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History, Cecil Rhodes

Lobengula, African powers, pioneer column, British South Africa Company, Northern Rhodesia

Beginning in the 1860s increasing numbers of European ivory hunters entered the area from the south and from the coast. These hunters returned to Europe with reports of vast gold deposits, spurring European interest in Matabeleland (as Europeans called the territory of the Ndebele, in the south) and Mashonaland (as they called the land of the Shona, in the north). During the 1880s the coastline of Africa was partitioned between Germany, Portugal, and Britain, and competition between European and African powers for land in the interior became intense. The Portuguese sent missions to secure the submission of the northern Shona chiefs, the Gaza Empire of southern Mozambique brought the eastern borderlands under its rule, and Afrikaner settlers began to spread north from the Transvaal. However, it was the British rulers of Cape Colony (in what is now western South Africa) who in the end successfully won concessions of land from the Ndebele king. In 1888 Lobengula, king of the Ndebele, granted a mineral concession encompassing Mashonaland (which he nominally controlled) to Cape Colony politician and financier Cecil John Rhodes. The following year the British government granted Rhodes a charter to establish the British South Africa Company. The company was given sweeping powers, including the power not only to mine but also to settle and administer a huge, vaguely defined area north of the Transvaal, including both Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

Although Rhodes held nominal authority over this ill-defined region, in 1890 very little of it was actually under British control, so Rhodes organized expeditions to secure the region and as far north as possible. In 1890 Rhodes’ “pioneer column” crossed Matabeleland and established the city of Salisbury (present-day Harare) in northern Mashonaland. The white settlers proceeded to conquer and settle a vast territory, while Rhodes built railroads and telegraphs to link the region to the outside world. Faced with severe economic problems, as workable gold had not been discovered, Rhodes and Leander Starr Jameson, the administrator of the territory, organized an attack on the Ndebele king. In 1893 the British defeated the Ndebele and distributed vast herds of captured cattle and land to white settlers, temporarily rescuing Rhodes’ company from financial disaster. The chartered territory was officially named Rhodesia, after Rhodes, in 1895.

In late 1895 Jameson led a British military force from Rhodesia in a raid on the Transvaal, hoping to incite British settlers there to overthrow the Afrikaner government. Jameson and his party were quickly arrested, however, and the raid was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, in Rhodesia the Shona and Ndebele took the opportunity to unite under the leadership of influential spirit mediums to overthrow the settlers’ rule. It was not until British troops had been sent in 1897 that the rebellion was finally put down. The same year, colonial administrators divided Rhodesia into two separate colonies: Northern Rhodesia (present-day Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe). Rhodes worked to encourage British settlement in Northern and Southern Rhodesia until his death in 1902.

Article key phrases:

Lobengula, African powers, pioneer column, British South Africa Company, Northern Rhodesia, Mashonaland, city of Salisbury, Matabeleland, vast territory, British settlers, Southern Rhodesia, Rhodesia, Ndebele, white settlers, Transvaal, telegraphs, rebellion, Shona, financial disaster, expeditions, Europeans, British troops, raid, British government, railroads, charter, Portugal, attack, missions, Britain, Portuguese, territory, outside world, death, Germany, interior, competition, party, Jameson, administrator, end, submission, year, opportunity


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