Home Opinion and Features Reading British Imperialism from the will of Cecil John Rhodes

Reading British Imperialism from the will of Cecil John Rhodes

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‘One of Rhodes’s most controversial activities was his involvement in the mining industry, particularly diamond and gold mining in southern Africa. He founded the De Beers Mining Company, which went on to dominate the diamond industry, shaping the global diamond market.’

Rhodes, born in 1853, rose to prominence during the scramble for Africa by Western colonialists, a period when European powers vied for control over the continent. Picture on file.

ON March 26, 1902, the richest man in the world died at his house in Muizenberg.

When I saw his will at the Cape Archive, I asked myself, who could really possess a diamond scale, immense land called Rhodesia, which later became two countries, and even wild animals in his will?

Rhodes, born in 1853, rose to prominence during the scramble for Africa by Western colonialists, a period when European powers vied for control over the continent.

His vision was expansive, driven by a fervent belief in British imperialism and a desire to establish a British-controlled corridor from the Cape to Cairo.

Rhodes pursued this vision with determination, leaving a lasting colonial legacy in Africa.

One of Rhodes’s most controversial activities was his involvement in the mining industry, particularly diamond and gold mining in southern Africa.

He founded the De Beers Mining Company, which went on to dominate the diamond industry, shaping the global diamond market.

The infamous Kimberley diamond mines, for instance, became emblematic of the harsh conditions endured by indigenous and African labourers.

The principal of an Arabic school in Kimberley, Ahmet Ataullah, noted in his letter in 1894, “The cities are growing like mushrooms in South Africa after the discovery of diamonds in the region but more European powers”.

Rhodes served as the prime minister of the Cape Colony and was a key figure in the establishment of the British South African Company.

Through the company, Rhodes played a central role in the colonisation of territories such as Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe and Zambia).

His policies, often characterised by racial discrimination and dispossession of indigenous populations, sowed the seeds for later conflicts and tensions in the region.

The creation of the Rhodesian state under British control was marked by policies that favoured white settlers over the African majority.

Land expropriation, discriminatory laws, and segregationist practices became entrenched, fostering an environment of racial tension that would persist for decades.

Rhodes’s legacy is also embodied in the educational institutions he founded, notably UCT and the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. The continued use of Rhodes’s name in these contexts has sparked debates about decolonisation.

The house where he died in 1902, on Main Road in Muizenberg, is now the Rhodes Cottage Museum.

In 2021, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa called for the remains of colonialist Cecil John Rhodes to be exhumed and repatriated to Britain.

Mnangagwa stated, “We still have Rhodes’ remains in Matobo Hills. What do you think about it? If you go to the shrine, you don’t know whether you are talking to Rhodes or our ancestors. His remains must be returned to where he hailed from, and we can also have our ancestral remains which are being kept in Europe.”

Rhodes’ will, a substantial file, is kept at the Cape Archives, not only showcasing his wealth but also his greediness and the impact of his actions during his lifetime in South Africa. Turkish archives in Istanbul provide details about his visit to Türkiye in 1894.

* HALIM GENÇOĞLU.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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