The son of a Hertfordshire clergyman, he first went to South Africa in 1870, joining his oldest brother, Herbert, on a cotton plantation in Natal. In 1871 the brothers staked a claim in the newly opened Kimberley diamond fields, where Cecil was to make most of his fortune. He returned to England in 1873 and entered Oxford, but his studies were repeatedly interrupted by visits to South Africa and he did not receive his degree until 1881. His power in the diamond-mining industry developed until, in 1880, he formed the De Beers Mining Company, which was second only to that organized by Barney Barnato.
In 1888 he tricked Lobengula, the Ndebele (Matabele) ruler, into an agreement by which Rhodes secured mining concessions in Matabeleland and Mashonaland. He exploited these through the British South Africa Company (organized 1889), which soon established complete control of the territory. In 1888, Rhodes had also secured a monopoly of the Kimberley diamond production by the creation (with Barnato) of the De Beers Consolidated Mines, which reputedly had the largest capital in the world.
Rhodes left nearly all his fortune of £6 million to public service. One of his chief benefactions was the Rhodes Scholarships to Oxford, administered by the Rhodes Trust. More than 90 scholarships are now awarded each year to students from the (now former) British colonies, the United States, and Germany.
A trip in 1875 through the rich territories of Transvaal and Bechuanaland apparently helped to inspire Rhodes with the dream of British rule over all southern Africa; later he spoke of British dominion "from the Cape to Cairo." In 1881, Rhodes entered the Parliament of Cape Colony, in which he held a seat for the remainder of his life. In Parliament he stressed the policy of containing the northward expansion of the Transvaal Republic, and in 1885, largely at his persuasion, Great Britain established a protectorate over Bechuanaland.
Rhodes became the prime minister, and virtual dictator, of Cape Colony in 1890. He was responsible for educational reforms and for restricting the franchise to literate persons (thereby reducing the African vote). His personal and business sympathies with the Uitlanders [Afrik.,=foreigners] in the Transvaal, who were mostly British and the victims of discrimination, brought him to conspire for the overthrow of the government of Paul Kruger. The result was the Jameson Raid (1895; see Jameson, Sir Leander Starr). Although Rhodes did not approve the timing of the raid, he was so clearly implicated that he was forced to resign as prime minister in 1896.
In 1897 a committee of the British House of Commons pronounced him guilty of grave breaches of duty as prime minister and as administrator of the British South Africa Company. Thereafter he devoted himself primarily to the development of the country that was called Rhodesia (since 1980, Zimbabwe) in his honor. In the South African War he commanded troops at Kimberley and was besieged there for a time. He died in South Africa and is buried in Zimbabwe.
See biographies by J. G. Lockhart and C. M. Woodhouse (1963), J. Marlowe (1974), and R. Rotberg (1988).
Rhodes is located in the Eastern Cape Highlands, near the escarpment in the southernmost end of the mighty Drakensberg mountain range in the magisterial district of Barkly East. It is 1840m above sea-level and is 16km due south of the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. The village is surrounded by the towns of Maclear, Ugie and Elliot below the escarpemnt and Barkly East above this barrier. It is 60km or 60-plus minutes drive from Barkly East, which is the closest town, on a poorly maintained gravel road which is narrow, winding and must be driven with care.
The farm Tintern, owned by Mr J A Vorster, was advertised for sale in 274 erven or lots on 16th September 1891. In September 1894, the erf-holders and residents met to petition the government to proclaim Rhodes as a village under the Village Management Act of 1881. Rhodes was proclaimed a township with municipal rights in 1897.
Between 24th June 1901 and February 7th 1902, the village was invaded no less than 29 times during the Second Boer War.
Local legend has it that it was originally named Rossville after Ds Ross and that the name was changed to Rhodes in the hopes that the mining magnate and then Prime Minister of the Cape, Cecil John Rhodes, would bless the village with his benificence. Alas, this was not to be and the legend has it that he sent a wagonload of Stone Pine trees instead. Another variation has it that he sent the trees as well as 500 pounds The story continues that the funds disappeared together with the official who received them. More recent speculation would have it that the trees could not have been donated by Rhodes as the species reputed to have been supplied by him have a life-expectancy which has long been exceeded.
Ds Ross, who was based in Lady Grey, ministered to the community, travelling to and fro on horseback. Although of English-speaking origin, he was interned during the Second Boer War. Prior to the war, he conducted his services alternately in English and Afrikaans. Clothed in rags and having walked bare-footed from the Aliwal North concentration camp to his home in Lady Grey after his release, he was thoroughly disgusted with the British and refused to conduct his services in English thereafter.
The majority of buildings were constructed around the turn of the century and the village continued to grow and prosper, it's heyday being between 1911 and 1945. The advent of the "Wool Boom" of the 1950s provided a brief upsurge but the riches gained were soon spent. At this time, wool was sold for a pound for a pound. A gradual decline set in after this flash-in-the-pan and which continued into the 70s as witnessed by the eventual closure of the white school in 1976. Municipal status was relinquished in 1979 and control ceded to the local authority now known as the Drakensberg District Council. A brief upsurge followed with the advent of the so-called "Hippie Era".
Rhodes is the home of three significant sporting events, the oldest of which is the Rhodes Trail Run. This is a 52km event held in the heart of winter which starts and ends in the village.
Billed as "The Most Extraordinary Mountain Biking Race in Africa", the Rhodes Mountain Bike Challenge, held in October each year, is an 82km grind. It follows the road to Naudesnek and then off past the Cairntoul Stock Theft Unit Police Station, along the Lesotho border, the Tiffindell Ski Resort and back to Rhodes via the Carlisleshoek Pass.
The Bell's Wild Trout Festival is based in Rhodes and is organised by the Wild Trout Association. Up to 80 participants fish for three days on the 180km of running water which is within an hours drive of the village.
A number of 4 x 4 vehicle routes are available in the area, some of which traverse private property and may require permits for their use. Using Rhodes as a starting and end point, day trips of varying length can be planned depending on requirements and time available. Being off the beaten track, it is important to be prepared as the weather can and does change at short notice.
Rock art by members of the various San communities abounds in sandstone valleys in the area.