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Cecil Rhodes and the Cape Afrikaners: The Imperial Colossus and the Colonial Parish Pump.

For those accustomed to seeing the forces represented by British imperialism and Afrikaner nationalism in terms of outright conflict and hostility, this important and timely book will come as something of a surprise. The notion that Cecil Rhodes, an exemplar of late-nineteenth century imperial arrogance and aggression, derived enthusiastic political support from Cape Afrikaners up until -- and even after -- the disastrous 1895-6 Jameson Raid, confounds that highly ethnicized vision of South African history which regards exclusivist Afrikaner nationalism as the inevitable consequence of a constantly meddling and often rapacious British imperialism.

Tamarkin's study is a tightly focussed, sensitively observed and convincingly executed political study of Cape politics as seen through the turbulent but intimate relationship between Cecil Rhodes and the Afrikaner Bond. The author's attention to detail and closeness to his sources does not always make for easy reading. But this does not diminish the fundamental value of a book that represents a major contribution to our understanding of white identity formation in the late-nineteenth century Cape.

Tamarkin shows persuasively how Cecil Rhodes assidiously cultivated the political support of the Afrikaner Bond and his marked success in doing so. Having arrived in South Africa in 1870, aged seventeen, he rapidly became a wealthy entrepreneur with extensive interests in the Kimberley diamond mines. By 1881 Rhodes was also an ambitious politician holding a parliamentary seat in the northern Cape constituency of Barkly West. The Afrikaner Bond, a rurally-based political organisation representing the interests of Afrikaner farmers and aspirant professionals in the western Cape, also came to prominence at this time. After a tentative and halting. start a firm alliance soon developed between Rhodes and the Bond. By the end of the decade the relationship was soundly established, providing the basis for Rhodes's assumption of the premiership of the Cape Colony in 1890.

Underlying this alliance was a perceived mutuality of interests as well as a genuine degree of trust and affection. Many leading representatives of Cape Afrikanerdom in the late-nineteenth century were considerably Anglicized and largely accepting of the imperial connection. Although the Bond served to articulate rising Afrikaner ethno-nationalism, its political focus remained predominantly Cape-based and its attitude towards the wider Afrikaner diaspora in the Boer republics was marked by ambivalence and unease. The Bond remained somewhat marginal within urban centres of power, but it was increasingly successful in gaining access to, and participation in, the legal institutions and administrative structures of the Cape. Most importantly, the Bond identified distinct material advantages and economic opportunities in remaining part of the British empire.

Rhodes's political strategy was largely compatible with these impulses. As an imperialist, he sought to use the Cape Colony as a political base from which to extend northwards through Bechuanaland to the Rhodesias and beyond. Rhodes's ability to represent his imperialist ambitions in a manner consonant with the developing colonial nationalist sentiments of Cape Afrikaners was a political masterstroke; the Bond, ever keen to develop new agricultural export markets, proved highly receptive to the idea of a Cape sub-imperial role in opening up a 'road to the north' -- even if this was to the detriment of the economic interests of the Boer republics. Rhodes endeared himself to Cape Afrikaners when, in 1886, he abandoned his prior support of free trade policies and came out in favour of the Bond's campaign to abolish the much resented excise duty on Cape brandy. Crucially, Rhodes shifted his position on 'native policy' to accommodate the political instincts of the Bond. In 1887 he delivered a direct attack on the non-racial franchise. His sponsorship of the landmark Glen Grey Act of 1894, which is often interpreted as a harbinger of later segregationist policies, addressed both his own needs as a large employer of black labour as well as underlining his commitment to white supremacy. This was further reinforced by Rhodes's championship of the Bond's belief in the supra-national unity of the English and Afrikaner 'races'.

Rhodes's alliance with the Afrikaner Bond was undoubtedly lubricated by his conspicuous use of political and economic patronage. But Tamarkin is hesitant about portraying the relationship in venal and opportunistic terms alone. He provides ample evidence to support his argument that the loyalty of Cape Afrikaners was sincerely felt. The notion that Rhodes gained the trust of Cape Afrikaners through trickery and duplicity alone is difficult to sustain in view of the support he received from astute Afrikaner political leaders like J. H. Hoftmeyr and the young Jan Smuts. Even S. J. du Toit, an iconic figure in the Afrikaans language movement and cultural hero of Afrikaner nationalist mythology, was a strong supporter or Rhodes. Pragmatic political considerations on the part of both parties played an important role in their unlikely concordat. But, in accounting for Rhodes's appeal to Afrikaners, Tamarkin also ascribes considerable importance to his curious personal charisma, his capacity for flattery, and his reputation as a generous and unpretentious host. Rhodes's decision to build and furnish his residence, Groote Schuur, in the manner of a Cape Dutch homestead -- rather than an ersatz Tudor mansion -- did not go unnoticed by the Afrikaner elite whom he courted. But whether Rhodes's expressions of sympathy towards Afrikaners were in turn genuine, Tamarkin is finally unwilling or unable to say. Likewise, the 'trust, bordering on credulity' which the leadership of the Bond placed in Rhodes remains unexplained. In this, as in many other respects, Rhodes remains an enigma.

Tamarkin does not play down the tensions that existed between Rhodes and the Bond in the period leading up to the Jameson Raid. On the contrary, he sees the recurrent cycle of crises which tested the relationship as testimony to its underlying soundness. Notably, Rhodes's support of anti-Scab legislation in 1894-5 (a measure designed to address a disease greatly affecting the wool industry) embroiled him in a parochial controversy-reflecting a clash between progressive and conservative economic and social values -- in which local Afrikaner resistance to state intervention as well as conflict between western Cape wine and wheat farmers on the one hand, and sheep farmers in the Cape interior on the other, came to the fore. Rhodes was undoubtedly weakened by the anti-Scab controversy, but his relationship with the Bond leadership survived the affair.

The real break between Rhodes and Cape Afrikanerdom came soon after when his role as the instigator of Jameson's outrageous coup attempt against the Kruger government was revealed. The trauma of the Raid was experienced most acutely by leading Bondsmen like J. H. Hofmeyr for whom the breach of trust was an incomprehensible act of personal betrayal. Its significance lay partly in the fact that Rhodes's broader imperialist ambitions and his advocacy of Cape sub-imperial expansion -- or 'colonialism' -- could no longer be reconciled. The revelation of Rhodes's role in the Raid engendered a new mood of Afrikaner assertion through which imperialism came to be firmly identified with economic greed and unrestrained aggression. But, as Tamarkin poignantly shows, many Afrikaners, including S. J. du Toit, refrained from condemning Rhodes until his guilt was proven. Rhodes himself was unrepentant. Attacks on him exacerbated Anglo-Afrikaner divisions and engendered a wave of jingoist sentiment; on his return from Rhodesia in 1896, having just put down the Chimurenga uprising in Matabeleland, Rhodes was greeted as a conquering hero by many English-speaking pro-imperialists. It was therefore not only the fact of the Raid, but also the lack of contrition that followed it, that turned former Afrikaner allies decisively against Rhodes.

Tamarkin's account is undoubtedly original but not entirely novel. In many ways it takes up and develops ideas implicit in Rodney Davenport's classic, albeit sometimes neglected, 1966 study of the Afrikaner Bond. Tamarkin also builds effectively on the conceptual foundations laid more recently by scholars like Andre du Toit and Hermann Giliomee who have sought, in different but complementary ways, to break down the prevailing myth of impermeable and trans-historical Afrikaner ethnic solidity.

Where Tamarkin's study moves the discussion forward is in his treatment of the complex and variant nature of Afrikaner identity. He moves beyond the now well-established 'invention of tradition'/'imagined communities' paradigm by focussing not so much on the construction and mobilization of Cape Afrikaner ethnicity as on its hybrid and fluid character. Crucially, he shows that local patriotism was not necessarily incompatible with imperial loyalty and that colonial nationalist and imperialist interests were often able to coexist -- especially where the creation of a shared and exclusive sense of white identity was concerned. Tamarkin's primary interest in the Afrikaner Bond lies in the manner in which it was able to carve out a space 'in which Cape Afrikaner ethnicity, white Colonialism, pan-Afrikaner solidarity and British imperialism lived side by side, not without tension, but on the whole quite happily.' That this state of 'harmonious confusion' did not survive the Jameson Raid and the Anglo-South African War is a matter of historical record. Whether its demise was inevitable as the hardening conditions of South Africa's late-nineteenth century industrializing process served to polarize class, colour and ethnic relations, is now a much more open and
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Author:Dubow, Saul
Publication:African Affairs
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1997
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