A few months ago, when my family and I were in South Africa, we went on a driving tour of the Cape Town area. We only had a couple of days.
We all rode in the backseat of a Toyota minivan– winding around the coast, the countryside, and the vineyards.
Our driver’s name was Mark, the same as my brother.
Mark happened to be the son of a former, prominent leader of African National Congress. His father, Reggie, was a good friend and former colleague of Nelson Mandela.
I’ve written and spoken about Mark before. He and his family were forced into exile during apartheid. When Mandela was freed from Robben Island, Mark’s family, after being away for decades, returned to South Africa within two weeks. His father was subsequently elected to Parliament.
One of the highlights of his life, Mark claimed, was when he personally accepted an award on behalf of his late mother from Nelson Mandela.
Mark said he hoped that, one day, he could open up his own South African travel agency business.
He’s taking steps. Currently, his website prominently features a glowing endorsement from the director of The Blair Witch Project.
My paternal family’s last name is White, and my maternal family’s last name is Rhodes.
Although I am not an expert in my own genealogy, suffice it to say, I know I’m directly related to more than one man named Cecil Rhodes.
Of course, the most famous Cecil Rhodes was a racist, megalomaniacal British imperialist who pillaged and exploited the African diamond market. He named an entire country, Rhodesia, after himself, among other things. He founded the diamond company De Beers, which controls 40% of the world’s diamonds.
And if you’re a Rhodes Scholar like Bill Clinton, Bobby Jindal, or David Vitter, then, for better or worse, you owe a special debt of gratitude to Cecil Rhodes. His estate funds those scholarships.
For what it’s worth- honestly- I have no reason to believe my family is related to world-famous Cecil Rhodes; my family probably just thought it’d be clever to name a few boys “Cecil.”
As we drove by the Cecil Rhodes Memorial on Devil’s Peak in Cape Town, South Africa, Mark said, “Cecil Rhodes did three great things in his life.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“First, he died young,” Mark said. Cecil Rhodes passed away when he was only 48 years old.
“Second thing,” Mark continued, “he never had any children.”
“And the third thing,” Mark said. “Once Rhodes died, he gave us back a lot of his land.”
What a legacy.