Cecil Rhodes did not live long enough to see the end of the war. In the early months of 1902, his health deteriorated rapidly. He was only forty-eight years old but looked more like a man in his sixties. His diseased heart left him gasping for breath and often wracked with pain. To members of his staff he appeared to be in steep decline. ‘His face was bloated, almost swollen, and he was livid with a purple tinge in his face,’ wrote Gordon le Sueur, who met him in London in January 1902 shortly after Rhodes returned from a journey to Egypt. ‘I realized that he was very ill indeed.’

His last months were dogged not just by ill-health but by a tiresome imbroglio with Princess Radziwill. Their friendship had long since turned sour. Rhodes was infuriated by her persistent attempts to meddle in Cape politics and the insinuations she made to all and sundry that they were intimately involved. Among the acquaintances she took into her confidence while staying at the Mount Nelson Hotel was Leo Amery, a correspondent for the London Times. ‘Princess Radziwill,’ Amery recalled, ‘had conceived an infatuation for Rhodes and had come out in the vain hope at vamping him into matrimony. ’ Radziwill was later to admit that Rhodes resented her constant meddling. ‘What can one do with you, Mr Rhodes?’ she once demanded angrily. ‘Leave me alone!’ was his exasperated reply. When Radziwill appealed to Rhodes for a loan to help her sort out her growing mountain of debts, Rhodes paid her bills at the Mount Nelson Hotel, amounting to more than £1,000, in the hope that she might leave Cape Town and return permanently to London.

But she continued to haunt him. After a luncheon at Groote Schuur on 22 January 1901, they had what Radziwill later described as ‘a violent quarrel’. In her own account of what happened, she wrote: ‘I had some [papers] which were very compromising for certain reasons and I possessed above all several which, after having been stolen from their legitimate owners, had fallen into my hands . . . I had on this subject a tragical scene with Rhodes. He insisted that I should surrender to him such letters and papers as I possessed. I refused vehemently. ’ The suspicion was that Radziwill had stolen papers from Rhodes’ private office during her visits to Groote Schuur - papers possibly connected with the Jameson Raid - and that she intended to blackmail him. Their encounters came to an abrupt end.

Despite her dire financial straits, Radziwill had decided to launch her own newspaper in Cape Town - a sixpenny weekly she called Greater Britain. She rented offices and hired an editor, Frederick Lovegrove, telling him she had enough money to cover publication costs for six months and then intended to ‘worm the money from Rhodes’ to keep the paper going. But she was soon mired in debt. In June 1901, after purchasing a signed photograph of Rhodes from a bookshop, she began forging his signature on promissory notes and bills. When one promissory note fell due, she forged others, for amounts up to £6,000, trying to keep her creditors at bay, calculating that Rhodes would not dare to move against her.

With a lifetime’s experience of sharp business practice, Rhodes prepared his own trap. While keeping his own role hidden from view, he set out to discredit her, to expose her as a forger, in case she decided to disclose whatever incriminating papers were in her possession. In secret, he arranged for a friend, Tom Louw, to advance £2,000 on the latest of her forged promissory notes. At the same time, he issued press announcements warning that certain promissory notes purporting to have been endorsed by him were in fact forgeries, thus preventing Radziwill from obtaining any more money. When Louw’s promissory note fell due in September 1901, she was unable to pay up. In October, Louw began legal proceedings against both Radziwill and Rhodes over the £2,000 promissory note. Rhodes, in London at the time, signed an affidavit denying that he had endorsed any promissory notes. Using various intermediaries, he offered Radziwill money if she agreed to return whatever incriminating papers she held, but she refused, convinced that Rhodes would settle her debts rather than ‘go into court’.

But Rhodes allowed the legal proceedings to continue. Along with Radziwill, he was formally summoned to appear in the Supreme Court at Cape Town on 6 February 1902. Though he could have given his evidence in England, he insisted on travelling to Cape Town. His doctors in London warned him his heart would not stand the strain. Friends urged him not to put himself at risk over such a trivial matter. ‘It is not the money,’ he replied, ‘but no risk will prevent me clearing my character of any stain in connection with that woman.’ He was determined, he said, to defend his honour and upset ‘the bona fides’ of Radziwill. However, it was not in fact damage to his reputation that worried Rhodes, but the possibility that Radziwill might produce her ‘papers’ in court. He wanted to bring to bear the full weight of his personal prestige to convince the court to brand the princess a forger.

Accompanied by Dr Jameson, Rhodes set sail for Cape Town. The voyage aggravated his ill-health. He caught a severe cold while at sea, and suffered a bad fall one night while sleeping on a writing table in his cabin in an attempt to catch a cool breeze. He arrived in Cape Town on 4 February, at once puffy-faced and haggard. The heat that summer was oppressive. During the daytime he remained at Groote Schuur, but every evening retreated to a small cottage on the seafront at Muizenberg, seeking relief from breezes blowing off False Bay. One of his aides, Gordon le Sueur, recalled:

Rhodes would wander about the house like a caged animal, his clothes all thrown open, his hand thrust characteristically inside his trousers, the beads of perspiration glistening on his forehead beneath his tousled hair as he panted for breath. Into the darkened drawing room he would go and fling himself upon a couch, then he would start up and huddle himself up in a chair . . . and anon painfully toil upstairs to his bedroom and pace to and fro, every now and then stopping at the window which gave him that wondrous view of Table Mountain.

When the case opened at the Supreme Court on 6 February, Radziwill failed to attend, pleading ill-health. In his evidence, Rhodes disclaimed all knowledge of the promissory notes. ‘They are all forgeries, ’ he said. ‘All absolute forgeries.’ He explained that he had paid Radziwill’s bills at the Mount Nelson Hotel on condition that she should leave the country. ‘I paid her bills and she left the country, but she came back again.’ Passing judgement, the chief justice, Sir Henry de Villiers, duly declared Louw’s promissory note to have been forged, but he declined to initiate criminal proceedings against Radziwill on the grounds that no affidavit charging her with an offence had been lodged.

Rhodes assumed the matter was at an end. But to his astonishment, Radziwill decided to hit back. Furious at being branded a forger, she sued Rhodes for the £2,000 bill which she claimed he had endorsed. ‘Damn that woman!’ he shouted when his secretary handed him the summons. ‘Can’t she leave me alone?’ Left with no alternative, he drew up an affidavit accusing Radziwill of forgery.

On 28 February, Radziwill was formally charged with uttering a forged document. As Rhodes was too ill to attend the preliminary hearing in court, he gave his evidence to a magistrate at Groote Schuur. Radziwill was present with her lawyer, sitting at the back of a small circle of people gathered in front of the magistrate’s desk. Rhodes entered the room dressed in a grey jacket, white flannel trousers and black boots and took his place on a sofa, coughing badly. The proceedings lasted no more than a few minutes. After signing a prepared statement repudiating the promissory notes, Rhodes staggered to his feet and left. Not once did he glance at Radziwill. She was subsequently convicted of twenty-four counts of fraud and forgery and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.

Rhodes spent his last few weeks at his cottage in Muizenberg in the company of friends and aides, his breathing becoming increasingly laboured. Jourdan wrote:

It was most heartrending to see him sit on the edge of his bed with one limb resting on the floor and the other akimbo in front of him on the bed, at one moment gasping for breath, and at another with his head sunk so low that his chin almost touched his chest. Sometimes in the early morning and towards evening it became quite chilly, but he did not heed the cold. He could not get sufficient fresh air, and, even when those around him were in their overcoats, he sat in front of the open window with his thin pyjamas as his only covering. He was always asking for more fresh air.

Dr Jameson arranged for layers of ice to be placed in the ceiling; an extra window was knocked through the wall to allow for a continuous draught; and Indian-type pankah fans were kept going day and night. But his suffering was unabated.

On his last day, 26 March 1902, his friend, banker and biographer, Lewis Michell, heard him murmur: ‘So little done, so much to do.’ After a long pause, said Michell, Rhodes began singing to himself, ‘maybe a few bars of an air he had once sung at his mother’s knee’. In the evening, just before he died, he roused himself and spoke to Jack Grimmer, a favourite aide: ‘Turn me over, Jack,’ he said, and then fell silent.

It was Jameson who formally announced Rhodes’ death to the crowd waiting in the street outside. Standing on the veranda, Jameson solemnly read from a prepared statement. When asked about Rhodes’ last words, he replied: ‘So little done, so much to do.’ This was the version that newspapers recorded. Rhodes would have delighted in this final piece of story-telling about him.

His body was taken to Groote Schuur. Over the Easter weekend, some 30,000 people filed through the oak-panelled hall to view the catafalque. His coffin was then moved to Cape Town to lie in state in parliament where thousands more came to pay their respects. From parliament, the coffin was borne on a gun carriage draped with a Union Jack and the flag of Rhodes’ Chartered Company to a funeral service at the cathedral. In his address, the Archbishop of Cape Town urged the congregation to follow Rhodes’ great example and dedicate their lives ‘to the expansion and consolidation of the British Empire, to the provision of new markets for British merchandise, and to a new country for British colonists’. Then, in another procession, the coffin was taken to the railway station for a journey to the north.

In his will, Rhodes had stipulated that he wanted to be buried in the Matopo Hills in Matabeleland. Riding there with Hans Sauer in 1896, he had come across the granite dome of Malindidzuma - a Sindebele name meaning ‘the dwelling place of the spirits’. Rhodes was profoundly impressed by the grandeur and loneliness of the place, calling it ‘a view of the world’.

The journey to Bulawayo took five days. The funeral train passed through Kimberley and then Mafeking, skirting the war zone where a British general had just surrendered to Koos de la Rey. At towns along the way, there were guards of honour and military bands playing funeral marches.

From Bulawayo, a procession of Cape carts and horsemen accompanied the coffin to the Matopos. As the coffin was hauled up the granite slope of Malindidzuma, crowds of Ndebele accorded Rhodes a royal salute. At the funeral service, the Bishop of Mashonaland read out a poem about Rhodes composed by Rudyard Kipling for the occasion:

The great and brooding spirit still
Shall quicken and control;
Living he was the land, and dead
His soul shall be her soul!

In his own tribute to Rhodes, the London editor W. T. Stead described him as ‘the first of the new Dynasty of Money Kings which has been evolved in these later days as the real rulers of the modern world’. Rhodes died a rich man, but his estate of £4 million was considerably smaller than that of Beit or Wernher, his old Kimberley partners. Their preoccupation was with wealth. Rhodes’ preoccupation had been with power.

Paul Kruger spent his last years in exile in Europe, a lonely figure, increasingly deaf, half-blind and deeply embittered by Britain’s conduct of the war. ‘The war in South Africa has exceeded the limits of barbarism,’ he said on his arrival at Marseilles in November 1900. ‘I have fought against many barbarous Kaffir tribes in the course of my life; but they are not so barbarous as the English, who have burnt our farms and driven our women and children into destitution, without food or shelter.’ He sought support from European governments, but to no avail; none wanted to pick a quarrel with Britain; the Kaiser declined to meet him. ‘Will no one arbitrate?’ he demanded of a journalist, Emil Luden. ‘Will no one give us a fair hearing, a chance of defending ourselves? We may have done wrongly; we have had our faults, our weaknesses; we declared this war, but our hands were forced - we can prove it! Let someone judge between this England and ourselves. Let someone judge.’

In an article published in the Pall Mall Gazette, Luden described her encounters with Kruger at The Hague:

At first sight the impression one gets of him is not prepossessing: a large, heavy face and two great hands on a mass of dark clothing. He does not rise from his ponderous chair unless absolutely necessary. One can see easily how irksome bodily movement has become to this valiant old fighter of battles. He looks up sharply when a stranger enters the room, then his head sinks on his chest again. He has never cultivated ‘company manners’, and his thoughts are all-absorbing. His hands are quite motionless, held finger-tips against his big loose body . . .

His thoughts form slowly, and are born at last in abrupt travail, throes of words and distress of gesture that are eloquent of passion. For his hands are only motionless when his tongue is passive. As he begins to speak the finger-tips part from each other with a wrench. He throws imaginary weights behind him, strikes the arms of his chair, and drops his hands heavily on his knees. Then, when he has cast his thought forth as only a strong man can, his finger-tips seek their fellows again, his eyes close, and the mask of abstraction is drawn down over the inscrutable face.

On his travels in Europe, Kruger was accorded a far warmer reception by the public than by governments. He was widely regarded as a victim of British bullying, a heroic defender of his small republic against the might of the world’s largest empire. Crowds turned out to greet him, waving the Transvaal flag. Dinners and receptions were held in his honour. Shops did a brisk trade in Kruger memorabilia: postcards, busts, medallions, mugs in the shape of his head, plates bearing his effigy. But Kruger had no particular liking for public acclaim; nor did he enjoy small talk.

In England, his reputation remained that of a coarse-mannered peasant, familiar from cartoon drawings for his chimney-pot hat, oyster eyes and shabby clothes, who had obdurately refused to accord Englishmen their rights and had dragged his people into a war against England rather than give way. Facing defeat, he had fled to escape the consequences, taking with him ‘millions’ in gold. It was a caricature that prevailed long after his death.

When Boer generals signed the peace treaty on 31 May 1902, Kruger broke down at the news, but cast no blame. ‘I applied to the generals the text in the Bible, 2 Corinthians Chapter VIII Verse 3: “For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves.”

‘Nor, in so far as I myself am concerned,’ he added, ‘will I consent to lose courage because the peace is not such as the burghers wished it. For, quite apart from the fact that the bloodshed and the fearful sufferings of the people of the two Republics are now ended, I am convinced that God does not forsake His people even though it may appear so.’

The death of his wife Gezina in Pretoria a few weeks later left him all the more bereft. He lingered on for two more years, his health steadily failing, devoting much of his time to reading the Bible and retreating into long periods of silence. On his seventy-seventh birthday, he attended a special church service in Utrecht, sitting in the front row flanked by Botha, De Wet and De la Rey. Towards the end of the service, helped by aides, he mounted the pulpit to deliver a short sermon, ‘the words falling with difficulty from his trembling lips’. The following winter, Emily Hobhouse visited him at Menton on the French Côte d’Azur. ‘Our talk was not long,’ she wrote. ‘I saw that already his mind was elsewhere and the world had ended for him . . . He wanted so much to know if I had seen his wife and when I told him that I had not been allowed to visit Pretoria before her death, he seemed too disappointed to make further effort.’

In May 1904, Kruger settled in a villa at Clarens on the shores of Lake Geneva. When Smuts and Botha urged him to return to the Cape Colony, he declined. In one of his last letters, he wrote to Botha: A few weeks later, he contracted pneumonia and died on 14 July.

Born under the British flag, I do not wish to die under it. I have learnt to accept the bitter thought of death as a lone exile in a foreign land, far from my kith and kin, whose faces I am not likely to see again; far from the soil of Africa upon which I am not likely to set foot again; far from the country to which I devoted my whole life in an effort to open it up for civilization and in which I saw my own nation grow.

In a letter to Emily Hobhouse, Smuts wrote of Kruger: ‘He typified the Boer character both in its brighter and darker aspects and was no doubt the greatest man - both morally and intellectually - whom the Boer race has yet produced. In his iron will and tenacity, his “never say die” attitude towards fate, his mystic faith in another world, he represented what is best in all of us. The race that produced such a man can never go down, and with God’s help it never will.’

In November 1904, Kruger’s body was brought back from Europe for burial. On the railway journey from Cape Town, the driver had orders to stop the train whenever a light was shown, and so all through the night it halted to allow small parties of farmers to deliver their wreaths. He was buried next to his wife in Pretoria on Dingane’s Day, 16 December.

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