Images of Southern Africa - Cecil Rhodes' statue

Cecil Rhodes' statue

The photograph shows one of several statues to Cecil Rhodes in Cape Town. It stands in the Company Gardens (see Cape Town panorama). Rhodes is pointing north and the inscription reads 'Your hinterland is there'.

Cecil John Rhodes was born on 5 July 1853 in Bishop's Stortford, England. Cecil was not a healthy child and his doctor advised that he join his brother in South Africa. He did so at the age of 17. In 1871 he and his brother travelled to Kimberley to prospect for diamonds. To say he was successful would be an understatement: he established a diamond company, De Beers, in 1880 and soon controlled the whole industry. De Beers continues to monopolise the global diamond industry.

Between 1880 and his death in Cape Town on 26 March 1902, Rhodes had one major wish – to ‘paint the map of Africa red from the Cape to Cairo’. (Red being the colour used on maps to show territory ‘belonging’ to Britain.) In 1890 Rhodes’ Selous Scouts moved north and planted the British flag deep in Mashonaland at Fort Salisbury (now Harare). In 1894, after conquering Matabeleland, he named the new territory Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Rhodes did not live to see his dream become reality. In 1919, the British confiscated Tanganyika (now Tanzania) - the one remaining nation in the South Africa-Egypt link - from Germany after the First World War. However, the two parts of his major railway, which were started in both Cairo in Egypt and Cape Town, are still not joined together. Rhodes is buried where he wished: in the Matopos Hills at his favourite ‘View of the world’ a few kilometres south of Bulawayo in present day Zimbabwe.

When he died, Rhodes left much of his vast fortune to Oxford University to establish 52 annual scholarships for men from the British Empire and the United States. Today 94 Rhodes Scholarships are awarded each year to both women and men. In 2002, the Mandela-Rhodes Foundation was established, the aim of this is to finance the development of human resources in Africa with a special emphasis on South Africa.

Ideas for further exploration:

  • Views on Cecil Rhodes vary considerably. Draw up a list of points for and against his activities and attempt to reach a decision in terms of the global impact of them.
  • Look at a modern atlas map of Africa. How many kilometres of railway need to be constructed to complete the Cape Town to Cairo link?
  • One of the most difficult engineering problems that faced Rhodes when he was building his railway northwards from Cape Town, was that posed by the River Zambesi. How did he overcome this obstacle and is his answer still there?
  • Rudyard Kipling (a great friend of Rhodes) wrote the following lines about him:

The immense and brooding spirit still
Shall quicken and control.
Living he was the land and dead
His soul shall be her soul.

  • What do you think Kipling means? Do his lines have anything to say to the new post-empire and post-apartheid South Africa?


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Winfried Bruenken

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