Justin Cartwright: Cecil Rhodes, now in a Jermyn Street blazer, lives on

Share
Related Topics

There are two aspects of the Thatcher affair which intrigue me. The first is the role of the adventurer in Africa. This is a long and not very honourable tradition. The arch practitioner in Anglophone Africa was Cecil Rhodes. As a private individual, backed by Rothschild's bank, he took over the country of an African king, Lobengula, using his own troops. He later overreached himself by attempting to take the Transvaal from President Paul Kruger.

There are two aspects of the Thatcher affair which intrigue me. The first is the role of the adventurer in Africa. This is a long and not very honourable tradition. The arch practitioner in Anglophone Africa was Cecil Rhodes. As a private individual, backed by Rothschild's bank, he took over the country of an African king, Lobengula, using his own troops. He later overreached himself by attempting to take the Transvaal from President Paul Kruger.

The lure in both cases was gold. Matabeleland was thought to have gold and the Transvaal had the greatest gold reserves the world has ever seen, inconveniently under the control of the Boers. In dealing with the Matabele, Rhodes used the civilisation argument: these benighted savages need us, they will benefit from commerce and industry.

In the second case the argument was different: Kruger will not allow citizenship for the Uitlanders - the foreign influx of miners, capitalists and opportunists - even though they outnumber the Boers. Rhodes presented himself as a champion of democracy. The column led by Jameson was captured; he was sentenced to death, although the sentence was commuted.

Underlying the arrogance and ruthlessness of Cecil Rhodes was an assumption that reached its apogee in the late 19th century but which persisted, in pockets and in saloon bars, until about 1963. This assumption was that the Englishman had drawn first prize in the lottery of life. It was based on the idea that evolution was leading inevitably to a very refined type of chap and that chap was the English gentleman. Naturally his inclinations and tastes were good for the less fortunate. Trade, commerce and the rule of law were essential for the progress of mankind. A stint at public school, rugger, a few cold showers and confidence were all that were needed to rule.

This attitude still lingers among whites in former colonies such as Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The black man needs good leadership, at which point he reveals himself to be a fine fellow and a hard worker. Sometimes this demands a little judicious intervention because Africans who achieve power are absolutely corrupt and incompetent. In any bar, in any safari camp, in any farmers' club in Africa, you will find white people who are happy to tell you these things in front of smiling black waiters.

I have no knowledge of what Mark Thatcher has been up to, if anything, but I think itcertain that he has come across more than his ration of adventurers, people who still think that Africa is the preserve of the public school Englishman and his tough side-kicks from the non-commissioned ranks. Quite often this sort of Englishman is a little out of time, believing that a couple of O-levels and a blazer from Jermyn Street are all a man needs to succeed in Africa.

The second aspect of the Thatcher affair that intrigues me is the African response. You can be car-jacked and murdered in South Africa without anyone taking much notice, or you can embezzle money for years (if you are a top person) before the police take action; if you are Winnie Mandela you can get nothing more serious than a rap over the knuckles for appalling crimes. But now, suddenly, the police have moved with alacrity to pin something on Mark Thatcher.

There is a law in South Africa, which came in after various adventures in the Seychelles and neighbouring states, which forbids any resident plotting the overthrow of another government. This, I think, is the nub of the matter: Africans, Thabo Mbeki to the fore, believe with some justice that many white people, and particularly the sort I have described above, have a very flexible attitude to the rule of law in Africa, accompanied by a very low opinion of African leaders.

Mugabe represents to these people the ultimate in corrupt and irrational leadership. But to Mbeki and many Africans, he is a hero of the liberation movement and, in his scorched-earth fashion, an upholder of African dignity. To ditch him or to overthrow any African leader would be to appease the self-serving West. Probably without realising it, Sir Mark Thatcher Bt finds himself at the point of impact between two very different world views. On the one hand we have the tradition of the English adventurer, and on the other the prickly sensitivities of the African. There was something wonderfully, ludicrously anachronistic about his father, the first baronet. Something of the saloon bar philosopher seems to have descended with the title.

Justin Cartwright is a South African-born novelist

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd end the war on drugs

Patrick Hennessey
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'