Category: African History

Ndebele Exodus from Zululand

It was an apprehensive Mzilikazi who slowly emerged from the Ngome forests and cautiously led his people northwards out of Zululand. Incrementally the vulnerable body of women, children and fighting men probed forward, frequently pausing to take stock, fearing at the same time an attack from behind and a hostile reception from the fore. Slowly Mzilikazi found himself drifting beyond… Read more →


It has often been proved by history that the formula for greatness lies in being born in the right place and at the right time, and such was certainly the case with Mzilikazi kaMashobane. Mzilikazi was a man whose particular symmetry of violence, statesmanship and ambition might easily have been consigned to irrelevance had his birth occurred either a century… Read more →

An introduction to the History of the amaNdebele

Of the many great events of pre-colonial history in Southern Africa, perhaps the most dramatic has been the rise and dispersal of the Nguni line of the Bantu family. Several branches of this family exist, but of those that broke away from the main rootstock, and established satellite communities beyond the borders of South Africa, there are three. These are… Read more →

A parting of the ways

The day for Africa is yet to come. Possibly the freedmen may be an agency in elevating their fatherland. David Livingstone. John Chilembwe’s impending visit to the United States generated enormous interest among his friends, family and congregation. Booth had so emphasised the redeeming potential of black America that expectations were very high. Why Joseph Booth went to the personal… Read more →

Some Great old Pictures of Salisbury

My friend Paul Naish of Durban SA send me this wonderful collection of old pictures of Salisbury, Rhodesia, many years ago. Its hard to imagine sometimes what life must have been like then. The nation was administered by a commercial company, and the institutions and traditions of a shortlived corner of the Empire were developing… Read more →

A very black boy with a gleaming smile…

His life was gentle, and the elements so mix’d in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world, ‘This was a man!’ – William Shakespeare Julius Caesar With the plaintive note ‘Dear Mr. Booth, you please carry me for God. I like to be your cook boy’[1], John Chilembwe transitioned from the limited horizons of a… Read more →

The Little Prancing Proconsul…

The precarious state of occupation of the east coast by the Portuguese was acutely observed by the incoming British Consul to Moçambique Sir Harry Johnson (at that time Moçambique was defined by the Island of Moçambique, the administrative capital of Portuguese East Africa, and not necessarily the greater area of what later became the colony/nation of Moçambique). According to Sir… Read more →

The Imperial Tussle: Missionaries give way to a Protectorate in Nyasaland

The arrival on the lake of the British missionaries pitched the Portuguese on the coast into a fit of apprehension tinged with paranoia lest this be the vanguard of a concerted British strategy to rob them of their interests in the interior. Tensions between Lisbon and London had been steadily building since the days of Livingstone which had been amplified… Read more →

The Portuguese and the Missionaries: A Battle for the soul of Nyasaland

With the withdrawal of the ill fated Universities Mission to Central Africa, a curtain of silence fell over the Lakes region behind which the work of the slave trade was left to proceed largely unmolested. Livingstone’s appeals against the trade had not gone unheard in Britain, but ten years would pass before he would be replaced as a British Consul… Read more →

Missionary Politics: The Universities Mission to Central Africa

As a missionary – that which he maintained until his death that he was – David Livingstone was a dismal failure. His only convert was Sebituane, the scheming Chief of the Makololo who embraced Christianity in the hope of British protection against the marauding amaNdebele. As an explorer – which Livingstone swore he was only by default – he covered… Read more →

David Livingstone and the discovery of Lake Nyasa

The road to development, peace and Christian enlightenment in Nyasaland, as it was in most other facets of British interface in Africa, was paved with good intentions. The original architect of that road was David Livingstone. No man had more profoundly noble intentions than he, but one of the many tragedies of the John Chilembwe affair was the fact that… Read more →

A Night of Killing: The Story of John Chilembwe

The evening of the 23rd of January 1915 settled on the Shiré Highlands of the Nyasaland Protectorate without obvious mishap or portent. January, traditionally the wettest month of the year, could on occasions be drenched by upwards of 10 inches of rainfall, however, on this particular evening, the sky was sheer, the moon high and the stars clear and bright.… Read more →

The Native and Prehistory of Malawi

One of the preliminary, and sometimes most unexpected lessons learned by the lay student of Southern African is the fact that the signature ‘Negro’ races of the region are not strictly indigenous. The primogenitors of most, in fact, arrived in the region in incremental waves  over many centuries, beginning in the first millennium, in a mass movement that became known… Read more →

Ian Smith, Prime Minister Rhodesia 1964-1979

In September 2002 I had a very interesting experience. At the time Rachel and I were living in Harare and were owners of a small guest house in Avondale. On one particular evening I fell into conversation over a few beers with a guest by the name of Anthony Oberdorfer. The discussion quickly turned to the subject of Rhodesia, and… Read more →

Cecil John Rhodes the Empire Builder and Capitalist

Rhodes’ huge territorial ambitions Africa in the 19th century was filled with opportunity, and no less filled with opportunists. The potential to make or break were equally spectacular, and nowhere more so than in South Africa. The great diamond discoveries of Kimberley in 1866 followed by the Witwatersrand Gold Rush of 1886 both helped to establish South Africa as the… Read more →

Jan Christian Smuts, the difficult legacy of a world statesman

One of Africa’s greatest statesmen of the Imperial era, and some would say beyond, Jan Christian Smuts was a gargantuan figure in the Abe Lincoln mould. He was essentially a simple and bucolic man who was burdened with greatness but who was able to embrace that greatness in a radically changing world. Boer guerrilla leader, two time South African premier, British… Read more →

The life of Frederick Courtney Selous

Frederick Courtney Selous was one of the more interesting characters of Imperial Africa and one of the great white sons of Africa. Probably the most potent illustration of how Selous impacted the popular British consciousness at the time is the fact that he is the recognised prototype of Ryder Haggard’s popular character Allan Quartermaine of King Solomon’s Mines fame. This… Read more →