Paul Maylam: What Cecil John Rhodes said in his will …

…about who should get scholarships

The legacy of the British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes has sparked angry protests from Cape Town to Oxford. In the wake of the #RhodesMustFall campaign, which resulted in his statue being removed from the University of Cape Town, students at Oxford have clamoured for another statue at Oriel College Oxford to be removed. Now the name of the Rhodes Scholarship, funded by the estate of Rhodes and handed out to international postgraduates to study at Oxford by the Rhodes Trust, is under attack.

In the latest development, a group of 200 international scholars have said that they took a Rhodes grant as a form of reparation, “knowing that Cecil Rhodes did not intend it for us when he wrote his will.“ Gemma Ware and Thabo Leshilo asked historian Professor Paul Maylam about what Rhodes actually said in his will.

Is it accurate to say that Rhodes was selective about who should be awarded scholarships?

Yes, this is accurate – in the past there was heavy discrimination in the award of the scholarships.
Rhodes’ will specified that only males could be awarded Rhodes Scholarships. There was a clause in the will that stated that “race” should be disregarded, but Rhodes clearly viewed “race” in terms of the English/Dutch divide.

It was clearly his intention that scholars should be white. A black American Alain L Locke was awarded a scholarship in 1907, but thereafter there were virtually no black scholars until the 1960s.

It was only in 1977 that the first black South African was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. In practice, too, for many years scholarships were only awarded to unmarried men. So I presume the 200 scholars are either women and/or black and/or married.

What views on white supremacy did Rhodes hold?

Rhodes was an ardent white supremacist, as revealed in a couple of his statements:

I say the natives are like children.

They are just emerging from barbarism.


Treat the natives as a subject people

as long as they continue in a state of barbarism and communal tenure;

be the lords over them,

and let them be a subject race.


What did Rhodes intend Oxford to do with the money he left it in his will?

Apart from the scholarships, Rhodes left money for Oriel College, where he had been a student over a number of years. The will stated that the £100 000 left should be used to expand the college’s buildings on to High Street (where the statue now stands on the façade of the extension), to support Oriel fellows, to maintain “the dignity and comfort” of the high table(!), and to fund the maintenance of the college’s infrastructure. There was nothing in the will to say that a building such as Rhodes House should be constructed in Oxford in his memory.

How have the terms of the Rhodes scholarship changed since he left Oxford the money?

There have been a number of changes in the criteria for selecting Rhodes scholars. Several years ago women, `people of colour´, and married persons became eligible. These changes were introduced gradually, mainly in the 1960s and 1970s. Rhodes had also specified in his will that sporting ability – or manliness – should be a criterion for selecting scholars. I believe this has largely fallen away.

Paul Maylam, Professor Emeritus, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.

4 Kommentare zu diesem Artikel bisher »

Kommentare zu »Paul Maylam: What Cecil John Rhodes said in his will …«

  1. Years ago, when I applied for a Rhodes Scholarship, two thoughts crossed my mind. First, that Rhodes himself would hardly pass muster as a Rhodes Scholar. And secondly, that the Rhodes Scholars that I knew personally held humane and progressive views of which he himself would hardly have approved. It was based upon their example, not his, that I went ahead with my application. In the end, I never won the scholarship, but I did get to Oxford, and came away with values and attitudes even less likely to please him. Beyond that, South Africa seems now to be governed by a clique whose venality would no doubt have given Rhodes some satisfaction. Addressing South Africa’s enormous inequalities will require courage, determination and intelligence. I would suggest that this challenge should be the focus of attention, not least among the current crop of South African Rhodes Scholars, rather than becoming obsessed with the largely discredited role of a colonial dinosaur. Ultimately, the scholarship is what you make of it, not what Rhodes believed and vainly hoped it would be.

  2. This story reminds me of my Grandmother (I am 70), who used to say there are now’t so queer as folk. In South Africa many people treat Chaka as a hero, almost a saint and yet he was singly responsible for more deaths of his own people, even killing them at will, than any other person or nation. Cecil Rhodes was by no means a saint but is not credit with the violent death of a single person and who did so much for the development of South Africa, benefits which South Africans of all races still enjoy today and will continue to enjoy for a long time to come, but is being vilified.

    Makes you think, or it should do.

  3. Dave,
    Your remarks remind me of my grandmother (I am 65), who in her childhood survived the savagery of the british invaders who had massacred families in the whole range of homesteads in our area and ended up having enthroned the king and destroyed the state in our part of the world, kwelakwaZulu. Brought before court in our times, each one of those would certainly be sentenced heavily.

    The generation of Rhodes and the like deserve the examination and the reassessment of their perceptions which seems to have just begun in Cape Town, Oxford and elsewhere. Scholars of various disciplines will hopefully join hands with Paul Maylam, revisit the archives and contribute towards a critical review of colonial notions and practices that have been propagated in schoolbooks throughout the colonial and apartheid-era in order to promote the search for truth in the interest of redress and justice.


  4. I hear you Ben and do not disagree, the march of ‘civilisation’ has not necessarily been kind, in fact, it has been quite brutal, no matter what part of the world you look at, and it has been going on for centuries, even Chaka did his bit in his region. He created the Zulu Nation but at what price? Britain herself was similarly invaded and ‘destroyed’ by both Romans and Normans. The question is, did the Roman invasion of Britain improve it or destroy it? Do the British go around demanding reparations from every Italian or French person they see because of the invasions? Would Germany be an advanced technical nation today if at some time it had not been ruled by the Romans and then the Gauls. What about the USA? Should it now be pulled apart and everyone removed who is not directly of Native American descent? European civilisation, as we know it today, came out of Mesopotamia, a land that is tearing itself apart now on religious and ethnic grounds and going backwards at an horrendous rate. History moves on.

    Mandela, bless his soul, brought us an opportunity that the current government is steadily destroying. We are seeing more people die by violent crime in a single year in our beloved South Africa than the entire casualties on both sides of the Anglo Zulu War you talk about. And yet here we are arguing about a single man who left a legacy that people of all races are able to enjoy. For all his faults, and he was a ruthless businessman with all the faults that go with it, he nevertheless has done more for South Africa than many men.

    I reiterate Rhodes was no saint and Rhodes did indeed leave his money for the benefit of young men of his nation, whatever that is perceived to be, and why shouldn’t he? Most people restrict their will to their immediate family. Perhaps if he had done so we would not even be discussing him? Or would it have made him an even more extreme racists? Right now, though people of all races are enjoying Rhodes’ legacy, whether that be on a scholarship or his development in Southern Africa. Perhaps as a learned man you can name another man from Southern Africa who has left such a legacy. Opra Winfrey has created a school exclusively for African girls from poor backgrounds who show talent. Surely this puts her in the same category as Rhodes, and yet I applaud her, this is truly the kind of people Africa needs. Not those who spend their time critising what others have achieved.

    I am sure if we try hard enough, we can pull anyone’s character to pieces, but in the end, did Rhodes leave Africa a better place than when he found it? I think by the way the trust has handled his trust they have moved with the times and corrected his original faults. The same way we are steadily correcting our own thoughts and beliefs. What young people in the world need to be thinking is, can I do better, what can I do to improve the lives of those around me?


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