To and for the establishment, promotion and development of a Secret Society, the true aim and object whereof shall be for the extension of British rule throughout the world, the perfecting of a system of emigration from the United Kingdom, and of colonisation by British subjects of all lands where the means of livelihood are attainable by energy, labour and enterprise, and especially the occupation by British settlers of the entire Continent of Africa, the Holy Land, the Valley of the Euphrates, the Islands of Cyprus and Candia, the whole of South America, the Islands of the Pacific not heretofore possessed by Great Britain, the whole of the Malay Archipelago, the seaboard of China and Japan, the ultimate recovery of the United States of America as an integral part of the British Empire, the inauguration of a system of Colonial representation in the Imperial Parliament which may tend to weld together the disjointed members of the Empire and, finally, the foundation of so great a Power as to render wars impossible, and promote the best interests of humanity.
After purchasing the land in 1839 from David Danser, a Koranna chief in the area, David Stephanus Fourie, Claudine Fourie-Grosvenor's forebearer, had allowed the de Beers and various other Afrikaner families to cultivate the land. The region extended from the Modder River via the Vet River up to the Vaal River.
On domestic politics within Britain Rhodes was a supporter of the Liberal Party. Rhodes' only major impact was his large-scale support of the Irish nationalist party, led by Charles Stewart Parnell (1846–1891).
Rhodes was born in 1853 in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, England. He was the fifth son of the Reverend Francis william Rhodes and his wife Louisa Peacock Rhodes. His Father was a Church of England clergyman who was proud of never having preached a sermon longer than 10 minutes. His siblings included Francis william Rhodes, who became an army officer.
Rhodes attended the Bishop's Stortford Grammar School from the age of nine, but, as a sickly, asthmatic adolescent, he was taken out of grammar school in 1869 and, according to Basil Williams, "continued his studies under his father's eye (...) His health was weak and there were even fears that he might be consumptive, a disease of which several of the family showed symptoms. His Father therefore determined to send him abroad to try the effect of a sea voyage and a better climate.
Herbert [Cecil's brother] had already set up as a planter in Natal, South Africa, so Cecil was despatched on a sailing vessel to join Herbert in Natal. The voyage to Durban took him seventy days, and on 1 September 1870 he first set foot on African soil, a "tall, lanky, anaemic, fair-haired boy, shy and reserved in bearing". His family's hope was that the climate would improve his health. They expected he would help his older brother Herbert who operated a cotton farm.
In October 1871, 18-year-old Rhodes and his brother Herbert left the colony for the Diamond fields of Kimberley. Financed by N M Rothschild & Sons, Rhodes succeeded over the next 17 years in buying up all the smaller Diamond mining operations in the Kimberley area. In 1873, he returned to Britain to study at Oxford, but stayed there for only one term after which he went back to South Africa. His monopoly of the world's Diamond supply was sealed in 1890 through a strategic partnership with the London-based Diamond Syndicate. They agreed to control world supply to maintain high prices. Rhodes supervised the working of his brother's claim and speculated on his behalf. Among his associates in the early days were John X. Merriman and Charles Rudd, who later became his partner in the De Beers Mining Company and the Niger Oil Company.
He was sent to Natal aged 16 because it was believed the climate might help problems with his heart. On returning to England in 1872 his health again deteriorated with heart and lung problems, to the extent that his Doctor, Sir Morell Mackenzie, believed he would only survive six months. He returned to Kimberley where his health improved. From age 40 his heart condition returned with increasing severity until his death from heart failure in 1902, aged 48, at his seaside cottage in Muizenberg.
In 1873, Rhodes left his farm field in the care of his Business partner, Rudd, and sailed for England to study at university. He was admitted to Oriel College, Oxford, but stayed for only one term in 1873. He returned to South Africa and did not return for his second term at Oxford until 1876. He was greatly influenced by John Ruskin's inaugural lecture at Oxford, which reinforced his own attachment to the cause of British imperialism.
In 1874 and 1875, the Diamond fields were in the grip of depression, but Rhodes and Rudd were among those who stayed to consolidate their interests. They believed that diamonds would be numerous in the hard blue ground that had been exposed after the softer, yellow layer near the surface had been worked out. During this time, the technical Problem of clearing out the water that was flooding the mines became serious. Rhodes and Rudd obtained the contract for pumping water out of the three main mines. After Rhodes returned from his first term at Oxford he lived with Robert Dundas Graham, who later became a mining partner with Rudd and Rhodes.
At his death he was considered one of the wealthiest men in the world. In his first will, written in 1877 before he had accumulated his wealth, Rhodes wanted to create a secret society that would bring the whole world under British rule. The exact wording from this will is:
When Rhodes became a member of the Cape Parliament, the chief goal of the assembly was to help decide the Future of Basutoland. The ministry of Sir Gordon Sprigg was trying to restore order after the 1880 rebellion known as the Gun War. The Sprigg ministry had precipitated the revolt by applying its policy of disarming all native Africans to those of the Basotho nation.
Rhodes never married, pleading, "I have too much work on my hands" and saying that he would not be a dutiful husband. Some Writers and academics have suggested that Rhodes may have been homosexual. The scholar Richard Brown observed: "On the issue of Rhodes' sexuality... there is, once again, simply not enough reliable evidence to reach firm, irrefutable conclusions. It is inferred, but not proven, that Rhodes was homosexual and it is assumed (but not proven) that his relationships with men were sometimes physical. Neville Pickering is described as Rhodes' lover in spite of the absence of decisive evidence." Rhodes was close to Pickering; he returned from negotiations for Pickering's 25th birthday in 1882. On that occasion, Rhodes drew up a new will leaving his estate to Pickering.
Pickering's successor was Henry Latham Currey, the son of an old friend, who had become Rhodes's private secretary in 1884. When Currey became engaged in 1894, Rhodes was deeply mortified and their relationship ended.
Rhodes had already tried and failed to get a mining concession from Lobengula, king of the Ndebele of Matabeleland. In 1888 he tried again. He sent John Moffat, son of the missionary Robert Moffat, who was trusted by Lobengula, to persuade the latter to sign a treaty of friendship with Britain, and to look favourably on Rhodes' proposals. His associate Charles Rudd, together with Francis Thompson and Rochfort Maguire, assured Lobengula that no more than ten white men would mine in Matabeleland. This limitation was left out of the document, known as the Rudd Concession, which Lobengula signed. Furthermore, it stated that the mining companies could do anything necessary to their operations. When Lobengula discovered later the true effects of the concession, he tried to renounce it, but the British Government ignored him.
Armed with the Rudd Concession, in 1889 Rhodes obtained a charter from the British Government for his British South Africa Company (BSAC) to rule, police, and make new treaties and concessions from the Limpopo River to the great lakes of Central Africa. He obtained further concessions and treaties north of the Zambezi, such as those in Barotseland (the Lochner Concession with King Lewanika in 1890, which was similar to the Rudd Concession); and in the Lake Mweru area (Alfred Sharpe's 1890 Kazembe concession). Rhodes also sent Sharpe to get a concession over mineral-rich Katanga, but met his match in ruthlessness: when Sharpe was rebuffed by its ruler Msiri, King Leopold II of Belgium obtained a concession over Msiri's dead body for his Congo Free State.
This enterprise was not without its problems. France had a rival strategy in the late 1890s to link its colonies from west to east across the continent and the Portuguese produced the "Pink Map", representing their claims to sovereignty in Africa. Ultimately, Belgium and Germany proved to be the main obstacles to the British dream until the United Kingdom seized Tanganyika from the Germans as a League of Nations mandate.
The growing number of enfranchised black people in the Cape led him to raise the franchise requirements in 1892 to counter this preponderance, with drastic effects on the traditional Cape Qualified Franchise. By simultaneously limiting the amount of land black Africans were legally allowed to hold while tripling the property qualifications required to vote, Rhodes succeeded in disenfranchising the black population, as, to quote Richard Dowden, most would now "find it almost impossible to get back on the list because of the legal limit on the amount of land they could hold". In addition, Rhodes was an early Architect of the Natives Land Act, 1913, which would limit the areas of the country that black Africans were allowed to less than 10%. At the time, Rhodes would argue that "the native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise. We must adopt a system of despotism, such as works in India, in our relations with the barbarism of South Africa."
By the end of 1894, the territories over which the BSAC had concessions or treaties, collectively called "Zambesia" after the Zambezi River flowing through the middle, comprised an area of 1,143,000 km² between the Limpopo River and Lake Tanganyika. In May 1895, its name was officially changed to "Rhodesia", reflecting Rhodes' popularity among settlers who had been using the name informally since 1891. The designation Southern Rhodesia was officially adopted in 1898 for the part south of the Zambezi, which later became Zimbabwe; and the designations North-Western and North-Eastern Rhodesia were used from 1895 for the territory which later became Northern Rhodesia, then Zambia.
Rhodes did not, however, have direct political power over the independent Boer Republic of the Transvaal. He often disagreed with the Transvaal government's policies, which he considered unsupportive of mine-owners' interests. In 1895, believing he could use his influence to overthrow the Boer government, Rhodes supported the infamous Jameson Raid, an attack on the Transvaal with the tacit approval of Secretary of State for the Colonies Joseph Chamberlain. The raid was a catastrophic failure. It forced Cecil Rhodes to resign as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, sent his oldest brother Col. Frank Rhodes to jail in Transvaal convicted of high treason and nearly sentenced to death, and contributed to the outbreak of the Second Boer War.
In 1899, he was sued by a man named Burrows for falsely representing the purpose of the raid and therefore convincing him to participate in the raid, wherein he lost a leg. His suit for £3000 in damages was successful.
Rhodes decreed in his will that he was to be buried in Matobo Hills. After his death in the Cape in 1902, his body was transported by train to Bulawayo. His burial was attended by Ndebele chiefs, who asked that the firing party should not discharge their rifles as this would disturb the spirits. Then, for the first time, they gave a white man the Matabele royal salute, Bayete. Rhodes is buried alongside Leander Starr Jameson and 34 British Soldiers killed in the Shangani Patrol. Despite occasional efforts to return his body to the United Kingdom, his grave remains there still, "part and parcel of the history of Zimbabwe" and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Rhodes University College, now Rhodes University, in Grahamstown, was established in his name by his trustees and founded by Act of Parliament on 31 May 1904.
The residents of Kimberley elected to build a memorial in Rhodes' honour in their city, which was unveiled in 1907. The 72-ton bronze statue depicts Rhodes on his horse, looking north with map in hand, and dressed as he was when met the Ndebele after their rebellion.
Rhodes Memorial stands on Rhodes' favourite spot on the slopes of Devil's Peak, Cape Town, with a view looking north and east towards the Cape to Cairo route. From 1910 to 1984 Rhodes' house in Cape Town, Groote Schuur, was the official Cape residence of the Prime Ministers of South Africa and continued as a presidential residence of P. W. Botha and F. W. De Klerk.
His birthplace was established in 1938 as the Rhodes Memorial Museum, now known as Bishops Stortford Museum. The cottage in Muizenberg where he died is a provincial heritage site in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The cottage today is operated as a museum by the Muizenberg Historical Conservation Society, and is open to the public. A broad display of Rhodes material can be seen, including the original De Beers board room table around which diamonds worth billions of dollars were traded.
Memorials to Rhodes have been opposed since at least the 1950s, when some Afrikaner students demanded the removal of a Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town. A 2015 movement, known as "Rhodes Must Fall" (or #RhodesMustFall on social media), began with student protests at the University of Cape Town that were successful in getting university authorities to remove the Rhodes statue from the campus. The protest also had the broader goal of highlighting what the Activists considered the lack of systemic post-apartheid racial transformation in South African institutions.
In 2004, he was voted 56th in the SABC 3 television series Great South Africans.
The continued presence of Rhodes' grave in the Matopos hills has not been without controversy in contemporary Zimbabwe. In December 2010 Cain Mathema, the governor of Bulawayo, branded Rhodes' grave outside the country's second city of Bulawayo an "insult to the African ancestors" and said he believed its presence had brought bad luck and poor weather to the region. The grave site is considered an important national and historic monument on protected land which attracts many tourist visitors every year.
In February 2012, Mugabe loyalists and ZANU-PF Activists visited the grave site demanding permission from the local chief to exhume Rhodes' remains and return them to Britain. This was considered a nationalist political stunt in the run up to an election, rather than representing any genuine national Desire to remove the grave. Local Chief Masuku and Godfrey Mahachi, one of the country's foremost archaeologists, strongly expressed their opposition to the grave being removed due to its historical significance to Zimbabwe. Then-president Robert Mugabe also opposed the move.
Two years later, Pickering suffered a riding accident. Rhodes nursed him faithfully for six weeks, refusing even to answer telegrams concerning his Business interests. Pickering died in Rhodes's arms, and at his funeral, Rhodes was said to have wept with fervour. Brown comments: "there is still the simpler but major Problem of the extraordinarily thin evidence on which the conclusions about Rhodes are reached. Rhodes himself left few details... Indeed, Rhodes is a singularly difficult subject... since there exists little intimate material – no diaries and few personal letters."
When the Ndebele and the Shona—the two main, but rival, peoples—separately rebelled against the coming of the European settlers, the BSAC defeated them in the First Matabele War and Second Matabele War. Shortly after learning of the assassination of the Ndebele spiritual leader, Mlimo, by the American scout Frederick Russell Burnham, Rhodes walked unarmed into the Ndebele stronghold in Matobo Hills. He persuaded the Impi to lay down their arms, thus ending the Second Matabele War.
Rhodes's views on race have been debated. Critics on the left have labelled him as an "architect of apartheid" and a "white supremacist", particularly since 2015. According to Magubane, Rhodes was "unhappy that in many Cape Constituencies, Africans could be decisive if more of them exercised this right to vote under current law [referring to the Cape Qualified Franchise]," with Rhodes arguing that "the native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise. We must adopt a system of despotism, such as works in India, in our relations with the barbarism of South Africa". Rhodes advocated the governance of indigenous Africans living in the Cape Colony "in a state of barbarism and communal tenure" as "a subject race. I do not go so far as the member for Victoria West, who would not give the black man a vote. ... If the whites maintain their position as the supreme race, the day may come when we shall be thankful that we have the natives with us in their proper position."