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Cecil Rhodes at 159

Cecil Rhodes celebrated his 159 birthday on 5th July…..

Cecil Rhodes was an English-born, South African businessman.

A sickly youth, Rhodes was sent by his parents to Natal for the sake of his health, where he helped his brother on their cotton farm. But the land was unsuitable and the farm failed. The two brothers left Natal for the diamond fields at Kimberley. During the next 17 years, Rhodes showed real business acumen by buying up all the smaller diamond mines in the area, amalgamating them into one company. On 12th march 1880 Rhodes launched the De Beers Mining Company, which at its height marketed 90% of the world’s diamonds! Rhodes became a very wealthy man. Naturally, he decided that the next step for him would be into politics and he chose to represent the constituency of Barkly West.

In 1890, Rhodes became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and introduced laws benefitting mine and industry owners. He also introduced the Glen Grey Act that pushed black people from their lands to make way for industrial development. His policies reflected his ardent belief in British colonial imperialism and he helped spread its development in South Africa.

He believed he could use his money and power to remove Boer politics (over which he had no direct control), replacing them with a British colonial government. As a result in 1895, Rhodes supported an attack on the Transvaal, the infamous Jameson Raid. But the attack was unsuccessful and caused huge embarrassment for Rhodes, forcing him to resign as Prime Minister.

Rhodes was a devout believer in the Empire, founding the state of Rhodesia in Africa, which was named after him. He encouraged the expansion of the Empire, wanting to draw a ‘red line’ on the map of Africa representing a Cape-Cairo railway.

He believed that

‘…we are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit, the better it is for the human race.’

[Thankfully, and hopefully, his views are now out-dated.]

Hampered by ill-health during his short life he died aged 48 in 1902. The government made an epic journey for his funeral procession by train from the Cape to Rhodesia. One of his surviving legacies is the Rhodes scholarship.

Text taken from my forthcoming ‘Around The Red Map’ website, documenting the lives and times of the British Empire, as seen from around the red map.

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