Rhodes vision returns to Africa
Ed Johnson in London
BRITISH Prime Minister Tony Blair, former US president Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela joined hundreds of former Rhodes scholars yesterday to celebrate the centenary of the prestigious scholarships.
About 1000 former Rhodes scholars, including former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, British Airways chief Rod Eddington and former NATO commander General Wesley Clark, gathered in the medieval surroundings of Westminster Hall in Parliament for the event.
The former South African president was guest of honour at the event, which also celebrated the creation of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, dedicated to supporting aid and education in South Africa and the rest of the continent.
"Rhodes's vision reached beyond his own mortality," said Mr Clinton of Cecil Rhodes – the British philanthropist and diamond magnate who created the scholarships at Oxford University in 1903 for high-achieving students with leadership potential.
"Most of us who come here as Rhodes scholars have been enriched, enlarged and changed," added Mr Clinton, who studied politics as a Rhodes scholar at University College, Oxford, from 1968 to 1970.
Lord Waldegrave, chairman of the Rhodes trustees, said it was appropriate that the names of Rhodes and Mandela should be united in the new foundation, as the philanthropist's wealth had originated from his African diamond mines. Rhodes established the de Beers diamond company in 1888.
"In order to remind ourselves of the origins of our wealth, we have had the honour to set up a new foundation linked to the name of a man who more than anybody else symbolises the new South Africa," Lord Waldegrave said.
Mandela, who was greeted to the hall with a trumpet fanfare, said he hoped the foundation would "substantively contribute to a better life for the people of South Africa and further abroad on the African continent".
Paying tribute to the former president, Blair said Mandela "is a person who, probably more than any other political figure, certainly in my lifetime, establishes the triumph of hope over injustice."
Blair said the international community must do more to tackle the scourge of HIV and AIDS in Africa. He added that the next round of World Trade Organisation talks in September would give the developed world the chance to lift trade tariffs to "help Africa export to the wealthier parts of the world".
The Rhodes scholarships enable students from the Commonwealth, Germany and the United States to spend up to three years studying at Oxford University, all expenses paid.
Scholars are chosen on the basis of the criteria set down in Rhodes's will: high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigour.
Rhodes' aim was to provide future leaders of the English-speaking world with an education that would broaden their views and develop their abilities.
He chose to endow these scholarships at Oxford University rather than elsewhere in the United Kingdom because he believed that its residential colleges provided an environment conducive to personal development.
Each year, 32 US citizens are among more than 90 Rhodes scholars worldwide who take up degree courses at Oxford.