Franschhoek the Pearl of the Winelands
The Cape Winelands with their undulating terrain, their evergreen vegetation and their Mediterranean climate are at the top of everyone’s visit to Cape Town and that’s before we consider the superlative wines.
Inside the home of colonialism’s poster boy
As arguments over a statue of Cecil Rhodes rage at Oxford University, David Whitley visits the cottage in which he died
For most, Muizenberg is about the surf. The cruisy beach town on False Bay is a far cry in character from the be-seen western beach suburbs of Cape Town. Colourful beach huts line the sand, but it’s a cottage a little further down the main road that plays a bigger role in South Africa’s history.
The Rhodes Cottage is a thatched affair, and comfortable rather than majestic. But it once was home to one of the most important – and controversial – figures in South African history.
Cecil Rhodes first came to southern Africa in 1870, as a relatively sickly 17-year-old. It was hoped the climate might improve his health. In truth, the move didn’t do much for it – but for Rhodes’ wealth, it was a whole different matter.
After a fairly mundane year farming in Natal, he went to the new mining hotspot Kimberley. It was a pretty disorganised place, and Rhodes realised that the key was buying up lots of small diamond-mining operations, then turning them into one. He secured the financing, and gradually turned a hodge-podge collection of smallholdings into the De Beers Mining Company. He would get exceedingly wealthy on the back of it.
But Rhodes wanted power and glory as well as money, so went into politics too. By 1887, he was the Prime Minister of the Cape Province, and had plenty of grand plans – including a railway across Africa stretching from the Cape to Cairo.
That didn’t happen, but Rhodes did manage to extend the British Empire by marching into Matabeleland and Mashonaland, combining them together as Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). That there were already people there was something of an irrelevant afterthought.
Nowadays, the Rhodes Cottage acts as small museum about a man who may have been a monstrous racist, but was indisputably fascinating.
There’s clearly an affection for Rhodes in the curation, and the displays do challenge the stereotype of a pith-helmeted Victorian conquistador stomping across the landscape and taking everything by force.
That’s not an entirely inaccurate picture, of course. Rhodes’ strengths lay as a negotiator – a man with an uncanny knack for working out where interests overlapped and putting together a deal from there.
He also had an incredible superiority complex – believing that to be born English was to have won the first prize in the lottery of life. This, however, was married to a ferocious lack of ostentation that was so pronounced that it almost became an ostentation in itself. He dressed deliberately unformally, was very clear about his preferences for the simple things and – ironically for a man who made his fortune in diamonds – had little time for flashy bling.
But in his time, Rhodes was a hero. Queen Victoria’s son hero-worshipped him, and there are still plenty of streets, buildings and institutions bearing his name today – not least the Rhodes scholarship at Oxford University.
There’s a feeling of unfinished business too. Rhodes was only 48 when he died in his cottage. Given another 30 years, how much more could he have changed southern Africa’s story?
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