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Haunt of the Colossus

Essay
Errol Tostigson

Haunt of the Colossus

In the shadow of Table Mountain, situated under Devil’s Peak, there sits a dilapidated structure built in the Hellenic style. Large columns and slabs of stone jut out of the mountainside to overlook the vast Cape Flats. From this vantage point, you can look on both the Indian and Atlantic oceans and take in much of the cityscape. Statues of lions and a warrior on horseback, known as Physical Energy, guard the steps leading inside the monument. Once inside you’ll see the lonely and contemplative statue of Cecil Rhodes, the African Colossus.

My first encounter with the Rhodes Memorial, and my first foray into the dark continent, began when I was a student in its shadow. In the sunny afternoons after class when I studied at the University of Cape Town, I’d find myself on the slopes of the mountain overlooking the university and city. The memorial became a lonely temple for me, where I’d pass in awed silence before and after my treks up the mountain. An eerie power radiates from that spot, a power one can feel throughout Southern Africa, where the shadow of Rhodes still lies draped across the land. The very words upon the altar within the temple read.

 

THE IMMENSE AND

BROODING

SPIRIT STILL

SHALL QUICKEN

AND CONTROL

LIVING HE WAS THE

LAND AND DEAD

HIS SOUL SHALL BE

HER SOUL.

 

What immensity! I’ve never forgotten these words, nor that eerie feeling of power. If one has ever walked in the path of Alexander the Great, there is a similar feeling. Both the immense spirits of Alexander and Rhodes still dwell in our world like long-forgotten pagan gods in secret forest groves. I have felt the lingering presence of both men, and so have all the people left in their wake.

It’s important to understand just what sort of character Cecil Rhodes was to understand his odd place in the history of Southern Africa. Some might envision his namesake colony, Rhodesia, and the tragedy that befell that state, but most never realize his dreams reached far beyond the petty realm of mere mortals. Rhodes’ dreams stretched the entire breadth of Africa, touched every soul of the British Empire and beyond, and threatened to plunge into the stars themselves. His owns words say it best.

 

“To think of these stars that you see overhead at night, these vast worlds which we can never reach. I would annex the planets if I could; I often think of that. It makes me sad to see them so clear and yet so far.”

 

Rhodes had many dreams: to unite the entire Anglo-Saxon race (including America) into a single empire, to further education in the Classics, and much more. Yet the dream Rhodes put most of his life’s energy into was to form a true empire out of Southern Africa. A federal regime encompassing Rhodesia (modern Zambia and Zimbabwe), Bechuanaland (modern Botswana), and the whole of South Africa. His entire life was put into making this dream a reality. Through the force of his own willpower, Rhodes subjugated the tribes of Bechuanaland, broke the power of the Matabele, and helped to shatter the Boer republics in the second Anglo-Boer War. With this mishmash of lands and peoples under the heel of the British Empire, Rhodes laid the foundation for a future federation of states to rival the colonies of Canada, Australia, the United States, and perhaps Europe itself. One envisions the alternative world of the Draka, in S.M. Stirling’s Domination trilogy, where a much different strain of thought from liberalism comes to dominate the Anglosphere.

I direct readers to a short passage from The Last Will and Testament of Cecil John Rhodes, for an insight into the mind of Cecil Rhodes and his dreams for South Africa. This passage concerns the use of Rhodes’ residence in Cape Town, known as the Groote Schuur, for a future personal residence of a colonial administrator.

 

I give my property following that is to say my residence known as “De Groote Schuur” situate near Mowbray in the Cape Division in the said Colony together with all furniture plate and other articles contained therein at the time of my death and all other land belonging to me situated under Table Mountain including my property known as “Mosterts” to my Trustees hereinbefore named upon and subject to the conditions following (that is to say) :–

 

Skip to the third condition:

 

The said residence and its gardens and grounds shall be retained for a residence for the Prime Minister for the time being of said Federal Government of the States of South Africa to which I have referred in clause 6 hereof my intention being to provide a suitable official residence for the First Minister in that Government befitting the dignity of his position and until there shall be such a Federal Government may be used as a park for the people.

 

For the sake of entertainment, and for the understanding of Rhodes’ lofty dreams, I shall also include some claims made by Rhodes’ friend, W.T. Stead, concerning his opinions on a united Anglosphere. These are the supposed words of Rhodes according to Stead.

 

“I once heard it argued — so low have we fallen — in my own college, I am sorry to own it, by Englishmen, that it was a good thing for us that we have lost the United States. There are some subjects on which there can be no argument, and to an Englishman this is one of them. But even from an American’s point of view just picture what they have lost…  All this we have lost and that country has lost owning to whom? Owing to two or three ignorant, pig-headed statesmen in the last century. At their door is the blame. Do you ever feel mad, do you ever feel murderous? I think I do with these men.”

 

Stead proceeds to make many claims about Rhodes’ opinions on the United States throughout the Last Will and Testament of Cecil John Rhodes, with claims that Rhodes toyed with the idea of America dominating Britian. These are the words of Stead.

 

The attitude of Mr. Rhodes was altogether different. He was devoted to the old flag, but in his ideas he was American, and in his later years he expressed to me his unhesitating readiness to accept the reunion of the race under the Stars and Stripes if it could not be obtained in any other way.

 

Rhodes supposedly loved the American constitution.

Another idea was that power could be exchanged between Washington and London every five years. Anything for the sake of reunification and domination of the earth. Rhodes even went as far as to the idea of devising a secret society across the world for the preservation of Anglo-Saxon power and unity. What follows are the words of Rhodes, as claimed by Stead.

 

What an awful thought it is that if we had not lost America, or if even now we could arrange with the present members of the United States Assembly and our House of Commons, the peace of the world is secured for all eternity! We could hold your federal parliament five years at Washington and five at London. The only thing feasible to carry this idea out is a secret one (society) gradually absorbing the wealth of the world to be devoted to such an object.

 

Perhaps this society was the purpose behind the Rhodes Scholarship? This scholarship still exists today. Are we secretly ruled by Rhodesians?

These dreams never came to be, and a slew of shanty towns were built atop the foundation intended for Rhodes’ mighty colossus. Without the British Empire, and without men like Rhodes, the dream of a greater federal South Africa has slowly sunk back into the wild bush. Branches and brambles grow over the carefully laid cement where golden statues were intended to stand, hyenas and vultures stalk the railroads intended to link Cape Town and Cairo, and the different states carved out by Rhodes are slowly cracking apart. Rhodesia split in two, with the richest parts falling to communism, Botswana broke free to pursue its own destiny, and the mantle of empire fell to the Boers and remaining Englishmen with their apartheid regime in South Africa. Yet this later regime collapsed as well, and now its husk is on the verge of shattering into dust. None of the peoples of Southern Africa have the stomach or skill for empire.

Nothing remains of Rhodes’ political legacy, apart from a few scholarships and neglected monuments. The dreams of empire are a distant memory in the politic world of Southern Africa, and the countless peoples and cultures left in the ruins now duke it out over petty squabbles. Slowly, Southern Africa has become a new Middle East. And just like the Middle East in the aftermath of the Ottoman’s collapse, a century of oligarchic decadence, foreign exploitation, and violence cloud the vision of a brighter past — and a better future. Like Alexander, Rhodes carved out a massive corner of the earth on which to build his dreams, but it did not last long in the years beyond his death. Luckily for Alexander, his Diadochi preserved some semblance of his life’s spoils, but Rhodes had no such successors.

Still, the shade of Cecil Rhodes looms over Southern Africa, and none can escape his shadow. Few still tolerate his memory, and more still seek to blot it out, yet for many he is already forgotten. Many Boers grudgingly acknowledge the English existence in South Africa, and Rhodes is remembered as just another enemy in their long history. There are frequent attacks by vandals on anything with the name Rhodes, and tasteless new names slapped over buildings built in his time. The “Mandela-Rhodes Place” hotel in downtown Cape Town being just one example. Among the English he is still remembered somewhat fondly, even among some of the more radical female white liberals in my own experience. They look back on Rhodes as one of the founders of their country, and as a justification for their own presence in Southern Africa.

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