The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power

By Robert I. Rotberg; Miles F. Shore | Go to book overview

11
"Giving a Man the Whole of Australia" Employing the Sinews of War in the North

LOBENGULA BECAME king of the Ndebele (Matabele) six months before Rhodes landed in Africa to grow cotton. In 1870 their paths were distant; neither they nor anyone else could have imagined that within a quarter-century the slim white youth with the abstracted air would grow rich and ruthless, destroy the imposing king's power, take his kingdom, and be the instrument of his death. Even if Ndebele clairvoyants guessed as early as 1870 that their conquest state would before long collide with the expanding white empire in Africa, they could not have supposed that a fortune based on the accumulation of diamonds and gold, when combined with and fed by grandiose personal visions, would result so rapidly in its and their undoing. Nor was Rhodes, as much as he contemplated and conjectured about the north, consumed by desire for Ndebeleland, or even terribly interested in its specific character and aware of Lobengula's existence, before the mid-1880s. Until then Rhodes was establishing himself and his fortune and molding his adult personality.

Before the mid- 1880s he lacked the confidence and the means with which to extend his reach to the farthest limits of his imperial, territorial, power- seeking dreams. Moreover, in the 1870s the European scramble for Africa was still tentative, if discernible and real. A decade later, after the conclusion of the Congress of Berlin in 1885, the occupation of Africa was on every national agenda, the Germans had injected themselves as a third, worrisome, alien factor in contention for southern Africa, and Rhodes had utilized his manipulative skills for sub-imperial objectives in Stellaland, Goshen, and Bechuanaland. The Rhodes factor was a crucial added component among the rush of events that were to overwhelm Lobengula and the Ndebele. Moreover, his personal intervention in and acceleration of what was to become the conquest of Central Africa was planned and pursued during those very few years when Rhodes, with a burst of sustained creativity, was also amalgamat-

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