Cecil Rhodes and the Rhodes Trust
Cecil Rhodes (1853 – 1902)
In 1870, Cecil Rhodes left England at the age of 17 to join his brother in Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal), South Africa, before they moved to Kimberley to mine diamonds. Rhodes first partnered with Cambridge graduate Charles Rudd, to acquire the De Beers diamond fields, and then joined with German-born Alfred Beit, to control one-third of the world’s gold. By the age of 40, Cecil Rhodes had acquired extraordinary wealth.
But Cecil Rhodes wanted more than money. Beginning in 1873, and continuing until 1881, Rhodes divided his time between his business interests in Kimberley and his undergraduate studies at Oriel College, Oxford. In Oxford, John Ruskin, the Victorian art critic (among others), encouraged Rhodes to ‘colonize the world for the greater good of society’. An avowed imperialist while at Oxford, Cecil Rhodes dedicated himself to conquering Southern Africa for the British Empire – and himself.
After taking his degree at Oxford, Rhodes immediately entered politics and was first elected as an MP for the Cape Colony in 1881 before becoming Prime Minister in 1890. Yet Rhodes sought power beyond elected office. In 1889, Cecil Rhodes chartered the British South Africa Company in London to seize control of what is now Zimbabwe and Zambia; he renamed the colonized land Rhodesia. After Rhodes was disgraced by a scandalous attempt to capture the Tranvaal in 1896, he was forced to resign all of his political positions. Chronically ill, Cecil Rhodes turned to redeeming his name through an extraordinary act of charity.
The Rhodes Trust & Mandela Rhodes Foundation
When Cecil Rhodes died in 1902, his will stipulated that the executor, Nathaniel Rothschild, use the majority of the estate to endow the Rhodes Trust (1903). Rhodes sought to support promising young men from the British Empire to attend the University of Oxford.
Rhodes' trustees did at times struggle against some of the limitations imposed on the Trust. While Cecil Rhodes wrote that neither 'race or religious opinions' should disqualify candidates, he clearly never intended that the scholarships fund non-white students. Yet as early as 1907, the Rhodes Trust awarded a scholarship to an African-American student, although similar awards were slow to follow.
In 1976, Rhodes’ will was modified to permit women Rhodes Scholars who would eventually rise in numbers to equal men. During the twentieth century, the Rhodes Trust systematically reshaped itself to become a modern, global institution.
In 2003, anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela partnered with the Rhodes Trust to create the Mandela Rhodes Foundation. As part of Mandela’s remarkable vision of reconciliation and reparation, he used the centennial of Rhodes’ bequest to direct funding to African students.
In Oxford, Nelson Mandela personally dedicated the largest lecture theatre in the Saïd Business School, named in Mandela’s honour. A smaller lecture theatre at the School was donated by and named after the Rhodes Trust. The Trust also endowed the Rhodes Trust Professor of Organisational Behaviour and the Rhodes Trust Associate Professor in Management Studies
In contrast to the ruthless imperial actions of Cecil Rhodes, the Rhodes Trust and the Mandela Rhodes Foundation continue to award scholarships to young African scholars at Oxford and at South African universities, respectively.
While valuing the diverse and worldwide community that has been created from his bequest, we reject the colonialism and white supremacism that Rhodes endorsed. We are considering what this implies for the spaces where we work and our academic titles.
We have set up an Anti-Racism Initiative Taskforce, which will review our associations with Rhodes.