Cecil John Rhodes built wealth by exploiting Africans

By Murphy Browne Wednesday April 01 2015 in Opinion
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By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)

“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.”

Excerpt from the 1877 will of Cecil John Rhodes.

On April 2, 1902 the famous “Rhodes Scholarship” was established with $10 million from the estate of Cecil John Rhodes. Rhodes specified in his will the qualities of the “men” who would benefit from studying at Oxford University in the United Kingdom: “My desire being that the students who shall be elected to the scholarships shall not merely be bookworms, I direct that in the election of a student to a Scholarship regard shall be had to (I) his literary and scholastic attainments (II) his fondness of and success in manly outdoor sports such as cricket, football and the like (III) his qualities of manhood truth courage devotion to duty sympathy for the protection of the weak kindliness unselfishness and fellowship and (IV) his exhibition during school days of moral force of character and of instincts to lead to and to take an interest in his schoolmates for those latter attributes will be likely in afterlife to guide him to esteem the performance of public duties as his highest aim.”

Rhodes also left very specific instructions about the countries from where these “Rhodes Scholars” would be selected. The 57 scholarships were to be awarded each year to 32 students from the United States, 20 students from various parts of what was then the British Empire and five students from Germany. Of the students from the British Empire, three from Canada, six from Australia, five from South Africa, three from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and one each from Bermuda, Jamaica and New Zealand.


At the time (1902), Bermuda and Jamaica were both British colonies in the Caribbean where slavery had only been abolished less than 70 years before (1834-1838), so Africans in those countries would not have benefited from the Rhodes Scholarship in 1903, when the first beneficiaries were granted scholarships.


Alain LeRoy Locke, the first African to gain a scholarship from the Rhodes trust, graduated from Philadelphia’s Central High School in 1902. Locke graduated from Harvard University in 1907 with degrees in literature and philosophy. Although he was granted a scholarship in 1907 as the first African-American Rhodes Scholar, Locke was denied admission to several colleges at the University of Oxford because of his race. He finally gained entry into Hertford College at Oxford, where he studied from 1907 to 1910 before returning to Harvard to complete his PhD in philosophy.


Locke is considered the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance”. The American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) defines the Harlem Renaissance: “The Harlem Renaissance was the name given to the cultural, social, and artistic explosion that took place in Harlem between the end of World War I and the middle of the 1930s. During this period Harlem was a cultural center, drawing Black writers, artists, musicians, photographers, poets, and scholars. Many had come from the South, fleeing its oppressive caste system in order to find a place where they could freely express their talents.”

Locke’s writing focused on African and African-American identity and his collection of writing and illustrations was published in The New Negro in 1925.


The first racialized Jamaican to gain a scholarship from the Rhodes trust was Norman Washington Manley, who eventually became Jamaica’s first chief minister from 1955 to 1959 and its first Premier from 1959 to 1962. Manley is also one of Jamaica’s seven National Heroes.


When Cecil Rhodes left his millions to award scholarships to members of the British Empire, the USA and Germany, he could not envision that the descendants of the people he despised and whose labour he and other White men exploited would benefit from that money.


Rhodes was a White man born in England who made his millions by exploiting Africans. Rhodes was the fifth child of a church minister and according to British historian Basil Williams: “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.”

In his 1921 book Cecil Rhodes, Williams, a fellow “Britisher” who lived in South Africa, wrote about Rhodes’ life from his childhood to adulthood, where his exploitation of Africans led to his accumulation of wealth and power. The British Empire during Rhodes’ lifetime included countries scattered around the world in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America and the Pacific. Millions of racialized people were exploited and oppressed by people like Rhodes in this empire, with about 1/4 of the world’s population at that time colonized by Britain.


Rhodes became a millionaire by establishing diamond mines (the original blood diamond trade) in South Africa and exploiting African labour. He established (March 12, 1880) the still famous DeBeers diamond company (which, in 2014, marketed 40 per cent of the world’s rough diamonds, making US$12.9 billion and at one time marketed 90 per cent) and the atrocities committed against the Africans forced to labour in those mines contributed to the wealth of White people like Rhodes.


African lives were expendable during White people’s pursuit of wealth with African mineworkers routinely killed during mine explosions and floods. Africans were trapped working in wickedly unsafe and exploitative conditions and they were also treated like pack mules. The Africans were strip-searched each time they left the mines for fear that they might have diamonds hidden in some body cavity.


Rhodes parlayed his ill-gotten gains into political power when he seized power as Prime Minister of Cape Colony (present day South Africa and Namibia) from 1890 to 1896. Rhodes seized African land with the help of White men armed with the newly minted machine gun (invented 1883) and distributed the land of African families to White settlers from Britain.


Renaming the country Rhodesia in his honour, this thieving megalomaniac White supremacist destroyed the lives of countless Africans (especially the Ndebele and Shona people) in pursuit of wealth and power. It would take a book to detail the evil of the White supremacist Cecil John Rhodes. The British and other White people were very proud of Rhodes; they built monuments and named several sites in his honour.


Recently, African students at South Africa’s University of Cape Town have been demonstrating to have the bronze statue of Rhodes removed from its central position on their campus. The student protesters of the “Rhodes Must Fall” movement have occupied part of an administration building at the university and wrapped the statue in black plastic. The movement is gaining momentum, with African politicians becoming involved.


One of the leaders of the “Rhodes Must Fall” movement, Kgotsi Chikane, a graduate student in public policy, was asked why the African students wanted to get rid of the Rhodes statue (http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2015/03/28/395608605/why-south-african-students-say-the-statue-of-rhodes-must-fall). His reply was: “It’s not just because it makes people feel uncomfortable, but because it’s the biggest symbol of the institutionalization of racism. That’s why we wouldn’t want to pull it down ourselves. We want the university to acknowledge this. This is someone we know was involved in mass genocide, and who oppressed and enslaved Black people across Southern Africa. The fact that his statue can stand there proudly, in such a prominent position, and that people can walk past it every day without questioning it, that is a problem of racism. If we can see that the statue is a problem, we can start looking more deeply at the norms and values of institutionalized racism that don’t physically manifest themselves, that are harder to see.”

Maybe someday the Africans in Zimbabwe will dig Rhodes up (Rhodes is buried at a site he chose, known as World’s View, in the Matopos Hills, Zimbabwe) and send him back to England. Meanwhile every African who benefits from a Rhodes Scholarship can see that as part of Reparations; the money comes from the blood, sweat, tears and lost lives of Africans.



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