Cecil Rhodes: King of Diamonds

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3 mins read

Cecil John Rhodes (5 July 1853 – 26 March 1902) was a British mining magnate, and politician in southern Africa. He was prime minister of Cape Colony (1890 – 1896) and organiser of the giant diamond-mining company De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. (1888). An ardent believer in British imperialism, Rhodes and his British South Africa Company founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia), which the company named after him in 1895.

Early life and financial successes

The son of a vicar, Rhodes was born at Netteswell House, Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire. As a sickly child 17 year old, he was sent to South Africa by his parents in the hope that the climate might improve his health. He entered the diamond trade at Kimberley in 1871, when he was 18, and, thanks to funding from Rothschild & Co, began to systematically buy out and consolidate diamond mines. Over the next two decades he gained near-complete domination of the world diamond market, forming a massive monopoly. His diamond company De Beers, formed in 1888, retained its prominence into the 21st century.

Political involvement in Southern Africa

Rhodes entered the Cape Parliament at the age of 27 in 1881, and in 1890, he became Prime Minister. During his time as Prime Minister, Rhodes used his political power to expropriate land from black Africans through the Glen Grey Act, while also tripling the wealth requirement for voting under the Franchise and Ballot Act, effectively barring black people from taking part in elections.

After overseeing the formation of Rhodesia during the early 1890s, he was forced to resign in 1896 after the disastrous Jameson Raid, an unauthorised attack on Paul Kruger’s South African Republic (or Transvaal). Rhodes’s career never recovered; his heart was weak and after years of poor health he died in 1902.

Responsible for perhaps the greatest genocide of black Africans – a history not very widely publicised (estimated at around 60 million Africans killed). Rhodes, like many men of his time, believed in the social application of Darwin’s ideas, the so-called social Darwinism. Due to this he was a deep defender of the superiority of the white race, in relation to the other races

Controversy in death 

Cecil Rhodes, Dr. Leander Starr Jameson and several other leading early white settlers, including Allan Wilson and all the members of the Shangani Patrol killed in the First Matabele War, are buried here on the summit of Malindidzimu, the “hill of benevolent spirits.” Today, his grave site is part of Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe.

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