The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power

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

22
"Equal Rights for Civilized Men" The Last Hurrah and the Guns of October

"YOU WANT ME. You can't do without me," Rhodes declared in early 1898. "The feeling of the people--you may think it egoism, but there are the facts--is that somebody is wanted to fight a certain thing for them, and there is nobody else able and willing to fight it."1

Rhodes refused to renounce the politics of power. His enemies in the Cape wanted him to become a reclusive hermit along the Zambezi; Innes wished that he would "stay in the North and do his work there."2 But, in the aftermath of more difficulty with his heart and a troubled convalescence in Inyanga, Rhodes decided to dash headlong from the political wilderness back into the very eye of controversy and, he envisaged, to the summit of restored influence. Stirred by strong intimations that his time might fast be running out and stimulated by the earnest pleas of political busybodies, matchmakers, and old and new acolytes in the Cape, Rhodes decided that he ought to heed their call and his own otherwise difficult-to-fulfill lust for action, for intrigue and conspiracy, and for centrality. Rhodes exulted in his ability to manipulate men and events. Rhodesia, rails, and the telegraph should have been enough (along with diamonds, gold, and new entrepreneurial projects) to keep him busy, but Rhodes in late 1897, after being emotionally exonerated if technically chastised by the parliamentary inquiry, sought a mission to which he could devote himself passionately, idealistically, intellectually, and, if necessary, deviously.

Rhodes was a genius of adaptation. Like a great artist, he brought a rich technique and a full palette to the challenge of creating his life. The power of his technical gifts and his palette's breadth and subtlety had been amply displayed in the aftermath of the Raid. It had served him well when the opportunity presented itself to portray the peacemaker by negotiating with the Ndebele. Now, again, he displayed his polychromatic repertoire, with perhaps

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