The steamboat was known with uncertain affection as the ‘Old Asthmatic’. With her boilers hissing and her wheels churning, she drove hard against the current. The banks of the river, once languid and wide, began to constrict. Walls of black basalt, too hot to touch, closed in, and the mood of the river was turbulent. Somewhere in the distance a roar, barely audible, told a tale that the captain really did not want hear.
The captain was Doctor David Livingstone, the legendary missionary-explorer, around whom this entire expedition had been assembled, and the river was the mighty Zambezi.
Also on board the ‘Old Asthmatic’ that afternoon was David Livingstone’s brother Charles, and Doctor John Kirk. Kirk was Expedition doctor and naturalist, and the de facto second-in-command. Already there was a strained atmosphere between the three men. Charles Livingstone, a swarthy, mop-haired character, periodontic, acerbic and shrill, was flush with excitement. Indeed, one can almost picture a self-satisfied snigger as the disaster slowly manifest.More info →
On 3 October 1994, South African President Nelson Mandela delivered his inaugural address to the General Assembly of the United Nations. ‘It surely must be one of the great ironies of our age,’ he remarked, ‘that this august Assembly is addressed, for the first time in its forty-nine years, by a South African head of state drawn from among the African majority of what is an African country.’
And indeed, ironic it was, and no doubt the guests and delegates packing the General Assembly understood exactly what they thought Nelson Mandela meant. The irony, however, ran very deep, deeper, indeed, than most in the audience could ever have suspected. Yes indeed, South Africa was at last in from the cold, and yes, a black man could finally claim a home in his own society, but there was more to it than just that. Nelson Mandela was speaking as much to his own people as he was to the world at large, and in South Africa, the deeper meaning of those words were very well understood. Forty-nine years earlier, during the plenary sessions of the United Nations, the same General Assembly rang with applause for another great and celebrated South African head of state, a white South African head of state, a man by the name of Jan Christiaan Smuts.More info →
The winter of 1915 found Sir Harry Johnston in state of semi-retirement in his country home of Saint John’s Priory, nestled in the picturesque West Sussex Village of Poling. Preoccupied with his two-volume treatise on the Bantu languages of Africa, he was well provided for in both funds and life experience to justify a comfortable immersion in such academic and literary pursuits. In 1896, in recognition of his services to the British Empire, he was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, and later, the Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George. To this, at the turn of the century, was added an honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge, and gold medals from both the Royal and the Royal Scottish Geographical Societies.More info →
Sometime early in the spring of 1888, towards the end of the monsoon season, an African Lakes Company steamer arrived at the head of navigation on the Shiré River. The place was Chikwawa, a bustling river port a few miles upstream of the old Chigunda’s village, and lying at a distance of perhaps thirty miles from Blantyre. The route followed the old missionary trail blazed two decades earlier by Livingstone and Mackenzie, and typically it took two full days to complete the journey on foot. The trail was serviced by rest camps for white travellers and numerous villages that profited from the steady traffic of porters and carriers moving goods between the Highlands and the River.More info →