Cecil John Rhodes (1853 - 1902) was born to Francis and Louisa Rhodes in Bishop Stortford, England. As a child Rhodes suffered from poor health and his parents decided to send him to join his brother Herbert at his cotton farm in Natal.
After a 72-day voyage Rhodes arrived in Durban on 1 September 1870. While his health flourished in South Africa, the cotton farm did not. Soon after their first unsuccessful crop Herbert and Cecil were tempted by the diamond rush.
Herbert left first, and in 1871 Rhodes joined his brother at the diamond-rich Kimberley mines .
Rhodes’ quarter claim and one of his brothers two claims were very profitable. When Herbert suddenly left in November 1871, the 18-year old Rhodes had a chance to show his maturity with control over all their claims.
Soon after establishing himself Rhodes met Charles Dunell Rudd and they became partners. In 1872 the two brought an ice-making machine from England and sold ice to the diggers working under the hot Kimberley sun. With the profits, they bought more claims.
In 1872 Rhodes suffered a small heart attack. As part of his recuperation he trekked north by ox wagon along the Bechuanaland missionary road to Mafikeng (North West Province), then eastwards through the Transvaal. The journey inspired a love for the interior and marked the beginning of Rhodes' interest in the "road to the North".
By 1873 Rhodes had assets worth £10,000, enabling him to leave to study in Oxford. He entrusted his claims to Rudd and sailed to England.
While studying at Oxford Rhodes acquired a radical imperialist vision for "bringing of the whole civilized world under British rule, for the recovery of the United States, [and] for the making of the Anglo-Saxon race into one empire...". Often quoted phrases include a desire to "paint the map red," referring to the red used in maps to denote the British Empire; and to build a railroad from "Cape to Cairo".
Whilst studying at Oxford, concern for his health and for the mines caused him to spend much of his time in Kimberley (he finally graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1881).
In 1880 Rhodes entered the Cape House of Assembly as member of parliament for the newly created Barkly West constituency, a role he kept until his death in 1902.
Because the claims at the Kimberley mine rarely produced flawless, high quality diamonds, Rhodes sought to buy claims at the adjacent De Beers mine. Rhodes, Rudd, and four others created the De Beers Mining Company Limited from their ninety claims in these mines. With the initial capital of £200,000, they hoped to expand the business and amalgamate all 622 registered claims. In order to keep the price of diamonds high, the supply needed to be limited, and this was only attainable through full control over all the mines.
De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd
Rhodes’ main competitor in gaining full control over the diamond industry was Barney Barnato, owner of the Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company, the largest company in Kimberley.
In 1888 Rhodes and Barney Barnato began the fight for control in earnest, with Barnato still in a stronger position. Rhodes entered the struggle with his advisor Alfred Beit, a German Jew who knew the diamond trade inside out. Beit counselled Rhodes as he manoeuvred to take over Kimberley Central. Rhodes eventually gained a majority share in Barnato’s company in March 1888 by purchasing three fifths of Kimberley Central’s stock and spending £5,338,650.
Barnato agreed to give up control of Kimberley Central in exchange for becoming a life governor of the new company, along with Rhodes, Beit, and Philipson-Stow. And so was born De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited with Rhodes as its first chairman. By 1888 Rhodes had achieved his goal of amalgamating and dominating all of South African diamond mining (and 90% of world production).
During the 1880s, as Rhodes was amassing his fortune in diamond mining, he was also involved in wider aspects of South Africa's colonisation.
In 1880 a British attempt to annexe the Transvaal led to their expulsion (First Boer War). The newly recognised South African Republic (Transvaal Republic) was nurturing its own ambitions for Boer supremacy in the Cape, under the Presidency of Paul Kruger.
It was Rhodes' professed ambition to see the establishment of a locally (white) governed federation of South Africa under British rule with Cape Dutch assent. He also wanted to see northern expansion of the colony, which was then bounded to the north by the Orange River and, beyond it, Bechuanaland.
Rhodes worked with Dutch and Boer leaders in the Cape, and with their support was elected Treasurer of the Cape Colony in 1884. At the same time he engineered the annexation of Bechuanaland.
The discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand in 1884 lured thousands of British miners and prospectors to the Transvaal, the influx being so great that the city of Johannesburg was created almost overnight. Rhodes and Rudd bought 8 or 9 gold claims and in 1887 set up a new company, Consolidated Gold Fields of South Africa.
In the late 1880s there were rumours of gold north of the Transvaal, in the territories of the Matabele (Ndebele) and Shona peoples. King Lobengula, was ambivalent towards Europeans. Nevertheless, German emissaries were soon reported in Bulawayo (Lobengula's kraal) and in 1887 Kruger sought his own agreement with the Matabele chief.
Rhodes was appraised of the development and persuaded the Cape High Commissioner to take action. John Moffat, aided by Dr Leander Starr Jameson, was sent as an emissary to Bulawayo. On 11 February 1888 Lobengula entered into a treaty which bound him "to alienate no part of his territory without the High Commissioner's prior sanction".
Anglo-Boer War Museum
The Rhodes Trust - Oxford
The Mandela Rhodes Foundation
De Beers Group
Using a translator, who is said to have explained hazy and incorrect details, Lobengula agreed to the "Rudd Concession" which allowed British mining and colonisation of lands between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers. The same agreement prohibited all Boer activity in the territory.
Rhodes used this agreement to found a another company, the British South Africa Company ("the Company"), in 1889. "The Company" had powers that included the right to annexe and administer land, raise its own police force and to establish settlements within its own boundaries. The territory was called Rhodesia.
In May 1890 Rhodes was elected Prime Minister of the Cape Colony.
Shortly afterwards, he dispatched Dr. Leander Starr Jameson to Bulawayo, with orders to build a road through Matabeleland.
Rhodes' other activities during this period included the construction of a railway line from Kimberley northwards to Vryburg in Bechuanaland (North West Province), part of his proposed "Cape to Cairo" railroad.
In the Cape, Rhodes encouraged white Afrikaner farm ownership at the expense of black African ownership. His government introduced a system of dues, raised the property franchise to £75, and made it a requirement for farmers to be able to read and write English.
He introduced the Glen Grey Act (1894) to push Africans from their lands and make way for industrial development, and introduced a tax on the landless as a stimulus to encourage wage labour.
In June 1895 the legislature formally pronounced the absorption of British Bechuanaland into the Cape Colony.
Fall from grace
In 1895 the Reform Movement, led by mine owners in the Transvaal Republic and secretly supported by Rhodes, plotted to overthrow the Transvaal government.
On 29 December 1895 a raiding party of 600 armed men, led by Dr Leander Starr Jameson, crossed the border from Bechuanaland. However, the Boers had received warning of the attack and Jameson was forced to surrender on 2 January 1896.
Rhodes acknowledged his complicity in the infamous Jameson Raid, culminating in his resignation as Prime Minister on 6 January 1896.
Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902
The rising nationalism on both sides of these colonial conflicts culminated in the Second South African (Anglo-Boer) War of 1899-1902 between the British Empire and the Boer Republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
As war became imminent Rhodes moved from Cape Town to Kimberley, forcing the commander-in-chief to send Lieutenant Colonel Kekewich, with half his battalion of the North Lancashire Regiment, to defend the town that might otherwise have been left to the advancing Boers.
Kimberley was under siege from the night of 14 October 1899 to 15 February 1900, with Cecil John Rhodes in town.
The obligation to relieve Kimberley was stridently demanded by Rhodes. A capable and resourceful officer, Kekewich found he had nothing like the free hand enjoyed by Baden-Powell in Mafikeng. De Beers was Kimberley; with most of the garrison made up of De Beers employees, the essential resources of the town were controlled by De Beers and therefore by Rhodes.
During the siege, Rhodes instructed his men at the De Beers workshop to design and build a heavy gun. On 21 January 1900 "Long Cecil" fired its first 28-pound shells at the enemy.
On 15 February 1900 the Boers shelled Kimberley for the last time. Later in the day scouts reported that the Boers were pulling out with their "Long Tom" gun, and at 5pm the first of General John French's cavalry rode into Kimberley.
In early 1902 Rhodes' health deteriorated further, and following a period of travel through Europe without a cure, his health finally gave way. He died of heart failure on 26 March 1902 at Muizenberg in the Cape - he was just 49 years old.
Rhodes had expressed a wish to be buried on top of a flat mountain near his Rhodesian estate (now in Matopos National Park in Zimbabwe).
Rhodes wanted his burial ground to be called "View of the World," for the incredible panorama of the Matopos rocks, boulders, and scrubland that stretches as far as the eye can see.
He got his wish and Rhodes' body was carried to "View of the World", where he was buried a month after his death. At the funeral procession, the Ndebele requested that there be no gun salute, so as not to disturb the spirits who were resting at Malindidzimu. Instead they honoured him with Hayate, a respectful, silent tribute - the only time that honour had been given to a European.
In his Will Rhodes bequeathed the majority of his fortune to public service, including the foundation of 160 scholarships at Oxford University, and the provision of land near Bulawayo and Salisbury for the establishment of a university.
Rhodes Scholarships to Oxford University continue to this day, having long lost their colonialist heritage. One of South Africa's Rhodes Scholars was to be the communist and ANC activist, Bram Fischer, who defended Ahmed Kathrada, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi and Walter Sisulu at the Rivonia Trial in 1964.
In 1996 the BBC, CBC and SABC released a 6-part series entitled "RHODES: The Life & Legend of Cecil Rhodes" staring Martin Shaw (Rhodes), Neil Pearson (Dr. Jameson) and Frances Barber (Countess Radziwell).
In 2003 the Mandela Rhodes Foundation came into being, drawing together the legacy of leadership and reconciliation embodied by Nelson Mandela, with Cecil John Rhodes’ legacy of entrepreneurship and education, to help build exceptional leadership capacity in Africa through the Mandela Rhodes Programmes.
The De Beers Group continues today and is one of the world's most important mineral mining companies.