Last Outpost of the British Empire is the story of Rhodesia, the last substantial British imperial possession in Africa, and the closing act of the British Empire itself. It is an examination of the pre-independence history of Zimbabwe that offers a tangible illustration of how and why the current crisis came into being.
The narrative follows the 90-year history of Rhodesia from its formation in 1890 to its demise in 1980. While the content is detailed and widely researched, it is also accessible, and can perhaps best be described as ‘popular’ history.
The story opens with a brief overview of local pre-history, the machinations of the Portuguese in the region and the arrival of the conquering Matabele. The early life and career of Cecil Rhodes are examined as a background for the deeply questionable political maneuvering that led to the eventual dispossession of the Matabele.
The narrative then continues with the arrival of the pioneer column in the virgin territory of Mashonaland, the provocation of the Matabele that led to an eventual war of conquest and the development of a British overseas territory.
While this is primarily a history of white colonial adventure in Africa I have at all times included detailed accounts of the political and social development of Rhodesian blacks and the roles that they played in the destruction of the colony and the thrust towards their own emancipation. Characterizations in this regard are strong, and in fact I have leaned heavily on character development and the value of individual endeavor and effort throughout the narrative.
The thesis of the tale has tended to be that of a triumvirate of Englishmen whose influence on Rhodesia guided it through three distinct phases. The first of these was obviously Cecil J Rhodes, the second Sir Godfrey Huggins, and the third Ian Smith. The character of each of these phases was distinct, with the golden years of settlement and development being those presided over by the long administration of Sir Godfrey Huggins.
The 1960/70s civil-war and the rise of black nationalism perhaps takes up most of the book, a period that I believe is examined in a wholly balanced and objective way. The tragedy of the event from both sides is detailed, and if a political bias exists I believe it does so with a tendency to criticism of both sides for a certain defiance of reality and moral blindness.
The book is written very much in the modern milieu, and much of what is relayed and examined is done so in the context of current events. I therefore feel it is a critique precisely for the moment.
The book is richly illustrated with photographic material. It is published by Galago Press of Johannesburg and will be available on general release from April 2010