Ruthless and philanthropic, visionary and practical, the man after whom Rhodesia was named is a controversial but intriguing figure. Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) was a sickly child sent to South Africa for his health; he became one of the world’s richest men, who could start and end wars all by himself.
IN 1870, at the age of seventeen, Cecil Rhodes was sent to South Africa for his health. Twenty years later, he had turned a few small diamond mines into almost complete global dominance as the first Chairman of De Beers, and also founded the Cape’s international fruit industry.
Rhodes sought to use his portfolio of mining companies to export British values, trade, and ideas of government,* sometimes in a treacherous and ruthless way, but sometimes with great nobility. His actions helped start the Second Matabele War of 1896 to 1897; his courageous, unarmed diplomacy also put a stop to it.
The region governed by his British South Africa Company was renamed Rhodesia in his honour in 1895. When Rhodes died seven years later, one of the world’s wealthiest men, he left his fortune to a new Trust for agriculture, conservation, and public education in Rhodesia and South Africa, so that Africans might match the civilisation and prosperity of the country of his birth.
* His British South Africa Company had been party to the ill-fated ‘Jameson Raid’ in 1896, leading to the second Boer War. See our post The Boer Wars.