Cecil Rhodes

by Amy Keating
Class of 1997

Cecil Rhodes, born in 1853, played a major political and economic role in colonial South Africa. He was a financier, statesman, and empire builder with a philosophy of mystical imperialism. A "Cape to Cairo" railroad that would "Paint the Map Red" was his dream for Africa, along with a reconciliation of the Boers and British under the British flag and a recovery of the American colonies for the British empire. As prime minister of the Colony of South Africa, he tried to achieve these dreams. Although successful in some regards, he ended up with many personal and political disappointments in his later years.

Being a member of a large family, instead of attending a university, Rhodes went to South Africa in 1870 to be a farmer with his brother. He ended up a diamond miner while receiving a degree from Oxford. By 1888 Rhodes managed to solidly establish the De Beers consolidated Mines, Ltd. In 1891 the company owned ninety percent of the world's diamond mines.

Meanwhile, Rhodes actively pursued politics. In 1881 he began serving in the parliament of the Cape Colony. Although he was an unimpressive speaker, people were impressed by his original views. During his time in Parliament, he began to maneuver toward his goal of a strip of British control all down Africa. He needed the upper Nile to make it work. In his first incident with lifetime rival Paul Kruger, leader of the Boer state Transvaal, North Bechuanaland ended up a protectorate of the throne, and south Bechuanaland became a colony. Rhodes later received a charter from Queen Victoria for the British South Africa company, in order to develop new territory. The charter had no northern limit. Rhodes extended it into areas now known as Zambia, Malawi, and Botswana. Under his northern agenda he sought to unite the Boers and British in the south African parliament, of which he became prime minister in 1890. This goal was feasible at this point since Kruger had alienated some of the Boers. He once defined his policy as," equal rights for every civilized man south of the Zambezi."

Soon after he became Prime Minister, his misfortunes began. The Anglo-Portuguese convention in 1891 ended his hope of Portuguese imperialism ending on the continent and then when Germany received a strip of land closing off Britain from the north, his dreams of "painting the map red" dissipated. Then the charter company began experiencing financial difficulties. Another headache for Cecil Rhodes was Princess Radziwill. Radziwill wrote letters in Rhodes' name, hassled him consistently, and engaged in other such activities in an attempt to promote her ideas for the empire. Eventually, she was sent to prison, but not before bringing scandal to Rhodes' name. Finally, in 1895, Rhodes resigned his premiership due to the failed military attempt on Transversal by Jameson, a Rhodes appointee. Jameson acted without proper consent, and the botched raid had a number of consequences. Bechuanaland and Rhodesia were taken over by the imperial government, the Dutch and British in the colony became more split than ever, and Jameson and colleagues were sent to prison.

Cecil Rhodes died in 1902. Although his political visions never came to be, his business endeavors made him very prosperous. He left in his will most of his wealth to Oxford University. The nearly three million pounds were used in the creation of the famed Rhodes scholarship. In his life he played a major role in the development of British influence in South Africa and across the rest of the continent.