Rhodes and the Spatial Realisation of Race, Gender and Sexuality
Keywords:homosexuality, masculinity, decolonisation, Cecil John Rhodes
The call for the decolonisation of South African space that started to resound throughout South Africa in 2015 has, for a large part, centred on the institutional and historical legacy of Cecil John Rhodes. The Rhodes Must Fall movement has, for example, demonstrated the degree to which Rhodes is still entangled with the South African landscape. Although this movement has largely exposed the race-based prejudices of Rhodes’ imperialist endeavours for South(ern) Africa, Rhodes’ legacy also carries overt biases towards gender and sexuality. As this article demonstrates, the spectre of Rhodes’ alleged homosexuality has haunted him not only during his lifetime, but has persisted to the present day. The concept of Rhodes as a homosexual man stands in a complex relationship to the public image of imperialist, statesman and entrepreneur that he and key agents in the British Empire have tried to foster. However, in the wake of a crumbling British Empire, Rhodes have been left exposed to critics who have strategically used him as an example of the way in which decolonisation can be exacted upon a memorialised legacy. As this article demonstrates, Rhodes’ entanglement with the ideas surrounding race, gender and sexuality that were prevalent during his life had a direct impact on his conduct in South Africa. When it comes to the active decolonisation of South African spaces and institutional discourses, Rhodes’ whiteness, masculinity and possible homosexuality present a complex picture of the history of empire-building – of British dreams to paint Africa red.
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