In a demonstration on March 12, 2015, students at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, demanded the removal of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes. A letter from the University’s Students’ Representative Council stated in part: “People joined the protest at various times of the day because they were united around the call for the removal of the Cecil John Rhodes statue. Transformation should be felt in all aspects of the university, from the curriculum, to the diversity of students and staff and to the symbolism it reflects.”
Southern Africa is the place where Cecil Rhodes made the fortune that has been used to fund the annual Rhodes scholarship since his death in the early 1900’s.
Among his many accomplishments, Rhodes established the worker compound system in the diamond mining industry. As Prime Minister of Cape Colony, South Africa, he instituted measures that are seen as the forerunner of modern day Apartheid. Rhodes also financed the invasion of African territory north of Cape Colony that comprised what came to be known as Southern and Northern Rhodesia. The invasion resulted in decades of colonization, subjugation, dislocation, and forced labor camps in this area.
Compounds, Apartheid and labor camps were paramount in forcing African men to separate from their wives and families in order to earn a living. These men spent months away from home in all-male environments that were unsafe and unsanitary. With the absence of women, many men tended towards same-sex relationships. This was true of both the African workers and the European fortune seekers. Cecil Rhodes’ same-sex relationships have been documented by many of his biographers.
Many African men died under these circumstances. Many more men returned to their wives and families infected with unknown ailments and new ways of thinking.
Rhodes, born in 1853, was the son of the vicar of Bishop’s Stortford in England. Victorian clergymen “hunted not, nor did they attend the theater; they wore black unrelieved by the slightest hint of gray; and from the 1860’s they adopted that ultimate badge of clericalism, the dog collar.” A closed mind had also become, as much as the black coat, part of the professional equipment of the Victorian clergyman. One doctrine of the vicar’s Church that was likely inculcated in his younger son was the Bible story of Noah’s curse.
Benjamin Braude, a professor of history at Boston College and co-director of its program in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies states that “in 18th- and 19th-century Euro-America, Genesis 9:18-27 became the curse of Ham, a foundation myth for collective degradation, conventionally trotted out as God’s reason for condemning generations of dark-skinned peoples from Africa to slavery.”
By the mid-19th century, many historians agree, the belief that Africans were descendants of Ham was a primary justification for slavery among American Southern Christians, and colonialism by Europeans. “Although in the biblical account, Noah and his family are not described in racial terms, the story had by Victorian times, echoed through the centuries and around the world, variously interpreted by Islamic, Christian and Jewish scholars where Ham came to be widely portrayed as black; blackness, servitude and the idea of racial hierarchy became inextricably linked.”
The Zion’s Watch Tower of 1902, was able to say that “Noah declared, prophetically, that Ham’s characteristics which had led him to unseemly conduct disrespectful to his father, would be found cropping out later, inherited by his son, and prophetically he foretold that this degeneracy would mark the posterity of Canaan, degrading him, making him servile. We are not able to determine to a certainty that the sons of Ham and Canaan are the negroes; but we consider that general view as probable as any other.”
According to Jeffery Carlyle, “Cecil John Rhodes was born into a world in which the major European powers were involved in a world wide land grab. Each European power was out for God, glory, and gold. Europe sought to bring the light of Christianity to the uncivilized world, the glory of claiming more land than their rivals, and the increased revenue of trade in new markets. Rhodes became a major leader in this land grab.”
By the late 1800’s Cecil Rhodes was involved in diamond mining in southern Africa. With his initial successes he was able to purchase other mining operations, eventually making his company, DeBeers, the world’s largest producer of diamonds—a position that it still holds today. With the immense wealth that Rhodes amassed, he also came to believe “there was nothing that could not be bought with money and no one that could not be bribed.”
Rhodes believed that the Anglo Saxon race “were masters of the world and most fit to lead.” Rhodes wrote that, “I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.” Rhodes thought that it was God’s will that the more advanced races should displace or destroy the less advanced. J. Kelly Sowards worded the legacy of Rhodes by saying, “Cecil Rhodes is the most obvious embodiment of nineteenth-century British colonialism. He exemplified all its economic rapacity and political ambition, its chauvinism and paternalism, its racism and bigotry. He also exemplified the untrammelled gospel of wealth.”
Rhodes developed his own concepts of Empire building during his college days at Oxford. He sought an alliance with other like-minded Anglo Saxons to help spread justice, freedom and peace throughout the world. His plans to accomplish his goals involved guns and bullets, horses, boats and trains to transport men and ordinance. He affected his plans through bribery, intrigue, and brother against brother. The results of his great ideal ended up in justice, freedom and peace for the few, but slavery, injustice, death and violence for the many.
The mining of diamonds raised Rhodes to a level of wealth and privilege that was unbelievable and unattainable in England by a person of his middle class background. Rhodes hoped to accomplish his goal of Anglo Saxon world conquest by assisting other Europeans in their own wealth gathering. Millions of pounds were paid to white diamond claim holders who, because of their common race, could hold claims and own shares in mines and mining companies. These individuals came from all classes of society, from many parts of the world-Irish, Scots, Australian, German, French, and American-and all were accepted on an equal footing.
The African male was also needed to accomplish Rhodes’ goals. Called Kaffir or nigger, the African represented the raw labor for diamond and gold mining, cotton plantations and other labor-intensive economic ventures by Anglo Saxons in Africa. Black Africans were, however, denied the immense financial rewards of working their own mining or land claims. They could not file claims in a legal setting and were not recognized under European law as legitimate claimants to land held for generations. Blacks, because they were not Anglo Saxon in appearance, were considered to be less than human. They were treated as brutes, paid only enough to survive till the next day, were caged to prevent mobility, were subject to cruel punishment, and were attached to the land by law.
Black Africans were forced to work under these harsh conditions by laws that imposed head or hut taxes. These taxes were leveled by the European governments on the tribal or hereditary village leaders. The taxes were payable only in European currency, so the produce of their land had no value. In order to earn the money to pay these taxes, which if not paid meant forced labor or eviction from their land, the young men of the villages were sent off to mines and plantations to earn the necessary hard currency. Males traveled far to commercial centers for day work, leaving their families behind. Women, children and elders were left to scrape out an existence on barren, unproductive land set aside by Europeans for marginal African use.
In Rhodes’ diamond industry, African men were held in fenced labor compounds. Prior to leaving for home, after several months of continuous work, they were subjected to full body cavity searches and were held for 10-day isolation periods to ensure that they were not taking any diamonds for their own use. These compounds separated races and sexes. The compounds were breeding grounds for sex between men, cheap means of intoxication, and sexual brutality and exploitation of young boys and men. African women who lived outside these areas provided some sexual services to compound residences and the occasional white man who desired these services.
Does AIDS in Africa primarily result from these men leaving the compounds after months of sexual denial or abuse? Have these men returned to their homelands, wives, and girlfriends with an unknown sexually transmittable virus? Have the many years of enforced isolation and unprotected, promiscuous sex left a legacy of death and devastation in modern day Africa, called AIDS?
A better legacy for Rhodes and his fellows in Africa would have been to raise all men to a higher level through education, health, wealth, and family. The use of the natural wealth of Africa should not have been for world domination but for world elevation. If others do evil because they are pagan, uncivilized, or uneducated, how does that make it right for Christian, civilized and educated men to do the same? Is it enough to say we only did what other men did? Isn’t the true response what Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, etc. said?
Where is the Christian response? If any measurable part of the wealth generated in diamonds and gold had been set aside and used for Africans’ personal, family, and moral advancement, how different would the future of Africa have been? If roads, dams, and factories had been build; land cultivated, fertilized, and irrigated; and cattle protected, fenced in, husbanded, and nurtured, what would be the health level of Africans today?
Rhodes died at the age of 48 in 1902, leaving over £3 million to Oxford University for the creation of the Rhodes scholarship.