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 expense (the expense for Chilembwe was not inconsiderable 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 Nyasaland native to a man of international perspective and white 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 Harry:

In 1889 the power of the Portuguese over the mainland and the Makua tribe was 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 by the determined refusal of Portugal since the 1840s to implement any real practical measures to stamp out the slave trade in Africa.

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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 in Moçambique, and twenty years more before the last line of captives would be 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 an immense amount of ground, and devoted himself more completely to Africa 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. The air was humid and still, the night warm. It was an African night. A chorus 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 to later anthropologists as the Bantu Migrations. 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 principal arena of capital adventure and war in the 19th century British Empire.

In 1870, and into this pot-boiler of opportunity, stepped a slight, sickly and unremarkable youth by the name of Cecil John Rhodes. The son of an English parson, Rhodes had been dispatched to the Natal Colony in the hope that a period of time in the tropics would repair his poor health. He began his adventures in South Africa as a cotton farmer in the Umkomanzi Valley before he set off in October 1871 for the diamond fields of Kimberley.

It is hard to imagine a less likely arrival in the rough and ready world of the diamond digger than the young Rhodes, and yet it was here that the curious symmetry of determination, unstoppable persuasiveness and a brilliant grasp of finance saw Rhodes emerge as one of the titans of the diamond industry in South Africa, and his De Beers Consolidated Mines the largest and most influential diamond mining and retailing concern in history.

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Jan Christian Smuts, the difficult legacy of a world statesman

Smuts in his prime

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 Army general and commander and architect of both the League of Nations and United Nations, Smuts ranks with Nelson Mandela as one of Africa’s most gifted sons. Despite a questionable national philosophy he rose to the highest levels of statesmanship in an empire not noted for its embrace of ethnic minorities. In 2004 he was voted in a South African Broadcasting Corporation poll the greatest South African of all time.

Smuts was born in 1870 to a wealthy Cape farming family of staunch Afrikaner outlook. An early academic aptitude saw him rise rapidly through the local school system before he moved on to the prestigious learning institutes of Stellenbosch in the Eastern Cape. From there he continued to Cambridge University, graduating in 1893 with a double first. A year later he passed the examination for the Inns of Court after which he entered the Middle Temple. He was embraced by the normally cloistered legal fraternity in London, and seemed set on course for a brilliant career. However by late 1995 he was on his way back to the Cape, determined to force his future in the land of his birth.

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The life of Frederick Courtney Selous

Frederick Courtney Selous: One of the great white sons of Africa

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 may not mean much to modern readers, but in fact Quartermaine was a potent a hero in his day as Rambo was in the 1980s and Indiana Jones was in the 1990s.

Frederick Selous was also more than this. He defined the popular image of the Englishman abroad. This was not in the pattern of Cecil John Rhodes whose questionable capital adventures brought ignominy upon the Crown and the Foreign Office and shame on the legacy of colonial Britain. Others such as David Livingstone tended to create an aura of eccentricity and failure about the vast development projects proposed in the aftermath of his discoveries. Selous, on the other hand, was phlegmatic, educated, thoughtful and erudite. He was a champion of fair play in terms of the treatment of blacks by whites; a modest adventurer; a gentleman philosopher and the last of the great frontier individualists.

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