Saturday, October 3, 2009

45. Rhodium


Cecil Rhodes in Hell

Cecil Rhodes is remembered today as a statesman, an industrialist, and a leader of men. If you're white, that is. The inhabitants of the lands he seized and exploited remember him differently.

Cecil John Rhodes was 17 when he arrived in South Africa. By age 25, he was a millionaire, a founder of the De Beers diamond company, and the beneficiary of myriad sharp dealings with local farmers.

But his goal was not wealth. He was an imperialist. He wanted to make all of Africa—and the former American colonies too, if possible—part of the British Empire. In 1888, he met with Lobengula, a leader of the Ndebele, and through deceit and deliberate mistranslation got him to agree to British mining and colonization of lands between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers. The land grab was on! Rhodes and his private army marched northwards, making their own laws and declaring their own government. By 1895, Lobengula was dead, the Ndebele were a defeated people, forced labor was a commonplace, and the country was known as "Rhodesia."

In 1902, at age 49, Rhodes died. At his request, he was buried atop a mountain near his estates that he neither knew nor cared was sacred ground to the Ndebele. For his sins, he went directly to Hell.

As a matter of policy, the denizens of Hell are normally kept ignorant of all events on Earth. There are always exceptions, however. Years after his death, a panel of historians met in solemn deliberation and decided that in terms of brutality and sheer mindless savagery, Rhodes was the second worst tyrant that Europe had ever imposed upon Africa. The first, of course, being King Leopold II of Belgium.

The Devil heard the news and gleefully told his imps to cease their tortures long enough to pass it along.

When Rhodes heard that he had only placed second, his agony was redoubled.

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

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