A Natural Wonder
The Zambezi River
The Victoria Falls
Ecology of the Victoria Falls
Formation of the Victoria Falls
People of the Victoria Falls
Enter the Ndebele
Discovery of the Victoria Falls
In Livingstone's Footsteps
Development of the Rhodesias
Development of the Railway
Development of Tourism
Development of Victoria Falls Town
Recent History
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Development of the Rhodesia

Colonial Powers

Following the demise of Portuguese influence on the east coast of Africa, and their wider Pacific trade ship routes, the trading companies of the English, Dutch and French emerged and expanded.

The Cape of Good Hope became a strategic trade point, with the Dutch East India Company first establishing a small fort and farm to supply their ships. As the settlement grew, so did its independence, and after briefly becoming occupied by French troops in 1781, the British arrived in 1795 to the cosmopolitan Cape Colony.

In 1806, a fleet of 63 British ships arrived to prevent Napoleon taking the Cape for the French. The following year slave trading was prohibited. Later, in 1833, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire.

Some settlers of Dutch and other European descents, the Boers, (Dutch/Afrikaans for 'farmer') left the British controlled Cape Colony in the 'Great Trek', a series of small family and small community based migrations which grew to some 12,000 'Voortrekkers', crossing the Orange River and establishing the Boer states of Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Some of these early Trekkers are known to have met gruesome ends at the hands of the Zulu, some disappeared never to be heard of again – presumably having met the same fate.

The Cape Colony subsequently remained in the British Empire until the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, when it was renamed the Cape of Good Hope Province.

Diamond Diggers

The discovery of a single diamond in 1867, and more significantly, in 1869, a diamond which would eventually become known as the 'Star of South Africa' and rest among the British Crown Jewels, was a significant turning point for the developing Cape Colony.

However no-one knew where exactly to find the diamond fields, or how. Experts in the Cape suggested that they may not even be native to the region, or were even deposited by ostriches, which carried them in their gizzards. Why none had actually been found in the stomachs of dead ostriches was not so easily explained.

The subsequent prospecting rush, involving 10,000 of people, eventually became focused on a couple of Boer farm holdings in the region of the Orange river and the Vaal. In the middle of a dry pan on a farm, a strange yellowish crumbling clay was discovered to contain diamonds. Story has it a neighbouring farmhouse had been built using the clay. It was picked apart by pocket knifes. Nearby, the de Beer brothers de Beer, owned a dusty farm named Vooruitzicht ('Foresight'). They sold up for a staggering £6,000. Over the next twenty years it would yield more than £100 million in diamonds and become known to the world as Kimberley. It bothered no-one that the land where the diamonds were found came under neither British or Boer claims. However it was soon became part of the Cape Colony, with the Boers being compensated for their interests.

Kimberley Mines, 1874, showing aerial winding gear

Among those early prospectors was a certain Herbert Rhodes, a 25 year old pioneer cotton-farmer based in Natal. In September 1870 his brother, Cecil, arrived at the colony and after a short unsuccessful stint on the cotton farm, followed his older sibling to the diamond fields.

In a letter to his mother, the young Cecil Rhodes described the diamond bearing soil:

"It works just like Stilton cheese, and is as much like the composition of Stilton cheese as anything I can compare to... They have been able to find no bottom yet..."

His average income was about £100 a week, far more profitable than his cotton-farming attempts, and becoming the foundations for a business empire that would make him the richest man alive.

Cecil Rhodes

Cecil Rhodes (5 July 1853 - 26 March 1902) was born in England and travelled to Africa at the age of 17 for medical recuperation. He hoped to return to England and complete his education, and by 1873 he had raised funds to return and complete his studies at Oxford.

Cecil Rhodes drawn by Violet Manners

The nature of diamond mining changed and evolved from the early attempts. Digging ever deeper holes, the process became more complex, requiring greater investment and planning. Many miners whose equipment consisted of little more than a shovel were obliged to sell up their small stakes to those with the finances to fund larger scale digging. When regulations limiting the number of claims a man might hold were amended in 1876, Rhodes upon his return, was able to consolidate his holdings.

Cecil Rhodes, together with his partner Charles Dunell Rudd, had purchased and transported the largest pump in Kimberley in anticipation of the seasonal rains which flooded mines and stopped excavations. During the dry season it was commissioned to produce ice, an expensive and profitable luxury in the heat of the African bush, especially amongst thirsty miners.

In 1880 Rhodes combined his holdings into the De Beers Mining Company. The purpose of creating the company was to regulate the production and marketing of diamonds, but Rhodes had even bigger plans. Rhodes was quick to realise that overproduction would lead to reduced profits, and as mining became more expensive, he looked to protect his investments.

By aggressively buying up smaller competing mining operations De Beers quickly became a major player, with only one serious, and larger, rival, the Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Company, owned by Barney Barnato. Barnato was the same age as Rhodes, and had arrived in Kimberley soon after Rhodes had first departed to Oxford.

Kimberley Mines [from Stage, 1973]

By 1876, the yellow clay which had been the source of the diamonds, was coming to an end. The bottom had at last been found, and it was solid dark rock. Barnato however gambled on a theory of his own about how the diamonds had got there in the first place. Without knowing igneous rock from sandstone, he speculated that the solid rock was the source of the diamonds, and to the horror of his brother, promptly invested all their capital in four claims of the “worthless” solid stone. Within a few months the claims were yielding £1,000 worth of stones a week.

Cecil Rhodes at first tried to buy a controlling interest in Barnato’s company, which by 1888 had become the biggest player in town. In retaliation, they flooded the market, forcing prices down below production cost. Rhodes was advised by Alfred Beit, a German Jew who knew the diamond trade inside out. Rhodes eventually gained a majority share in Barnato’s company in March 1888 by purchasing three fifths of Kimberley Central’s stock and spending £5,338,650.

Rhodes had spoken of making De Beers "the richest, the greatest, the most powerful Company the world has ever seen". In negotiating the deal with Barnato it is recorded that he had repeatedly stated "I want the power to go to the north". It seams that Rhodes had already set his sights on far greater, and far wider, aims than just diamond mining.

Barnato was perhaps the first to see this ambition in the full, and in concluding the deal said to Rhodes:

"Some people have a fancy for one thing, some for another. You have a fancy for making an empire. Well I suppose I must give it to you."

Barnato agreed to give up control of Kimberley Central in exchange for becoming a life governor of the new company, along with Rhodes, and Beit, with Rhodes as its first chairman. By 1888 Rhodes had achieved his goal of amalgamating and dominating all of South African diamond mining, and consequently 90% of world production.

The discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand in 1884 lured not only thousands of British miners and prospectors to the Transvaal, giving rise to the city of Johannesburg, but also Rhodes and Rudd who bought claims and in 1887 set up a new company, Consolidated Gold Fields of South Africa, which again would bring them rich rewards.

The Red Line

'The Rhodes Colossus' - Rhodes as satirised in Punch magazine in 1892 after announcing his plan to extend an electrical telegraph line from Cape Town to Cairo.

Rhodes' dream of a Cape to Cairo railway transport route drove his ambitions in southern Africa. A telecomunications line preceded the route of the railway.

However, north of Lake Tanganyika German interests held the balance of power, and whilst Rhodes dreamed of a continuous 'red line' of British dominions from north to south, French interests sought to connect their domains in north Africa, and Portuguese interests sought to link modern day Angola and Mozambique.

A BSAC Map of Africa, "All that red, that's my dream!" (Rhodes)

In 1890 an Anglo-German Agreement known as the the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty established access to the Zambezi for German controlled South-West Africa (now Namibia), establishing the Caprivi Strip and the political boundaries of the region as they are known today. Leo von Caprivi succeeded Otto von Bismarck as the German Chancellor in 1890 and a few months later he signed an agreement trading the islands of Zanzibar to the British in exchange for Heligoland, an island group in the North Sea. Bundled in the deal Germany negotiated a bonus, a little strip of northern Bechuanaland, no wider than 20 miles across in some places, specifically aimed to give access to the Zambezi River. This, the Germans thought, would give them a navigable route to the Indian Ocean and Germany's East African territories (modern-day Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi) - despite Livingstone's failed second expedition. The deal did not sit well with Bismarck who huffed that the Heligoland trade had been a bust, and that Germany had traded away its "trousers for a button," or with Cecil Rhodes, who at the time was pushing to connect British territory in the south with that in the north and to realise his great ambition of a Cape to Cairo railway.

Lord Salisbury, the British Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, did not share Rhodes' vision of a Cape to Cairo route, stating in a speech to the House of Lords on the Anglo-German Agreement in 1890:

"I can imagine no more uncomfortable position than the possession of a narrow strip of territory in the very heart of Africa, three month's distance from the coast, which should be separating the forces of a powerful empire like Germany and... another European Power."

It would only be after the end of the First World War that the territory was handed over to British mandate by the League of Nations, becoming independent Tanzania in 1961.

Refering to the recognition of German claims over Namaqualand and Damaraland (modern day Namibia) and British claims over Bechuanaland (Botswana), Salisbury stated:

"at the very north of this Damaraland territory they should have a strip of territory going along the Portuguese [Angolan] border, and giving them direct access to the River Zambesi. It was not an unnatural demand, but I never was able to understand what the objections were that have been raised on several sides. Again, we are told that it would interfere with the progress of trade; but it is the last route in the world by which trade can pass."

In reference believed to have been directed at Rhodes he said, "I think that the constant study of maps is apt to disturb men's reasoning powers", and he concluded his speech:

"But I will say that during these negotiations it occurred to me more than once that it might be wiser to break them off altogether and to allow the years to pass over us until the natural progress of emigration and civilisation and the struggle for existence should have determined in a far more effective way than can be done by Protocols and Treaties who are to be supreme, and in what part of that vast continent each nation is to rule. But, on reflection, we could not convince ourselves that, though far the most comfortable course, would be our duty, because in the front of this advancing tide of colonisation there are numbers of men of both nationalities - men of energy and strong will, but probably not distinguished by any great restraint over their feelings - who would be urging, in every part where rivalry existed and the two Powers touched, the claims of each nation to supremacy in each particular bit of territory, pressing them upon the natives, getting from native chiefs Treaty after Treaty, each Treaty conflicting with the other, and trying to establish by means which must constantly degenerate into violence the supremacy of that nation for which they were passionately contending."

The greatest difficulty confronted Rhodes when he found that in the various international arrangements made with Belgium and Germany the British Government had failed to make provision for the retention or acquisition by Great Britain of a strip of territory, however slender, by which to connect the continent.

In order to get over this obstacle, Rhodes later sought an arrangement with the authorities of the Congo Free State, King Leopold II of Belgium. Their meeting, in 1899, did not go well, with Rhodes reportedly recorded as saying "I have just supped with the Devil". Leopold's demands were beyond what Rhodes would suffer, and instead he turned to an equally unlikely partner, the German Kaiser.

In March of that year, Rhodes had several interviews with the Kaiser in Berlin, who was so impressed with the scale of his ambitions that, while guarding to the full all German interests and rights, he gave Rhodes permission to carry the line through German territory. It was agreed that the transcontinental telegraph should be allowed to pass through German East Africa from the northern border of North-East Rhodesia to Nairobi in British East Africa. Permission was also granted to construct a continuation of the Cape to Cairo railway through German territory.

The Times of London reported:

"When two such clever men as the German Emperor and Mr Rhodes meet with their minds made up to do business, the business is generally done with rapidity and smoothness. ...Such progress has been made towards an agreement in regard to the Cape to Cairo railway that the conclusion of a satisfactory arrangement is looked upon as certain"

The British South Africa Company

In 1886, Britain had come close to accepting Portuguese claims to the territory north of the Zambezi. Bechuanaland, later independent Botswana, had already become a British Protectorate in 1885, and the British Government was at the time reluctant to embark on further imperial expansion but were instead keen to minimise their involvement as long as other countries did not discriminate against British interests. However they were naturally willing to listen when Cecil Rhodes suggested that his organisation, the British South Africa Company (BSAC), should administer and manage the new colonies.

Rhodes formed British South Africa Company in 1889, modelling it on the British East India Company. He hoped it would enable colonisation and economic development across much of south-central Africa. He was not even that interested in Bechuanaland, which was already being painted red by cartographers who at the time used the colour to indicate British influence, but on the land beyond, reaching up to the banks of the Zambezi.

Rhodes was an ardent believer in British colonialism and imperialism, he is quoted as saying:

"I have considered the existence of God and decided that there is a fifty fifty chance that God exists. Therefore, I propose to give Him the benefit of the doubt. Now, what would this God want for the world? He would want it well run. I have viewed the peoples of the world and have come to the conclusion that the English speaking race is the highest ideals of Justice, Liberty and Peace. Therefore, I shall devote the rest of my life to God's purpose and make the world English. I shall work for the furtherance of the British Empire, the bringing of the whole civilized world under British rule, for the recovery of the United States of America, for the making of the Anglo Saxon world into One Empire. What a dream, and yet it is possible, it is probable."

Rhodes' ambition was limited only by his imagination:

"The world is nearly all parcelled out, and what there is left of it is being divided up, conquered and colonised. 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."

Cecil Rhodes saw no conflict between his political and business interests. He once noted:

"Pure philanthropy is all very well in its way, but philanthropy plus five per cent is a good deal better"

In 1890 he was offered the Premiership of the Cape Colony, a position he accepted:

"I thought of the position [I] occupied in De Beers and Chartered Company, and I concluded that one could be worked with the other, and each to the benefit of all"

Next page: Lobengula

Further Reading

Leasor, James (1997, 2011). Rhodes & Barnato: The Premier & The Prancer. Leo Cooper, James Leasor Limited.

Lockheart, J G and Woodhorse, C M (1963) Cecil Rhodes: The Colossus of Africa.

Rotberg R I & Shore M F (1988). The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power. Oxford University Press.

Strage, Mark (1973?) Cape to Cairo, Jonathan Cape

Vindex (F. Verschoyle) (1900) Cecil Rhodes. Chapman and Hall.

Williams, Basil (1921) Cecil Rhodes.

Life and Death at the Old Drift, Victoria Falls 1898-1905

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'To The Victoria Falls' aims to bring you the wonder of the Victoria Falls through a look at its natural and human history.

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