xxxxxCecil Rhodes went to South Africa in 1870 and quickly made a huge fortune from diamond mining. He entered politics in 1881, and was prime minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896. During that time he used his control of the De Beers Diamond Company to extend British control and his own business interests into the areas of Mashonaland and Matabeleland (north of the Transvaal). With the help of his close friend Leander Starr Jameson, he gained mining concessions from Lobengula, king of the Matabele, in 1888, and then founded the British South Africa Company in 1889, the royal charter of which gave him the right to colonize areas of commercial value. A pioneer column, commanded by Jameson, opened a route to Mashonaland, and this area was seized for the British crown in 1891. As we shall see, this led to a conflict with King Lobengula - the First Matabele War of 1893 - and, following his death, the occupation of Matabeleland. In 1895 these two territories were named Rhodesia in honour of the man who had successfully planned their seizure. In 1895 he made plans to take over the Transvaal, then led by Paul Kruger, a man who believed that Africa was for the Afrikaners (or Boers). Rhodes planned to support an uprising of the Uitlanders, the large number of foreigners who had entered the country in search of gold and had been denied their political rights. The insurrection did not, in fact, take place, but nevertheless in 1895 Jameson invaded the Transvaal in the hope of triggering off a widespread revolt. His army was quickly overcome by government forces, and he was captured and imprisoned. The Jameson Raid, as it came to be called, marked the end of Rhodes’ career. He was forced to resign as prime minister, though he did take a prominent part in the Second Matabele War, beginning in 1896. Rhodes was a fervent believer in the British Empire as a civilizing force. He extended British control over South Africa, but failed in his more ambitious schemes.

CECIL JOHN RHODES  1853 - 1902  (Va, Vb, Vc, E7)


Rhodes: 19th Century photograph, artist unknown. Map (Africa): licensed under Creative Commons – Cartoon: coloured version of a cartoon by the English illustrator Edward Linley Sambourne (1844-1910), published in the London satirical magazine Punch in December 1892. Map (South Africa): from Tomb: date and artist unknown. Schreiner: detail, photographer unknown, published in her 1909 edition of Trooper Halket of Mashonaland. Kruger: 1879, photographer unknown. Coat of Arms: displayed on a wagon once owned by Kruger. Licensed under Creative Commons. Author: Stephantom of the English Wikipedia – https://commons.

xxxxxThe fervent imperialist and diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes spent most of his life in South Africa where, as a statesman in the Cape Colony, he worked tirelessly to extend British rule on the continent. Obsessed with the idea that only the British were capable of bringing the light of civilisation to the Dark Continent, he sought to establish British control over a swathe of territory stretching from the Cape to Cairo - and over the natural wealth that went with it! Whilst this master plan proved beyond his reach, he nevertheless left his mark as an empire builder. In the South, were he hoped to establish a federation of states, he was responsible for the annexation of Bechuanaland and, via his British South Africa Company, for the creation of Rhodesia, a state made up of Mashonaland, occupied in 1891, and Matabeleland, won on the battlefield in 1894. And having made a fortune in the diamond industry, he used a deal of his own money to consolidate the railway and telegraph systems across much of South Africa.

xxxxxRhodes was born in Hertfordshire, England, fifth son of the vicar of Bishops Stortford. He attended the local grammar school, but at the age of 17, having suffered from asthma from an early age, he was sent out to South Africa to benefit from a warmer climate. For about year he worked with his brother Herbert, who had a cotton farm in Natal, but in 1871, anxious to make his own way in the world, he boarded an ox-wagon to Kimberley in Griqualand West, near the junction of the Vaal and Orange Rivers. It proved a wise move. Vast diamond fields had just been discovered in this region, and the British government, in the name of Queen Victoria, had been quick to seize the area - though historically it was part of the Boer controlled Orange Free State. Within seventeen years the newcomer Rhodes, a young man with a keen business sense and limitless ambition, had amassed a huge fortune. Fromx1873, by means of a bank loan and the help of his friend Alfred Beit (1853-1906) - a German who had an intimate knowledge of the diamond market - he slowly bought out the small mining companies in the area, starting with the De Beers mine, owned by two Afrikaner brothers. By 1887 he had made enough profit to purchase his largest rival, the Barnarto Mining Company, and the following year he established the De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited. This giant diamond-mining company was soon dominating the international diamond trade and, by 1891, owned a staggering 90 per cent of the world’s production of diamonds. In the meantime, in the 1870s he divided his time between Kimberley and Oxford (gaining a degree in 1881), and during the mid-1880s he turned his attention to gold, acquiring a large holding in the newly discovered gold mines in the Transvaal, and forming the Gold Fields of South Africa Company in 1887.

xxxxxIn the meantime, to further his commercial and colonial ambitions, Rhodes entered the Cape legislature in 1881, and became prime minister from 1890 to 1896. In home affairs he introduced agricultural reforms in the Cape Colony, and gave the franchise to a limited number of natives, based on wealth and educational qualification. However, his Glen Grey Act of 1894, which set aside an area exclusively for African development, was seen by many as a means of entrenching white supremacy and, later, as the roots of a policy of segregation (apartheid). But it was colonial matters that occupied much of his thought. He was a passionate believer in extending British control further north and gaining from the mineral wealth this might well reveal. With this in mind, and fearing that others - such as the Germans, the Portuguese and the Boers of the Transvaal under President Paul Kruger - might seize territory of commercial value further inland, he embarked on a rapid policy of colonial expansion. In Africa, he declared, one had to “think big”. He enjoyed having power and he was not ashamed to say so.

Click Map to EnlargexxxxxAt one time, fervently believing that the British Empire was the best means of civilising Africa, he entertained the idea of establishing a continuous block of British possessions from Cape Colony to Egypt (where the British had taken control in 1882), but this idea - “painting the map red” as he put it - was not to be realised. The Anglo-German agreement of 1889 gave Germany its colony of East Africa and this drove a wedge between British possessions. A year later, as we have seen, the Belgian King Leopold II, then owner of the Free Congo Republic, laid claim to Katanga and barred his way to the north, and in 1891 the Anglo-Portuguese Convention put an end to his hopes of driving the Portuguese from the continent. In addition, Kruger, a man who believed in Africa for the Afrikaners (the Boers), was to prove a thorn in his side.

xxxxxBut whilst Rhodes’ ambitious scheme for Africa was never achieved in full, he nevertheless made enormous strides in expanding British control over southern Africa, be it by fair means or foul. He played an important role in gaining the annexation of Bechuanaland in 1884 - under threat at that time from the neighbouring German colony of South West Africa and the Boers of the Transvaal - and in 1888 he set out to bring the territories of both Matabeleland and Mashonaland (modern day Zimbabwe) under British control. In that year, due in large measure to the efforts of his close friend and soul mate Doctor Leander Starr Jameson (who numbered Lobengula, the king of the Matabele, among his patients) he managed to secure exclusive mining rights in Mashonaland by what came to be known as the Rudd Concession. This agreement was strictly limited to the search for minerals and the working of mines, but in 1889 Rhodes established the British South Africa Company - despite opposition from those who questioned his motives - and made it into a political instrument. In granting the company’s charter, the British government - fearing the designs of other colonial powers and lured by the promise of mineral wealth - went far beyond the Rudd Concession. It gave the Company the right to rule within its own boundaries, annex neighbouring property and establish its own police force (an army in all but name) for internal security and territorial expansion. Rhodes had at his disposal a trading organisation with the trappings of a state, and he planned to use it to good effect.

xxxxxIn 1890 he persuaded Jameson to abandon his medical practice in Kimberley and join him in a colonial enterprise. Following Rhodes’ instructions, he assembled and led a pioneer column across Matabeleland and into Mashonaland - a journey (see map) of over 400 miles across difficult terrain - and in the September, having erected Fort Salisbury, claimed the territory for the British crown. A bewildered Lobengula, in an attempt to reassert his control over this land, launched a raid across the border, and this gave Rhodes the opportunity he was waiting for. He authorised Jameson to invade Matabeleland and this resulted in The First Matabele War of 1893. As we shall see, this ended in a victory for the British South Africa Company with Rhodes himself negotiating the peace settlement following the death of Lobengula. Two years later the two territories were officially named Rhodesia (arrowed on map) after the man who had schemed so successfully for their seizure.

xxxxxBut triumph was to be followed by disaster when, in 1895, he attempted to overthrow Kruger and regain the Transvaal, a country which, as we have seen, was lost to the British in the First Anglo-Boer War of 1881. This country had attracted a vast number of fortune seekers - many British - when gold was discovered there in 1886, and these Uitlanders (outsiders or foreigners) posed a threat to the Boer government. Denied the basic rights of citizenship and seemingly ready to fight for their cause, they provided the means by which Rhodes could achieve his aim. He figured that with their support he could seize the Transvaal and the Orange Free State for the British and, at the same time, improve the holdings of his gold mining company. With this in mind he instructed Jameson to assemble a force of some 600 men on the Transvaal border ready to launch an invasion once the Uitlanders in Johannesburg rose up against the Boer government. To the outside world the invasion would be seen as a means of restoring law and order, but, in fact, would be used to topple Kruger and seize the country.

xxxxxAs we shall see the Jameson Raid, as it came to be called, ended in total disaster on the second day of 1896. The insurrection in Johannesburg did not take place, but Jameson, believing that his small force could trigger a country-wide revolt once it reached the capital, launched the attack nevertheless. His small army was confronted by a large Boer force five days later and forced to surrender. This fiasco had wide repercussions. Jameson was captured and given a prison sentence, and the British government, which had known of the plot, was forced to cover its tracks. For Rhodes it was the end of the road. In the inquiry that followed, his complicity in the raid forced him to resign his offices both in the Cape government and his chartered company. Throughout the hearing, however, he refused to denounce his friend Jameson.

xxxxxThe raid strained relations between Britain and Germany - following the Kaiser’s congratulatory telegram to Kruger - and, as we shall see, led to the outbreak of the Second Matabele War of 1896 and the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899. Rhodes played a part in both. He returned to South Africa to take an active role in suppressing the revolt of the Matabele and negotiating the peace settlement, and during the war with the Boers he helped to organise and finance the defence of Kimberley when under siege. But by this time he was seriously ill with a heart disease, and he died at the age of 49 in 1902, a few months before the end of the war. His body was taken by train and wagon to Bulawayo and his burial, attended by the Matabele, took place at World’s View in the Matabo Hills, some twenty miles south of the city, (tomb illustrated).   

xxxxxRhodes was a remarkable but strange mixture of a man. As a dreamer, his vision of imposing British rule from the Cape to Cairo eventually came to nought - as did his wild scheme of recovering the American colonies as a step towards a world ruled by the British Empire - but as a hard-headed businessman and an astute colonial statesman in Cape Colony, he played a major role in expanding British influence in South Africa. Having made a quick and immense fortune from diamond mining, he set about extending his business empire and, against all the odds, carved out for himself and the British Empire a new territory in central southern Africa to which he gave his name. He was in favour of developing an understanding between the British and the Afrikaners, but only on his terms. Equality was to be under the British flag. The notorious Jameson Raid put an end to his political and business career, and, deprived of his power base, his later years were somewhat filled with disappointment.

xxxxxIncidentally, today Rhodes is chiefly remembered for the Rhodes Scholarships, established under his will in 1902 and financed by a large proportion of his immense wealth. First introduced in 1903, over seventy scholarships are now awarded annually. Originally intended for young men from the British Empire, the United States and Germany, these offer two years of study at Oxford University. In compliance with Rhodes’ wishes, selection is based not only on scholastic attainment, but also on sporting prowess, moral standing and qualities of leadership. In 1976 the British Parliament gave women the right to apply for these scholarships. ……

xxxxx……xxThe last years of Rhodes’ life were somewhat soured by his association with an aristocratic adventuress named Princess Catherine Radziwill, a woman of Polish origin. Having declined to marry her, she forged a promissory note in his name. She was eventually found guilty of forgery and spent some time in a South African jail, but the affair aroused a great deal of scandal and caused him much embarrassment. ……

xxxxx……xxOn visits to South Africa, the English poet and writer Rudyard Kipling lived in a house provided by Rhodes. His friendship with the diamond magnate and statesman did much to influence his belief in the civilizing mission of the British Empire. ……

xxxxx……xxRhodes never achieved his dream of producing a string of British colonies from Egypt to the Cape Colony, but this was in fact realised for a brief time after the First World War when, in June 1918, the British took over the former German territory of Tanganyika. Four years later, however, Egypt gained its independence. As we shall see, a rival scheme by the French to link their colonies from west to east (Senegal to Djibouti) led to the Fashoda Incident of 1898. ……

xxxxx…… Inx1897 the South African novelist Olive Schreiner (1855-1920) wrote Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland, a bitter, satirical attack upon Rhodes’ blatant expansionist policies. An outspoken feminist, socialist and pacifist, in 1883 she gained international fame with The Story of an African Farm, a realistic, semi-autobiographical novel of life on the South African veldt. Other works included a number of short stories and Women in Labour (1911), a powerful work in support of women’s rights. During the Second Anglo-Boer War, starting in 1899, her house was looted, many of her papers were destroyed, and she was interned for a year because of her support for the Africaners.


xxxxxPaul Kruger (1825-1904) came to be regarded as the Father of the Afrikaner nation. After becoming commandant-general of the Transvaal army, he was appointed a member of the executive council in 1873 and four years later, when the British annexed the Transvaal, was sent to London in an attempt to regain his country’s independence. Failing to do so, he returned to lead the fight for freedom. He played a part in defeating the British in the First Anglo-Boer War, and in 1883 was elected president of the republic, an office he held until 1902. His aim was to maintain the Transvaal as a simple, pastoral land, but the discovery of gold in Witwatersrand in 1886 brought a large influx of gold seekers - Uitlanders (foreigners) - and the country became a target for colonial exploitation. He chose not to grant these newcomers citizenship, and this gave his arch antagonist, the imperialist Cecil Rhodes, the pretext to invade his territory. As we shall see, in 1896 the Jameson Raid was quickly crushed, but a second clash with the British became inevitable. In 1899 the British government demanded equality for British subjects living in the Transvaal and when this was refused the Second Anglo-Boer War broke out in October 1899. Kruger spent most of the war in Holland and died in Switzerland in 1904. Known affectionately as Uncle Paul (Oom Paul) by his people, he was laid to rest in Pretoria.

xxxxxPaul Kruger (1825-1904), father of the Afrikaner nation, was born on the family farm near Craddock in Eastern Cape Province. His forefathers were Prussians who arrived in South Africa at the beginning of the 18th century. When he was ten his family moved north and, having crossed the Orange River, joined up with the Great Trek, then making for Natal. The family eventually settled in the Transvaal.

xxxxxKruger took up farming as a young man, but he was set on being a soldier and began his military service as a field cornet. In 1854 he was appointed commandant of Rustenburg and, six years later, named the commandant-general of the Transvaal Army. As advisor to the President he negotiated border settlements with the Zulus and the Orange Free State and, after resigning from his military post in 1873, became a member of the executive council. When the British annexed the Transvaal in 1877 he travelled to London as part of a delegation, seeking to restore some measure of independence for his country, but the British government would make no concessions. As a result, on his return to South Africa he took a leading part in the fight for freedom, and when the First Anglo-Boer War broke out in 1880 he contributed to the defeat of the British. As a skilled stalker and marksman, he helped to develop the tactics of guerrilla warfare which culminated in the decisive Boer victory at the Battle of Majuba Hill in 1881. He then played a crucial role in the negotiations which led to the restoration of Transvaal independence.

xxxxxIn 1883 he was appointed state president and, re-elected four times, served in this office until 1902. During this time he came to be affectionately known as Uncle Paul (Oom Paul), and the Old Lion of Transvaal. As president his aim was to defend and maintain the Transvaal as a simple pastoral land, but in 1886 the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand Basin transformed his country overnight and made it a target for colonial exploitation. In this respect, the imperialist designs of his arch antagonist, the British diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes, posed a particular threat. But the policy Kruger adopted to deal with the vast influx of gold seekers - many from Britain - only served to make matters worse. By imposing heavy taxes on these foreigners or outsiders (Uitlanders), and denying them citizenship, he aroused their hostility and gave Rhodes an opportunity to intervene on the pretext of restoring law and order. As we shall see, the infamous Jameson Raid of 1895 was quickly stopped in its tracks and forced to surrender early in 1896, but it made a second clash with the British inevitable. The “Kruger telegram” in which the German Kaiser congratulated the president on his victory, alarmed the British. They feared that a rapprochement between Germany and the Transvaal would pose a serious threat to British domination across the whole of the southern region - and the wealth that went with it.

xxxxxIn South Africa, the Jameson Raid united the Transvaal Boers behind President Kruger, and led to a military pact with the Orange Free State in 1897. Both republics built up the strength of their armies, mostly from German factories. In May 1899 a conference at Bloemfontein failed to reach an agreement over the position of the Uitlanders, and in September the British colonial secretary Joseph Chamberlain demanded full equality for British citizens living in the Transvaal. Kruger then issued his own ultimatum, demanding that British troops withdraw from Transvaal borders, and, receiving no reply - and reckoning that attack was the best means of defence - ordered an invasion of Natal and Cape Colony. As we shall see, the Second Anglo-Boer War, beginning in October 1899, was to be a much longer and bloodier conflict than the first.

xxxxxKruger was too old to take an active part in the fighting, but as champion of his people he proved an inspiration to his fighting troops. In 1900 however, as British troops advanced on Pretoria, he left for Europe in a vain effort to summon up support for his country. He settled in Holland for the remainder of the war, and then moved to Clavens in Switzerland. It was there that he died in July 1904. His body was shipped to Cape Town and taken by train for burial in the Heroes Acre in the Church Street cemetery, Pretoria.

xxxxxIncidentally, on his appointment as president in 1883 Kruger made a visit to Europe, visiting Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Spain. In Germany he was invited to an imperial banquet where he met the Kaiser, Wilhelm I, and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.


Paul Kruger