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TTo see all the statues of Cecil John Rhodes, from Cape Town to Kimberley and beyond, you’d think the unsmiling man under the broad-brimmed hat once ruled South Africa.
In a way – and for a few heady years – Cecil John Rhodes did, to a large extent, 'run the show’ in South Africa. In his time, there was no-one about who could beat him for long-term vision, deal-making, politicking and profiteering off the diamond fields of this country.
But, as is the case with most men of world stature, there were many sides to the Rhodes persona. Cecil and his brother Herbert arrived at the Kimberley diamond fields in 1871 and within 17 years he had bought up many of the diamond concerns in the area. He briefly returned to London and, working with the Diamond Syndicate, established a system of international price control that stands to this day.
Rhodes entered public life and by 1890 he was prime minister of the Cape Colony. His dream, however, was to extend British influence through Africa, by way of a Cape to Cairo railway line. Through securing British protectorates over his many mining concessions in southern Africa, Rhodes began to move northwards.
By the time he ruled the Cape, Cecil John Rhodes’ influence stretched way beyond the Limpopo River, over what later became Rhodesia – now Zimbabwe. Some say he tricked the Matabele king, Lobengula, into a dodgy mining concession in this part of southern Africa.
In 1895 Rhodes committed what many still see as his major blunder, in supporting the overthrow of the Transvaal government by way of the infamous Jameson Raid. The failed raid forced him to resign as prime minister of the Cape.
When the Second South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War) found Kimberley surrounded by besieging Boers, Rhodes was in the thick of things, often competing with the local British garrison. His company – De Beers – even built a special cannon named 'Long Cecil', to counter the Boers' famous 'Long Tom'.
Rhodes died at Muizenberg in Cape Town on March 26, 1902, and was later buried in what is today the Matobo National Park in Zimbabwe. One of his most enduring legacies was the establishment of a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, funded by his estate.
Travel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Rhodes Cottage Museum (Muizenberg)
Tel: +27 (0) 21 788 1816
Kimberley Tours: Steve Lunderstedt (guide)
Tel: +27 (0) 83 732 3189
McGregor Museum, Kimberley
Tel: +27 (0)53 839 2700
How to get here
The two most prominent places in South Africa that bear traces of Cecil John Rhodes are Cape Town (including his cottage near Muizenberg) and Kimberley, where the De Beers diamond mining company began.
Best time to visit
Rhodes Cottage in Muizenberg is open from 10am to 3.30pm on most summer days, with reduced hours in winter. Check directly with the museum at the cellphone number listed, or with Cape Town Tourism's Muizenberg Visitor Information Centre.
Things to do
One of the special sites in Kimberley where memories of Rhodes still reign is the Rhodes Boardroom in Warren Street. Another site of interest is the old Sanatorium, which is now the Mcgregor Museum. This is where Rhodes spent the duration of the Siege of Kimberley.
There are tram tours, museum tours, rock art site visits and battlefield tours on offer around Kimberley. In Muizenberg, you'll find lovely beaches close by, as well as the historic town of Simon's Town, and the iconic Cape Point is further down the same road.