Transvaal and German expansion so as to secure British control of Bechuanaland by 1885. In 1888 Rhodes agents secured mining concessions from Lobengula, King of the Ndebele, which by highly stretched interpretations gave Rhodes a claim to what became Rhodesia. In 1889 Rhodes persuaded the British government to grant a charter to form the British South Africa Company, which in 1890 put white settlers into Lobengula's territories and founded Salisbury and other towns. This provoked Ndebele hostility, but they were crushed in the war of 1893.
By this time Rhodes controlled the politics of Cape Colony; in July 1890 he became premier of the Cape with the support of the English-speaking white and non-white voters and the Afrikaners of the "Bond" (among whom 25,000 shares in the British South Africa Company had been distributed). His policy was to aim for the creation of a South African federation under the British flag, and he conciliated the Afrikaners by restricting the Africans' franchise with educational and property qualifications (1892) and setting up a new system of "native administration" (1894).
At the end of 1895 Rhodes's fortunes took a disastrous turn. In poor health and anxious to hurry his dream of South African federation, he organized a conspiracy against the Boer government of the Transvaal. Through his mining company, arms and ammunition were smuggled into Johannesburg to be used for a revolution by "outlanders," mainly British. A strip of land on the borders of the Transvaal was ceded to the chartered company by Joseph Chamberlain, British colonial secretary; and Leander Jameson, administrator of Rhodesia, was stationed there with company troops. The Johannesburg conspirators did not rebel; Jameson, however, rode in on Dec. 27, 1895, and was ignominiously captured. As a result, Rhodes had to resign his premiership in January 1896. Thereafter he concentrated on developing Rhodesia and especially in extending the railway, which he dreamed would one day reach Cairo.
When the Anglo-Boer War broke out in October 1899, Rhodes hurried to Kimberley, which the Boers surrounded a few days later. It was not relieved until Feb. 16, 1900, during which time Rhodes had been active in organizing defense and sanitation. His health was worsened by the siege, and after traveling in Europe he returned to the Cape in February 1902, where he died at Muizenberg on March 26.
Rhodes left £6 million, most of which went to Oxford University to establish the Rhodes scholarships to provide places at Oxford for students from the United States, the British colonies, and Germany. Land was also left to provide eventually for a university in Rhodesia.
Rhodes's letters and papers have not yet been edited and published, but Vindex (pseudonym for Rev. F. Verschoyle) published Cecil Rhodes: His Political Life and Speeches, 1881-1900 (1900). There are a number of biographies: Sir Lewis Michell, The Life of the Rt. Hon. Cecil John Rhodes, 1853-1902 (2 vols., 1910), comprehensive but eulogistic; Basil Williams, Cecil Rhodes (1921), which is still useful; Sarah Gertrude Millin, Cecil Rhodes (1933); and Felix Gross, Rhodes of Africa (1957), faulty in research, sometimes hostile, but suggesting interesting if often farfetched interpretations. J. G. Lockhart and C. M. Woodhouse, Cecil Rhodes: The Colossus of Southern Africa (1963), used the Rhodes papers and much new material, but the definitive biography remains to be written. A recent account of Rhodes's relationship to the Princess Radziwell and of the Jameson raid is Brian Roberts, Cecil Rhodes and the Princess (1969), an exciting piece of historical reconstruction.
Baker, Herbert, Sir, Cecil Rhodes: the man and his dream, Bulawayo: Books of Rhodesia, 1977.
Davidson, A. B. (Apollon Borisovich), Cecil Rhodes and his time, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1988.
Flint, John E., Cecil Rhodes, London: Hutchinson, 1976.
Gale, W. D. (William Daniel), One man's vision: the story of Rhodesia, Bulawayo: Books of Rhodesia, 1976.
Keppel-Jones, Arthur., Rhodes and Rhodesia: the white conquest of Zimbabwe, 1884-1902, Kingston Ont.: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1987.
Michell, Lewis, Sir, The life and times of the Right Honourable Cecil John Rhodes, 1853-1902, New York: Arno Press, 1977 c1910.
Roberts, Brian, Cecil Rhodes: flawed colossus, New York: Norton, 1988, 1987.
Rotberg, Robert I., The founder: Cecil Rhodes and the pursuit of power, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. □
RHODES, CECIL (1853–1902), British mining magnate, politician, and imperialist.
Cecil John Rhodes was born in Hertfordshire and brought up in modest circumstances as the son of an English clergyman. He migrated from Britain in 1870 to join his farmer brother, Herbert, in South Africa, a part of the British Empire about which he knew virtually nothing. After little more than a year in rural Natal, he moved on to the mineral fields of the northern Cape town of Kimberley, where diamonds had been discovered in 1867. A confident and grasping figure, Rhodes thrived in the coarse and edgy environment of early industrial colonial capitalism, advancing from being a speculative digger to forming the De Beers Mining Company and De Beers Consolidated Mines in the 1880s.
By the end of a decade of ruthless acquisitions, Rhodes and his mining associates controlled over 90 percent of world diamond production. In the course of making his pile from the Kimberley monopoly, he acquired a buccaneering business reputation that he was subsequently never able to shake off. Rhodes's ambitions as a mining magnate did not stop there. Following the discovery of gold on the Witwaters-rand, he soon acquired a stake in the new gold mines of the Transvaal, establishing the Gold Fields of South Africa Company in the late 1880s and forging ever-closer ties with influential members of the London financial elite, such as Lord Nathan Rothschild (1840–1915).
A perpetually scheming figure, obsessed with asserting his influence over Southern African affairs, Rhodes lost no time in hitching his rising financial wealth to political ambition, assiduously using that wealth to cultivate favor and preferment. Within three years of being elected to the Cape colonial parliament at the age of twenty-seven, he had wormed his way into the Cabinet. By 1890, this formidable embodiment of imperial capitalism had become prime minister of the Cape Colony, a vaulting politician determined to dash creeping German and Transvaal Boer influence in the region, and bent upon keeping open a great road to the north for a further burst of British territorial expansion.
To cap it all, Rhodes secured a royal charter for the predatory operations of his British South Africa Company (BSAC), giving him virtually unfettered rights of land acquisition and plunder northward from the Limpopo to well beyond the Zambezi river. In the early 1890s, his company troops and agents either swindled or blasted their way through African resistance and laid the foundations for the exploitation of the colony he named, with customary modesty, Rhodesia. Viewed largely as his personal fiefdom, the settler territories were left to a notably unsavory and callous administration.
An imperialist with towering faith in his own powers, Rhodes declared repeatedly that he valued wealth not for its own sake but for the idealism and strength it gave him to extend the British Empire. In this, however, he finally overreached himself in the mid-1890s. An armed plot that he sponsored to overthrow the Transvaal government of Paul Kruger (1825–1904) to force the Boer republicans (with their massive gold deposits) to amalgamate with the British colonies was bungled. The 1895 Jameson Raid was easily squashed by the Boers, leaving Rhodes with egg on his face for having implicated Britain in a grubby conspiracy against an independent white Christian state. The debacle dented him politically, forcing his resignation from the Cape premiership as well as from the board of his own BSAC.
Slinking off to Rhodesia, Rhodes regained his forceful company influence there and threw himself into imposing colonial authority, advancing settler interests, and dreaming of building a railway from the Cape to Cairo. He died in 1902 in Muizenberg, South Africa.
At his peak, his huge fortunes from diamond and goldmining made Rhodes one of the world's wealthiest men. Against the background of the "Scramble for Africa," he acted as a freelance titan of capitalist imperialism, a single individual who was decisive in shaping the destiny of Southern Africa and for whom personal gain was indistinguishable from the imperial mission. Rhodes always believed that Britons were divinely chosen for world supremacy, and fantasized that the consummation of their empire would be the recovery and absorption of the United States and the sealing of Anglo-German fraternity. This, he concluded, would end all war. With these beliefs went racial contempt for Africans in Southern Africa. Rhodes's trumpeted 1898 promise of "equal rights for every civilized man south of the Zambesi" had little meaning, given his record of smothering black economic and political rights.
Much of his lavish philanthropic legacy from 1903 was educational, including the endowment of hundreds of Rhodes Scholarships at Oxford University to train male students from the white self-governing colonies and America for leadership of the imperial world to which he had devoted himself.
See alsoAfrica; Boer War; Civilization, Concept of; Imperialism; South Africa.
Flint, John E. Cecil Rhodes. Boston, 1974.
Galbraith, John S. Crown and Charter: The Early Years of the British South Africa Company. Berkeley, Calif., 1974.
Rotberg, Robert I., with Miles F. Shore. The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power. New York, 1988.
Worger, William H. South Africa's City of Diamonds: Mine Workers and Monopoly Capitalism in Kimberley, 1867–1895. New Haven, Conn., 1987.
Rhodes, Cecil John