Cecil John Rhodes from an African perspective: Part One


THERE is no doubt that the month of March 2015 will go down in South African history as significant for the following reasons:
a) For the direct questions which black South African students raised specifically in regard to the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town (UCT);
b) For the fundamental questions the same students raised in regard to the nature and scope of the kind of social transformation which has taken place or failed to take place since the much heralded South African elections of 1994.
Here is how one of the leaders of the Rhodes Must Fall Movement, Kgotsi Chikane, explained the dilemma soon after one of the black students had thrown a bucketful of faeces at the statue of Cecil Rhodes:
“Forget about student numbers; look at the fact that there is not one black, woman, full professor at UCT. Look at the law faculty, with 200 academics. Only 10 are black, and only one of those 10 a black South African… We want a complete shift in the thinking about curriculum. It can’t be Eurocentric anymore. We need a curriculum that is about our continent, and not just negatives, but the positives as well..”
With a mindset like the one Chikane displays above, one is almost persuaded to feel that the future of the African continent is assured after all!
Noticeable is a mind breaking through the window dressing rainbow nation rituals one sees all over South Africa, probing and stocktaking, trying to determine where the majority of South Africans are today vi-a-vis where they would have wanted to be. And this is done not as a simple parochial South African issue but in the context of a whole continent which needs to be understood in its own right!
Accordingly it is important that the rage of South African students against Rhodes is understood in the broader context of Anglo-Saxon imperialism on the African continent.
In countries like Britain and the USA Rhodes is considered a hero, a visionary, a great man whose exploits in Africa earned him not only a fabulous fortune but the admiration and respect of countless Western generations.
Why not when the Rhodes Scholarship programme based on his will has largely funded the education of Western leaders like Bill Clinton, the former CIA director Stansfield Turner, the first Secretary General of the British Commonwealth, Sir Arnold Smith and the former NATO supreme Commander Bernard Rogers.
The list of those who have benefited from Rhodes’ will in so far as it relates to prominent people of the Western world is a long and ancient one while that from Africa, where Rhodes minted his fortune, is very short and recent, an after-thought which Rhode’s trustees came up with to dilute the embarrassing racism which basically informed the contents of the said will.
In sharp contrast to the greatness often ascribed to Rhodes by the West, Africans regard Rhodes as an archetypal colonialist, a ruthless fortune hunter and a murderer whose activities in Africa represent some of the worst aspects of global capitalism as it spread to the whole of Southern Africa. From Rhodes there are bitter and unforgettable lessons for all of us.
First, it is important for us to realise that Western heroes like Rhodes are not necessarily African heroes as well. And there are reasons for this.
The West, in particular Britain and the USA, inherited DeBeers Diamond Company from Rhodes which has continued to dominate the sale of diamonds worldwide, most of them African diamonds for that matter.
The same applies to the Anglo-American Corporation whose mining activities all over Southern Africa are well known.
Both companies have graduated into multinational behemoths thanks to Africa’s resources which continue to flow out in huge quantities to enrich the West at Africa’s expense.
These two are just examples of many Western corporations which are almost permanent cash cows for the same West because of the ruthless exploitative vision of Cecil Rhodes.
Accordingly there is no way that Africans whose resources and labour have been the basis of British and American wealth for long can regard Rhodes as a hero as the Mandela Rhodes Foundation Scholarship would like us to believe. And the good news is that black South Africans have grasped this brutal fact in no uncertain terms.
Second, Rhodes, after whom Rhodes University and Rhodesia were named was a racist bigot to the boot. Here is how he defined his imperialist mission in life as part of his vision to dominate Africa from Cape to Cairo: “we are the first race(Anglo-Saxon) in the world, and the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race”. As for the relations between native Africans and the English he stated: “the native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise. We must adopt a system of despotism in our relations with barbarians of South Africa…I prefer land to niggers”
In fact all evidence available proves that Rhodes was in reality the author of almost all the misery and suffering which the British unleashed all over Southern Africa. Rhodes grabbed land in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi and introduced racism which he had incubated through his 1884 Glen Grey Act of the Cape Province of South Africa.
This act became the prototype of the 1913 Land Act which at the stroke of a pen delivered over 80 percent of South African land into the hands of white settlers; the same act became the model of the Land Apportionment Act of 1930/1 which again allocated all the rich agricultural land of the highveld to whites in Rhodesia while at the same time allocating poor rainfall and tsetse fly-infested areas to Africans in the then Rhodesia.
In brief Rhodes is the mother of all the toxic policies of apartheid which have haunted the whole of Southern Africa for long and created the havoc whose negative impact Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia are still grappling with today.
In short Rhodes is to Africans what Adolf Hitler is to Europe and the USA and all indications are that Rhodes was more Hitlerite than Hitler himself.


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