The cult of Rhodes by Paul Maylam
New Africa Books (Pty) Ltd, 30 November 2005
Soft cover, 224 pages
Cecil Rhodes is the most written about and memorialised figure in southern African history, the subject of well over 25 biographies and numerous articles. Rhodes has featured in novels, plays and films. Rhodes' gravesite in the Matopos hills was for decades a place of pilgrimage, and there are imposing monuments to him, notably in Cape Town, Oxford and Kimberley. Why such a cult should have developed around Rhodes, who, to all accounts, was far from admirable a person and was open to severe criticism on many fronts, is the subject of this title. Himself no admirer of Rhodes, the author's approach to the subject is ironical and critical as he sets out to address the paradox of why such an unappealing and 'rather mediocre person' should have been so venerated and commemorated. Many topics are explored in this context, including the imprint of Rhodes' ecological imperialism on the natural environment, the debunking of Rhodes after World War II, the surprising silence from Afrikaners and Africans in critical studies of Rhodes, and the (rather strange) link-up between the Rhodes Trust and the Mandela Foundation.Although two recent centenaries - the centenary of Rhodes' death (2002) and the founding of Rhodes University (2004) - have not attracted much attention, the third - the centenary of the Rhodes Scholarships (2003) - was celebrated in different parts of the world; its lustre derives in no small part from the fame of the recipients of Rhodes Scholarships. Rhodes' memory, meanwhile, has been deliberately, sometimes violently, erased in the country once named after him, where his grave still remains in close proximity with that of the great Ndebele king Mzilikazi. The cult of Rhodes is fascinating reading for all, including the thousands who, in one way or another, are connected with the name of Rhodes. A study of memory and representation, it helps to explain the making of legends and our invention of heroes.