‘Despite all that has been written about Rhodes, there is one great side of his character – in a sense his whole character – to which nothing like justice has been done….It is the human Rhodes, the man himself that one fails to find in all the books about his work.’
Sir Percy Fitzpatrick
Where books have so far failed, this website hopes to succeed. Apart from a brief biographical sketch of the main events in Rhodes’ life, this website contains little in the way of dry, historical facts. Its aim, quite simply, is to evoke something of Rhodes’ essential spirit and glamour on the 100th anniversary of his death last year (2002).
In many ways, the spirit of Rhodes is inseparable from Cape Town, the city in which he lived, and Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, the country he eventually founded. His great friend, Rudyard Kipling, no doubt felt this when he wrote the epitaph that is now carved in stone at Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town:
“The immense and brooding spirit still
Shall quicken and control.
Living he was the land and dead
His soul shall be her soul.”
When Rhodes died, more than 30,000 residents of Cape Town flocked to his Groote Schuur residence to file past his coffin as he lay in state over the Easter weekend. And for many years afterwards, March 26 – the day he died – was known as Rhodes’ Day. To commemorate the occasion, hundreds of thousands of people in South Africa and Rhodesia would wear a sprig of blue plumbago – Rhodes’ favourite flower – on their lapels.
What was it about this man that inspired such intense devotion, and which moved one journalist of the time to write ‘a belief in Rhodes became a substitute for religion’? Through the words and images assembled here, you will hopefully experience not only something of the soul of this extraordinary man, but also something of the ancient soul of Africa.
A scene from the recent BBC drama on Rhodes’ life.
‘To the ancients, Africa beyond and below the equator was an old land, but unknown: so immeasurably old that, wrinkled and shrivelled like some witch, it had never been young: unknown like the gods themselves and veiled in mysterious twilight; and in that twilight moved horrors and monstrous, primeval things.
‘The Arabs had tales of vast hordes of elephants; of caverns full of ivory; of gold worked by the Chinese; and mines that produced the fabulous wealth of Ophir and of the Queen of Sheba.
‘The Phoenicians went exploring, but their ships did not return until one, long given up as lost, came sailing in past Gibraltar, and the crew told how they had set southwards from Aden down a barren coast, how they had been driven before great storms of angry seas until they came to the end of all land, where the sky was full of strange stars…
‘Rounding a great Cape they had sailed northwards, until once more, after three long years, they had come to the Pillars of Hercules and sailed into the Mediterranean. But this story was treated as a sailor’s tale.’
H.C. Armstrong – The introductory paragraphs to
‘Grey Steel’, a biography of General Jan Smuts.