Rhodes was no angel, but his critics are just ignorant

The kind of anti-intellectual rubbish being thrown at the colonial legacy of Cecil Rhodes raises the question of whether his detractors know anything at all about southern Africa, then and now

Cecil Rhodes
Robin Mitchinson
On 28 December 2015 06:33

If there’s one thing that gets right up the British nose it’s insolent foreigners who are no sooner here than they begin to abuse our hospitality by pontificating about our shortcomings and alleged historical crimes.

Especially when they are privileged adolescents who have been allowed to attend one of the top three universities in the world using our own money and with nothing to pay.

So it is not surprising that when one Ntokozo Qwabe together with Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh had the effrontery to demand the removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes from Oriel College, his alma mater which had benefited greatly from his generosity, they quickly discovered that ordure was being dumped on them from a great height.

Qwabe is a Rhodes Scholar, using the old boy’s money to insult and abuse him. Sizwe was awarded a scholarship by a foundation of Lord Weidenfeld . Both came from South African families of considerable means, although we shall not enquire too closely into how this came about.

Their beef against CJR is simple, childishly so.

According to them he was a murdering thief who plundered the indigenous population. Unsurprisingly, they have not bothered to establish any facts. They are simply aping the antics of their contemporaries at the University of Cape Town who have succeeded in getting a spineless administration to remove the statue of Rhodes.

Seemingly they are unaware (or more likely don’t care for facts) that UCT is built on land donated by Rhodes for the purpose.

There have been no similar demos at Rhodes University or Stellenbosch, or for that matter, the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens nearby also on land donated by CJR. This was the first of its kind in the world to be dedicated to indigenous species.

The truth of it is that Rhodes was neither hero nor villain. He was an astonishingly successful entrepreneur who grew into a larger than life figure by creating not just a huge commercial empire but entire countries -- Northern and Southern Rhodesia.

In doing so he effectively stopped colonial expansion by Portugal, Belgium and the Afrikaners.

When the pioneer column entered the country, it was a vast emptiness with a population of no more than 300,000. There were two warring tribal groups, Matabele and Mashona.

They were in a state of primitivity, with no written language or even the wheel. There was no commerce, no industry, no education, no medical services, no  law. Everything that exists in modern Zimbabwe was created by the m’sungu.

He stole the land, they say. Yet in much of Africa the concept of land ownership did not exist. ‘How can anyone own something given by nature?’ is an attitude  -- not an unreasonable one -- that is still present in much of African culture.

His mining concessions were all negotiated with the chiefs, notably the Rudd Concession with Chief Lobengula. Tribal Trust Areas were created, huge blocks of land forbidden to whites so as to prevent the very land grabs of which Rhodes is now accused:

‘He was the architect of apartheid, an ideology that drove him to not only steal approximately one million miles of South African land, but to facilitate the deaths of hundreds of thousands of black South Africans’.

As South Africans this pair must surely know that apartheid was purely an Afrikaner  construct of the Nationalist Party which introduced the Population Registration Act and the Group Areas Act in 1950, the Pass Laws Act of 1952 and the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, but only began to enforce rigid apartheid in the 1960s under Hendrick Verwoerd after South Africa’s ejection from the Commonwealth.

As for the ‘million miles of land’ and the ‘hundreds of thousands of deaths’, as Goebbels said ‘The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed’.

The Union of South Africa did not even exist during Rhodes’ lifetime. His brief foray into politics was in the Cape Colony. Ironically, it was the Afrikaner who was most discriminated against in the Cape; he was bottom of the heap not least because he had little command of the English language (if he had to make a court appearance his interpreter would have been most likely a bi-lingual Coloured).

It was Rhodes as Prime Minister of the Cape who brought in Afrikaans  as a language to be taught in schools.

Racist? You could certainly find quotes to back up the assertion. You could also find the following: "Equal Rights for all Civilized Men South of the Zambesi." "I could never accept the position that we should disqualify a human being on account of his colour."

We are sked to believe that the BSA Police, established at the time of the pioneer column, murdered 60,000 people. Well, that’s the first anyone has heard of this; perhaps they were thinking of the tens of thousands of Matabele murdered by Mugabe’s 5th Brigade in the 1980s.

The BSAP was a remarkably fine force (60 percent black). It commanded universal respect. The life of a young patrol officer was alone in the bush with his horse and his rifle. He would not have lasted a day if the locals did not trust him.

The truth is the opposite. Rhodes went alone and unarmed into Lobengula’s indaba and negotiated a peace that lasted around sixty years. The BSAP never opened fire from 1892 to 1960; I know because I was in-country when those first shots were fired as a political rally turned into a riot.

So to give this some perspective. I suggest that these two youths visit Zimbabwe.

In 1980 there were pristine modern cities, some of the best highways, a sophisticated agriculture that was reckoned to be the breadbasket of Southern Africa; modern industry; excellent health care; high-quality education; an efficient public service. In short, all the characteristics of a modern and well-administered country.

They will find none of this still exists.

The modern cities are now in decay. Roads are pot-holed and often impassable and choked with uncollected garbage. The entire infrastructure is collapsing. There are acute power shortages. There is a serious water crisis in a country where the supply is otherwise prolific.

There has been almost total economic melt-down. Unemployment is the norm. Agriculture has been destroyed by the theft of white-owned farms sometimes accompanied by the murder of the farmer and the transfer not to farmers but to Mugabe’s cronies.

The currency became worthless long ago so Zimbabwe now only deals in hard currency.  Law and order is almost non-existent. Justice? Forget that, too.

And what will happen when Mugabe goes? No prizes for guessing that.

So take it all in, Qwabe and Mpofu-Walsh. Because you will then be looking at the future of your own country, South Africa.

Robin Mitchinson is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. A former barrister, living in the Isle of Man, he is an international public management specialist with almost two decades of experience in institutional development, decentralisation and democratisation processes. He has advised governments and major international institutions across the world


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