Socialist Worker

Dripping blood from every pore—why Rhodes must fall

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2488

Cecil Rhodes rhodes must fall oriel college

Racist empire builder Cecil Rhodes


Oriel College, part of Oxford University, announced this week that having considered all the arguments—in particular those from its wealthy donors—it had decided not to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes.

In a statement, campaign group Rhodes Must Fall said: "This recent move is outrageous, dishonest, and cynical.

"This is not over. We will be redoubling our efforts and meeting over the weekend to discuss our next actions."

Here is an article from 1996 which shows why Rhodes is so hated, both in southern Africa, but more generally as well


When Cecil Rhodes died in 1902 one of his closest colleagues wrote, “It was his distinction to be the first of the new dynasty of money kinds. Mr Rhodes recognised the opportunities of ruling the world which wealth affords its possessors.” Rhodes was a racist, an imperialist, a brutal exploiter of black Africans and a forerunner of apartheid.

Cecil Rhodes arrived in South Africa from Britain in 1870. He was the son of a wealthy parson who had been sent to work on his brother’s cotton farm to recover his health.

He moved to Kimberley, where diamonds had recently been discovered.

The normal method of working diamonds was for a single, usually white, miner to dig his own piece of territory—his “claim”—with the help of an African worker.

Rhodes’ “genius” was to recognise that the way to maximise the chances of finding diamonds was to buy up a lot of claims.

He cornered the market in the pumping equipment essential to mining, and thereby raised the money to buy land. He ensured a monopoly by sabotaging his rivals’ machines.

He grabbed most of the claims on a farm owned by a man named De Beers. This turned out to be stuffed with diamonds and within a few years Rhodes had almost unimaginable wealth.

Rhodes’ De Beers company became the leading diamond firm, and remains the world’s largest.

But Rhodes was not satisfied. He believed that it was Britain’s destiny to rule the world.

“I contend that we are the first race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race,” he wrote.

Rhodes regarded the independence of America from Britain as the greatest tragedy of modern times.

In 1877 he thought the empire should—as a start—include the whole of Africa, most of the Middle East, the whole of South America, the islands of the Pacific, Malaya and the coasts of China and Japan.

When people challenged Rhodes that this would lead to conflict, he answered that wars would end only when Britain ruled everywhere.

He also believed that an empire was the only way to stop revolution at home. He calculated that the British market could not support more than six million workers and that “colonial statesmen must acquire new lands to settle the surplus population and provide new markets.”

At a different time Rhodes’ plan would have been regarded as impossible. But he emerged just as the “scramble for Africa” was beginning. In 1880 most of the continent was still ruled by Africans.

Twenty years later it was almost entirely ruled by rich whites who had snatched 30 new colonies, 10 million square miles of territory and 110 million new subjects.

British companies had previously exploited foreign markets with the occasional backup of a gunboat.

But when other capitalist countries tried to push into Africa, it led to sharp competition and pressure towards taking over countries rather than simply influencing local rulers.

cecil rhodes rhodes must fall zimbabwe africa

A cartoon depicts Cecil Rhodes straddling the entire African continent


So Rhodes fitted in with the development of imperialism.

He often quarrelled with the government in Britain. Frequently even strongly pro-imperialist politicians were appalled at the wildness of his schemes.

But if they came off, they would be welcomed.

Rhodes’s imperialism was also firmly rooted in the needs of De Beers and South African capitalism. The mining companies faced a critical shortage of black labour.

Rhodes once said, “I prefer land to niggers.” But he could not dig his precious diamonds without workers.

Most Africans refused to leave their homes for a life of toil under a vicious white boss.

This resistance was broken by seizing their land through a series of wars. Then taxes were imposed. This meant blacks had to earn money to buy food and pay the authorities.

In addition, by seizing territories the colonialists could force through new labour laws to ensure a steady supply of workers.

In 1880 Rhodes became a South African MP.

South Africa was made up of a British colony and independent “Boer Republics”, set up by the settlers of the original Dutch settlers.

Rhodes demanded that the colony be pushed outwards. The British government eventually took up his urgings. They helped him seize the vast area of Bechuanaland, part of which is modern Botswana.

Next on the list was the area further north, Zambesia, which the Boers were threatening to occupy.

It was inhabited by the Ndebele who the British called Matabele. Rhodes sent an agent to sign a deal with the Ndebele king Lobengula.

Rhodes bought the mining rights for £100 a month and consignment of rifles.  He promised that no more than ten whites would enter the kingdom.

But he soon assembled a force of 200 “pioneers” defended by 700 mounted police to invade the territory. They were disappointed they found no gold, but they did discover plentiful supplies of cheap labour.

Slaughtered

Rhodes launched a vicious war to subdue the Ndebele entirely. He slaughtered thousands of in an almost entirely one sided contest.

One of Rhodes’s key official reported gleefully that “the Matabele have been cut down by our machine guns like a corn field by a reaping machine.”

The country became known as Rhodesia after its founder.

One of Rhodes’s agents wrote that his hardest tasks were to prevent blacks fleeing as soon as they saw a white man and “to stop whites assaulting and raping any native woman they found alone.”

In enslaving the Ndebele—and the area’s original inhabitants, the Shona—Rhodes was following developments back in South Africa.

His mine company had expanded into the new goldfields of the Witwatersrand.

Rhodes personally supervised the introduction of the closed compound system, whereby miners were kept throughout their working lives in barbed wire guarded barracks.

This was to make sure they turned up to work and did not have an opportunity to sell stolen diamonds.

The logic of this policy was that De Beers negotiated for a supply of prisoners as labour.

Workers who were regarded as uncooperative were put in chains, placed in stocks and flogged.

When they finished their contract they were fitted with leather gloves locked at the elbow, given laxatives and shut in solitary confinement for five to ten days to prevent them from removing diamonds in their bodies.

Such racist degradation is a long way from the dashing image of Rhodes.

cecil rhodes rhodes must fall zimbabwe africa

Racist brute Cecil Rhodes


He became prime minister at the Cape, the main British holding in South Africa, and introduced laws which formed a model for apartheid.

Property and educational qualifications removed the vote from almost all Africans. Africans were restricted to no more than ten acres of land—not enough to feed a family. Rhodes also rammed through a bill that allowed whites to beat their servants.

He was feted by London’s rich and powerful. He visited Queen Victoria and was given a top award.

Returning to Africa, Rhodes focused on the Transvaal, the gold rich Boer republic.

He backed the “Jameson Raid”, led by a Scottish doctor, to secure the territory for the British. But, unlike Ndebele, the Boers had guns.

Rhodes’s plans were dashed and, back in Rhodesia, the Ndebele and then the Shona rose in revolt.

For a time it looked as though Rhodes would be abandoned by those who had fawned on him. Fortunately for him the German Kaiser congratulated the Boers on their victory.

Faced with this threat from the main imperial rival, the British ruling class felt compelled to celebrate Rhodes as a great hero and he was sent troops to secure his rule.

Towards the end of his life Rhodes spoke of his view of how blacks would always have to be ruled by whites. He summed up the way in which he interests of capitalism would produce strict apartheid in South Africa in 1948.

In Rhodesia, tens of thousands of whites ruled over millions of blacks who had no votes and no rights. The white minority regime was finally defeated in 1980 when Rhodesia became independent Zimbabwe.

Throughout his life Rhodes used fraud, trickery and cruelty to secure his own advantage.

It is often said he cared little for money. But for the 15 years from the mid-1880s to his death, he made sure his salary never slipped below the modern equivalent of £14 million a year.

Rhodes was a racist brute.


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