Cecil John Rhodes lived from 1853 to 1902, a brief span, and was the renowned and world-famous founder of Rhodesia (1890-1980), the leading personality and figure in the Victorian world’s late nineteenth-century Africa empire. Rhodes’ endeavours shaped the domains of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century Zambesia, and set down the trajectories marking southern Africa, while the Great Powers’ record of empire in Africa proved greatly inferior to Rhodesia’s. Zambesia’s long history of continuous turbulence on a troubled plateau was reversed by Rhodes’ Pioneer Column in 1890 when the ‘First Rhodesians’ arrived following five decades of itinerant white presence in Zambesia. The Occupation of Mashonaland in 1890, conquest of Matabeleland in 1893 and the end of native rebellions in 1896-97 set the stage for decades of enduring prosperity in Rhodesia, Rhodes’ most enduring legacy. Pax Rhodesiana lasted ninety years, ending in a civil war. Then, Rhodes’ memorabilia and many memorials were subjected to modern cultural cleansing, the inheritor state in time eroding and declining into a failing state.
Following burial in the Matopos at World’s View in 1902, an event of world significance, Rhodes returns to reflect posthumously on Zambesia’s long arc of history, his complex life and times encountered, trials and tribulations, on memories and mistakes, some real and others imagined, to answer many past and modern critics, and record events and his visits to the country he shaped, which set foundations down for the modern civilisation that flourished there until the inheritor state arose in 1980. While many ‘sins’ of the founder are recounted and rebutted, Rhodes’ Ghost discloses thoughts and insights moulded for over a century in trenchant comment on Zambesia’s historiography, its most memorable events, personalities, and the many biographers, historians, scribes, writers and a plethora of literary critics who sought to diminish Rhodes. It is the story of the foundations of the first modern state in Zambesia and what ‘made’ the Rhodesian epoch, establishing its cultural legacies. Generations of Rhodesians followed this pioneering path for ninety years, building the longest-established modern state yet seen in Africa, one that succumbed to civil war and the perilous, shifting tides in Africa’s histories. Apart from what is ‘left behind’, with few Rhodesians living in the inheritor state, there remains continuity in Rhodesiana and its worldwide legacies.