by Hannes Wessels
When his name’s mentioned it has become frightfully fashionable to speak of Cecil Rhodes in derogatory terms. Arch capitalist, imperialist, misogynist and racist; in today’s world it can hardly get worse. A while ago, before being homosexual became viewed as a special and admirable inclination he was also labelled as one but now the PC mafia are in a little bit of a quandary as to whether or not they want him tainting that sainted group so that finger is less often pointed today.
Like him or not Rhodes influence on Africa has been likened to Lincoln’s on the United States so he’s undeniably of huge historical importance but one has to look hard and far to find a politician, celebrity, media-mogul, news editor or even an academic who is willing to speak in his defence. Among the post-colonial African political leadership the unanimous view is of an icon of a time of racist-inspired terror with Rhodes the man who plundered the lion’s share of the blood-soaked sub-continent’s treasures. All, for ill-gotten personal reward to be stuffed in foreign vaults leaving the Africans in abject poverty. Such is the hatred his memory engenders Robert Mugabe’s ruling party in Zimbabwe launched a bid to exhume his remains from the Matopo Hills in the west of the country and dispatch them back to England so as not to sully the African soils any longer than necessary.
This is the horribly jaundiced view of the man that most hold today and will, no doubt hold, in the future. For those who are dismissive of Henry Ford who famously said ‘history is bunk’ the conventional wisdom about Rhodes is riveting proof he was right.
The fact is Rhodes got very rich through being smart, shrewd, prescient and in all likelihood ruthless. He was also in the right place at the right time and he had some solid financial backing from big bankers like the Rothschilds but he, unlike most of his critics, never broke the law or killed anyone in amassing his fortune. And, again unlike those who bewail the fact he ever entered this world he immediately turned his attentions to how he could use this wealth to improve the lives of fellow human-beings.
Thanks to Rhodes, his vision and his unbridled generosity, universities, schools and hospitals were built, national parks were established and estates were purchased and owned only long enough to be bequeathed on his death to the country’s in which they were situated. Roads, railways and telegraph lines were installed that extended as far as Katanga in the southern Congo bringing a primitive sub-continent within striking distance of the modern world. All this is now contemptuously dismissed as colonialism but behind his dream was to use his own resources to lay the African platform for a polity that would enrich the people of all races. The template he was following, based on the fundamentals of English governance, was pretty much the same one used by the Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and Americans. Most might agree they have not done too badly following this formula; the mind can only boggle at the thought of what might have become of ridiculously resource-rich Africa if Rhodes had had his way. Alas he did not and we all are poorer for this failure but as much as many would like to forget him and be rid of the memory of this controversial man his scholarship is a burning blight upon the multitude who like to loathe him and on inspection of his directives in his will one can see why.
He insisted that recipients show, ‘Truth, courage, devotion to duty ..’ and ‘moral force of character’. His avowed aim through these scholarships was to create leaders who will ‘help render war impossible’. Just who decided Bill Clinton fitted this profile is unknown but I have no doubt, that despite the fact that this accolade may well have been a critical factor in elevating this man of little moral fibre to the presidency of the United States, ‘Slick Willy’ will not be found in the line of defence of Cecil Rhodes and nor will thousands of others who have benefitted hugely from this man’s foresight and funding.
The comparison with the billionaire political despots who blight Africa today and vilify Rhodes is a telling indictment of where we find ourselves. Unlike Rhodes, none of these leaders have generated any wealth through business acumen and enterprise; virtually all have stolen from the state what really should have been the property of the people they supposedly lead. And again unlike Rhodes, these individuals have used little or none of their undeserved rewards in Africa; their money really is stuffed in European vaults and the prime beneficiaries apart from themselves are the filthy white pigs who once colonised them!