Biography: Cecil Rhodes

Cecil Rhodes epitomizes what the 19th century colonization of Africa was all about. He was an Englishman who was very typical of most of his countrymen in this time period. Looking at him today it is hard to come to a fair assessment of what he gave to the world. So much of his legacy is mired in the attitude of the time about the races.  Cecil_Rhodes_ww

“We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labor that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories.” This is a very telling quote from Mr. Rhodes which not only defines the man,  but also the attitude of the majority of the British colonialists.

Rhodes has left a mark on the world which has lasted for almost 150 years. Rhodesia, which bears his name, was one of Africa’s leading countries for many years and of course there are many Rhodes Scholars who are part of his legacy. Another less pleasant one is the violence and uncertainty that followed the end of Colonial rule in Africa. It is hard to form an unbiased view of him today given that the world has witnessed of his legacy.

Born in England in 1853, he was sent to South Africa as a child to improve his health. His uncle lived there and was not a very successful farmer. Cecil decided to go to work for the Kimberly Mining Company. By the time he was twenty-five years old he was a millionaire. He made his money in the diamond mines. He was a wheeler and a dealer and the  DeBeers Diamond Company which is the world’s largest, was one of his most lucrative business deals.

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He received his education at Oxford and went back to Africa to build his fortune and enter politics. He became the Prime Minister of South Africa. His dealings with the natives never went very well for anyone other than himself. He was not above lying and basically cheating them out of their land or at least their mineral rights in order to further the interests of the Empire.

What he is most remembered for is the colonization of Africa. He had a firm belief in the superiority of the English race and their right to take over any part of the world they wanted. It was imperative that they spread civilization to the underdeveloped parts of the third world. In doing so they would build a strong British Empire and control as much of the world’s wealth as possible.

He did much to develop the wealth of South Africa for the white English citizens and the newly named Rhodesia but he had no idea of preserving the culture of the people or respecting the right of the earlier Dutch settlers the Boers.

He died at the young age of 49. He asked to be buried on a plateau overlooking the land that he had loved. He was so out of tune with the native population that he had no idea that this was sacred ground to them. He did get his wish with their permission and his grave can still be visited there today.

He left the largest part of his fortune to provide the Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. Former President Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar.

 

Photo credit. Public Domain https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cecil_Rhodes#/media/File:Cecil_Rhodes_ww.jpg


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