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
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
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.
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
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
Whilst studying at Oxford, concern for his
health and for the mines caused him to spend much of
his time in
(he finally graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree
In 1880 Rhodes entered the Cape House of
Assembly as member of parliament for the newly
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
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
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,
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
In the late 1880s there were rumours of gold
north of the Transvaal, in the territories of the
Matabele (Ndebele) and Shona peoples. King
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.
11 February 1888 Lobengula entered into a treaty
which bound him "to alienate no part of his
territory without the High Commissioner's prior
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
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.
May 1890 Rhodes was elected Prime Minister
of the Cape Colony.
Shortly afterwards, he dispatched
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
In June 1895 the legislature
formally pronounced the absorption of
British Bechuanaland into the Cape Colony.
In 1895 the Reform Movement, led by mine
owners in the Transvaal Republic and secretly supported
by Rhodes, plotted to overthrow the
On 29 December 1895 a raiding party of
600 armed men, led by
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
who defended Ahmed Kathrada,
Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias
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
The De Beers Group continues today and
is one of the world's
most important mineral mining companies.