When Cecil Rhodes first arrived in the Kimberley Diamond Fields he was a sickly 18-year-old, sent out to join his brother for the sake of his health. Soon making money buying up claims, he returned to Britain to attend Oxford University, where his illnesses returned and he was given six months to live. He came back out to South Africa, where he was able to improve both his health and his business standing, allowing him to return to Oxford and graduate in 1881. By that point he had already founded the De Beers Mining Company and been elected an MP in the Cape Parliament.

Within a decade, Rhodes controlled ninety percent of the world’s diamond production and was champing at the bit to expand his mining interests north into Africa, with the British Empire in tow. With much cajoling, bullying, brinkmanship and obfuscation in his dealings with imperial governments and African chiefs alike, Rhodes brought the regions north of the Limpopo under the control of his British South African Company (BSAC). This territory – now Zimbabwe and Zambia – became known as Rhodesia in 1895, the same year as a Rhodes-backed invasion of the Transvaal Republic, the Jameson Raid, failed humiliatingly. Rhodes was forced to resign as prime minister of the Cape Colony, a post he had assumed in 1890 at the age of 37, while the Boers and the British slid towards war. He spent the first part of the war in besieged Kimberley, trying to organize the defences and bickering publicly with the British commander. A year after the end of the war, Rhodes died at Muizenberg near Cape Town, aged only 49 and unmarried; he was buried in the Matopos Hills near Bulawayo in Zimbabwe.

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