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Cecil John Rhodes: The ghost of Zimbabwe

18 Apr 2020 at 08:44hrs | Views
We commemorate the 40th independence day by taking a brief history course into the life and legacy of Cecil John Rhodes, the notorious kingmaker of what we now know as our country.

Like the ignoble Belgian King Leopold II the only person to own an entire country Rhodes' legacy will forever divide opinion the world over but most sharply in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Depending on which side of history you are the two are either godlike heroes or bloodthirsty thugs. Whatever the sentiment, hate, love, angst or admiration one thing for certain is Rhodes' role in the making of Zimbabwe cannot be erased. It is impossible to do justice to his story in less than a thousand words but I will try.

Rhodes' story has been widely documented but there is still no end to the mystery of how one man's ambitions could affect the lives of generations of people years ahead. He was a man of colossal dreams and daring ambition far beyond human capacity. He dreamt the dreams of giants. In his dreams his feet straddled Cape Town and Cairo as he imagined them on a railway line running the entire length of the continent for the benefit of his British South Africa Company which colonised Zimbabwe and his De Beers Company.

Even as poor health troubled him all his life he still achieved more in one lifetime than ordinary people can do even in multiple lifetimes. He was a white supremacist, explorer, politician, adventurer, farmer, mining magnate, businessman, conqueror, dreamer rolled into one. He openly described black people as barbarians and is accredited with laying the foundations for the apartheid system in South Africa. He considered the Anglo Saxon race as "the first race in the world and the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race'' He believed and championed the expansion of the British Empire with the intention of making Britain a super power.

In his relatively short life of 48 years he managed even as a British citizen to become Prime Minister of the Cape Colony while simultaneously acquiring massive chunks of real estate north of the Limpopo in far-flung places like Nyanga and Matopos, all in an age of slow ox-drawn wagons and fledgling steam trains.

Even without citizenry he still managed to have his new colony named after him i.e. Rhodesia. Even in death more than a century later he still influences the past, present and future laws of Zimbabwe. His famous expansive will is an Act of Parliament: the Rhodes Estate Act.

The Rhodes Estate is a very large commercial and real estate concern owning property in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Britain and affects the laws of the three countries. The Trust and Estate are run professionally through different committees in the different countries.

The size of the estate land and assets in it are astounding that it requires a dedicated legal instrument to administer it. The Rhodes Trust provides scholarships to the world's most prestigious universities to candidates from selected former British colonies. He left an even bigger estate in South Africa, the foot of his expansive business and political empire.

The estate still accrues massive income from rentals and proceeds from agricultural, mining and other activities. Some of his land in Zimbabwe was bequeathed to the State as National Parks while other is still privately owned and administered by the Rhodes Trust.

Lands minister has to announce any changes to the estate lands through a Statutory Instrument. Most interestingly and ironically, the President of Zimbabwe is the appointed Trustee of the Rhodes Estates and holds the estate lands for the benefit of the people of Zimbabwe.

Rhodes died in 1902 aged only 48 and was buried at Matobo Hills in accordance with his express wishes overlooking the breathtaking rocky views he deemed his own. His body was conveyed by steam train all the way from Cape Town to Bulawayo and his funeral attended by tens of thousands of people from all over the world.

The Rhodes Estates Act expressly prohibits the burial of any other person on the hill within a two kilometre radius of his grave but despite that his chief partner in crime Leander Star Jameson and 34 British soldiers killed in the Shangani Patrol are buried near him.

In spite of his chequered history with the locals, Ndebele chiefs attended his funeral and honoured him with the hallowed royal salute given to their first king Mzilikazi who is buried a relatively short distance away.

Today, in independent Zimbabwe visitors to the Matobo National Park still see Rhodes' grave exactly as it was set more than a century ago. Since independence there have been calls by various interest groups to exhume it and remove his remains from the site. Activists argue that the grave's continued presence there is an affront to black Zimbabweans.

Matobo Hills was always a holy shrine for Kalanga and Shona people long before the Ndebele people arrived in 1838 and occupied the area.

However exhumation is very unlikely now or in the future because the President of Zimbabwe has a legal obligation to take care of the estate and will.

The grave is protected in terms of both the Rhodes Estates Act and the National Museums and Monuments Act.

Tampering with it is a criminal offence and so Cecil John Rhodes, the ghost of Zimbabwe is guaranteed to rest in eternal prosperity safely protected by the government of Zimbabwe.

Miriam Tose Majome is a lawyer and a teacher. She can be contacted on

Source - newsday
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