Rhodes is located in the Eastern Cape Highlands, near the escarpment at the southernmost end of the mighty Drakensberg mountain range in the magisterial district of Barkly East. Rhodes was voted one of South Africa’s Top 20 Secret Places by Getaway Magazine.
It is 1821m above sea-level and is 16km due south of the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. The village is surrounded by the towns of Elliot, Maclear and Ugie below the escarpment and above the escarpment, Barkly East lies 60km by road to the west of Rhodes. It is an hour’s drive on the R396 from Barkly East. The gravel road is narrow, winding and poorly maintained by the authorities. It must be driven with care.
The recommended route is via Barkly East unless you have a suitable vehicle or sufficient time to travel from Maclear to Rhodes via the Naudesnek Pass. Should you consider using the “short cut” via the Pitseng Pass to Naudesnek, please contact us before embarking on the trip.
The farm Tintern, owned by Mr J A Vorster, was advertised for sale in 274 erven or lots on 16th September 1891. In September 1894, the erf-holders and residents met to petition the government to proclaim Rhodes as a village under the Village Management Act of 1881. Rhodes was proclaimed a township with municipal rights in 1897. Between 24th June 1901 and February 7th 1902, the village was invaded no less than 29 times during the Anglo Boer War! Local legend has it that it was originally named Rossville after Ds Ross and that the name was changed to Rhodes in the hopes that the mining-magnate and then Prime Minister of the Cape , Cecil John Rhodes, would bless the village with his beneficence. Alas, this was not to be and the legend has it that he sent a wagonload of Stone pine trees instead. Another variation has it that he sent the trees as well as 500 pounds The story continues that the funds disappeared together with the official who received them thus establishing what has become an often-emulated South African tradition! More recent speculation would have it that the trees could not have been donated by Rhodes as the species reputed to have been supplied by him have a life-expectancy which has long been exceeded.
Ds Ross, who was based in Lady Grey, ministered to the community, travelling to and fro on horseback. Although of English-speaking origin, he was interned during the Anglo Boer War. Prior to the war, he conducted his services alternately in English and Afrikaans. Clothed in rags and having walked bare-footed from the Aliwal North concentration camp to his home in Lady Grey after his release, he was thoroughly disgusted with the British and refused to conduct his services in English thereafter. With all due respect to Ross, there is in fact no record of Rhodes ever having been known under any other name. The local Dutch Reformed Church ward is known as Rossville and is where confusion entered the fray.
The majority of buildings in the village were constructed around the turn of the century and it continued to grow and prosper. It’s heyday was apparently between 1911 and 1945. The advent of the “Wool Boom” of the 1950s provided a brief upsurge but the riches gained were soon spent. At this time, wool was sold at a pound sterling for a pound of wool. A gradual decline set in after this flash-in-the-pan and which continued into the 70s as witnessed by the eventual closure of the white school in 1976. Municipal status was relinquished in 1979 and control ceded to the local regional authority. A brief upsurge followed with the advent of the “Hippie Era”. This was viewed in some quarters as a major threat to national security or something of that nature on account of different values such as living an alternative lifestyle, men having long hair and engaging in conversation with local people of colour!
The village has become a significant tourist attraction for those who wish to venture off the beaten track and savour the peace, tranquillity and character of the village. It was proclaimed as a “Conservation Area” in 1997 conferring National monument Status which has been and we hope will remain a saving grace that will deter developers and architectural philistines.