They Call it Zimbabwe Now

The Rhodes Memorial, a grandiose structure built in one of Cecil Rhodes's favorite nooks on Devil's Peek, is a beautiful reminder of an ugly history. On one hand, the memorial stands tall and stately, lions flanking the steps and pillars lining the facade. Cecil Rhodes himself sits proudly atop a horse in the middle of the imposing grey behemoth. There are 49 stairs, one for every year of the Englishman's life. But more breathtaking then the structure itself is the view from the top, from the waves of the Atlantic coast to the bustling city and it's network of highways. Contrasting this majestic commemoration is the divisive history of Cecil Rhodes himself.

Rhodes Memorial

Although it is a beautiful area, the memorial itself seems like a bit of a harsh joke. To erect such an opulent memorial to honor a man who stood for racism, imperialism, and British hegemony over the "inferior races" without mention of his darker legacies is a slap in the face to the countless lives Cecil Rhodes touched negatively. After creating a mining megacorporation (De Beers) that dominated the world diamond supply in Kimberly, South Africa, Rhodes moved onto politics. He was elected to parliament in 1880, and served as  prime minister of the Cape Colony for five years from 1890-1895.

Rhodes was a staunch proponent of British imperialism and sought to create a contiguous British empire from the Cape to Cairo. To further this goal, he used his influence and capital to acquire mineral concessions from chiefs of neighboring areas, seizing control and crushing dissenters. Rhodes also appealed to the British government, securing a charter from the British South Africa Company to the lands where he failed to coerce the tribal chiefs. Ultimately, he exercised dominion over much of present day Zimbabwe and Zambia. The territories came to be known as Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia in his honor.

The acquisition of land and encroachment of British settlers was not without bloodshed. The British South Africa Police were dispatched to quell rebellions referred to as the First and Second Matabele Wars in present-day Zimbabwe. However, Rhodes convinced armed warriors in the second conflict to lay down their weapons and make peace. While he advocated racism and imperialism, Rhodes's ideals were not atypical for the time. A superiority complex and greed for resources propelled many European nations into colonizing and exploiting Africa in the 18-1900s.

He was an inspiring leader to some, and an icon of oppression to others. Upon joining government, he worked to disenfranchise non-whites by limiting how much property blacks could own and then tripling the property requirement needed to vote. His mining practices were a foreshadowing of the evils of Apartheid: low wages, poor conditions, and segregation for the black workers in the mines. Many scholars cite Rhodes as one of the key figures who planted the seeds for the oppressive Apartheid regime by disenfranchising and dehumanizing Africans.

Wiping his name from the maps was a start, but visiting the memorial (one of several) that commemorates Cecil Rhodes as a hero left a sour aftertaste. But it did inspire me to read more about Rhodes and learn the truth so that I could see for myself if I wished to honor the man on horseback.