God Bless Africa

A little while ago I looked up the English translation (God Bless Africa) of N’kosi Sikelele, the national anthem of South Africa and Mungi ibariki Afrika, the national anthem of Tanzania. At independence it was also the anthems of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia until they adopted new ones: Zambia Stand and sing of Zambia; Zimbabwe Blessed be the land of Zimbabwe; Namibia Land of the Brave

The history of this hymn and its use as a national anthem seems to have raised interesting questions over copyright.

All the anthems seem to have been translated into multiple languages, the Zambian noted has having been written in English first and then translated. The South African anthem is currently sung in four languages (Xhosa, Zulu, English and Afrikaans), the first part Nkosi Sikelele having been written in Xhosa and then translated, the second part originating in Afrikaans and the third being an English variation of the original Afrikaans.

This raises some interesting questions with its banning by the Apartheid government: was it a hymn or a political statement? Siemon Allen challenges the banning in a fascinating summary of the use of the hymn. It is claimed that the hymn was first used as a protest song in 1919 with additional verses being added in 1927 by Samuel Mqhayi. Coplan and Jules-Rosette discuss its use in the liberation struggle.

What intrigued me were the topics covered by N’kosi Sikelele – they provide an insight into what was important to the authors and their communities at the time and surprisingly, these are still big topics today: Chiefs (leadership), public men, youth, land, wives, women, ministers (religious), agriculture, stock, land, education, unity.

Another interesting aspect links with wider discussions on the value of African languages and their being subordinated to English and French. Where there are multiple translations of the anthem, which is used at official national occasions and what is the reason for this? With so many language groups, how is unity developed? Or is it through the common tune that unity is achieved? One of my highlights was approaching a Tanzanian primary school during assembly when the children started singing the anthem. I might not have been able to join them in Swahili but I could in Xhosa and Zulu. And in solidarity we asked that ‘God Bless Africa’.

 

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Leprosy in South Africa

I came across this article on Leprosy coins and was reminded of my visit some years ago to Robben Island which I discovered had been a place people suffering from Leprosy had been sent. The idea of isolating people for health or political differences was not lost. In sourcing further information, I happened upon an Oral History Project linking Leprosy and Robben Island. Its sentiments seem fitting.

Not long after, looking up some info for someone on SA wartime expenditure, it was with a little surprise that I spotted the heading “Mental Hospitals and Leprosy Asylums” (TNA: CO 633/68/6) How widespread was Leprosy was the question which sprang to mind especially as the estimated budget for 1916/7 was £302,850, an increase of £4,991 on the previous year. Thankfully a little further on there was some more info:

The spread of hospitals in 1916/7 was as follows:

  • Leprosy Asylums: Robben Island, Emjanyana, Natal, Pretoria, Bochem
  • Mental Hospitals: Valkenburg, Grahamstown, Port Alfred, Fort Beaufort, Pietermaritzburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein

A total of £1,419 was for research related activities and £9,700 for transport for patients and relatives.

In 1935 the International Leprosy Association named the following members, the Emjanyana which is in the Eastern Cape was under the responsibility of Dr Arthur R Davison and Dr John A Macdonald, Pretoria under Dr Adrianus Pijper.
There was another asylum at Botsabelo in Maseru, Basotholand under Dr Peter Strachan and Dr RC Germond

Some further digging revealed an article by Harriet Deacon on Leprosy and Racism on Robben Island 1846-1900
Anne Digby on Medicine, Race and the General Good: The Career of Thomas N G Te Water (1857–1926), South African Doctor and Medical Politician
A family account of Herbert Hayward Budd ‘The Doc’ – a medical officer on Robben Island
A letter in the Lancet re Leprosy segregation in the Cape in 1906
An obituary for Sir George Turner notes there was a leper asylum in Pretoria in the early 1900s where he worked for 7 years. It accommodated 50 Dutch and 40 Native patients (Obit pg 1, pg 2)

Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild

Looking up some information on Sir Percy Sillitoe in Tim Wright‘s book on The History of the Northern Rhodesia Police (review), I came upon a mention of the Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild having knitted jerseys as Christmas gifts for the British South African Police askari (ie black soldiers). The items might seem a little out of place given the perceptions that Africa is generally hot, but evenings and winters can be cold – it’s all relative, although these gifts would have arrived in time for the hottest time of the year.

More intriguingly though was who is this group which thoughtfully (even if misguidedly) lovingly knitted items for the BSAP? Stuart on Flickr provides a clue in the description of a badge he has photographed. In short, the Guild sorted extra clothing which could distributed to the front line and sourced items which the War Office required. Although there’s no mention of Africa, the Berkshire at War site gives a flavour of what the QMNG got up to, while a Canadian site refers to a branch having been set up in Gold Coast during the war. More recently, the organisation underwent a name change from Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild to Queen Mother’s Clothing Guild.

I haven’t come across reference to a branch in South Africa, but there was much clicking of needles there during the war which was organised by the wife of the Governor General. The product of their handiwork mainly found its way to the South African forces serving on the Western Front and no doubt to some who stopped over at South African ports on their way to East Africa, India or UK.

For an idea of what was knitted, see a Centenary stitches.

Cross cultural learning

Standing at the station I watched a white looking woman try and bring order to her mixed race daughter’s hair. This took me back to a conversation I had around the time the Windrush scandal began in Britain. How did white women who had children with black men learn to manage their offspring’s hair when it did not conform to what they knew?

Despite growing up in Africa I wouldn’t know what to do although I do know there are different products and people I can ask. My question is more about learning, in this case where the male is the only person of colour in the community. Generally speaking, African men would not have got involved in child rearing as that was women’s work. So, was the fact that they had already crossed a cultural boundary sufficient for other boundaries to be crossed or was it a case of the woman learning by trial and error?

This question might seem superficial and/or out of place but I don’t think so. It’s one of the clearest examples of cultural norms people had to come to deal with when crossing ethnic and cultural boundaries. Reading Charles Villa-Vicencio and Peter Grassow’s Christianity and the colonisation of South Africa suggests the first missionaries would have gone through a similar learning process in the location they started working – learning another language and its nuances without any frame of reference other than the physical environment could only have led to misunderstanding.

Today we take finding out about ‘the other’ for granted. It’s often regarded as taboo to ask and with the Internet an answer is not far away as I discovered with my hair question (this is one of a few articles on the topic, and for those interested, here are some general thoughts I found on the treatment of hair suggesting once again that we’re not all that different.).

First battlefield encounters with an unknown ally would also have misunderstandings in how actions are read and interpreted and as forces spent more time working together they’d become more honed and efficient. In particular I think of the battle for Tanga in November 1914 and the battle for Salaita Hill in February 1916. We see it on the tennis court when two players face each other for the first time compared to those such as Nadel and Djockovic facing each other for the 52nd time.

I wonder if anyone has recorded these first experiences and if so, what can we as historians learn from them?

 

Review: Percy Sillitoe by AW Cockerill

Not too long ago I heard someone who had become head of MI5 (the British internal secret service) had served in East Africa during World War 1. As can be imagined, this got the cogs going and eventually the name Percy Sillitoe was revealed as the man.

The opportunity to divert from immedate research priorities came with having to prepare my talk on the formation of the Legion of Frontiersmen and MI5/6. Surprisingly, there was no direct link but it is clear that Sillitoe’s experiences in Africa set him in good stead for his future career back in the UK.

In short, Sillitoe ended up in Africa with the BSAP (British South Africa Police) in 1911, moving to the NRP (Northern Rhodesia Police) soon after. It was in this capacity that he saw service in World War 1 on the Northern Rhodesia – Congo border, before being taken ill requiring some time to recouperate in South Africa and returning to a political role in Northern Rhodesia. Marriage led him to a career in England and Scotland reforming police services wherever he went, until he was eventually appointed head of MI5 after World War 2. On retirement he ended up working on a diamond smuggling project which took him back to Africa.

This was a fascinatig and insightful read into a man, little known, who had a huge impact on policing as we know it today. And it seemed only appropriate that the two events which marked new stages in his career involved Africa – the first with the BSAP/NRP both controlled by Cecil Rhodes initially and concerning gold and diamonds. The second, being employed by Ernest Oppenheimer of De Beers – originally a Rhodes’ company.

A striking feature of Sillitoe’s work was his understanding of human nature and the realisation that a happy workforce would lead to a loyal workforce – something many of today’s managers could take on board. His time in Africa reinforced and honed this perception.

And for more of the African story not published in the biography, see this Exclusive.

It seems appropriate to consolidate here what is currently known of Percy’s World War 1 and Africa experience based on Tim Wright’s The History of the Northern Rhodesia Police.

22 May 1888 – born in Tulse Hill, London
25 April 1808 – Joins BSAP
Oct 1910 – Corporal at Vic Falls
8 Feb 1911 – Lieut Barotse Native Police (BNP)
13 Nov 1911 – At Fort Rosebery on route to Anglo-Belgian Boundary Commission escort officer to end of 1912.
Suffered Blackwater fever
1914 – served with Town Police detachment – opened the first police station in Lusaka, was the only commissioned officer
His sleeping quarters were struck by lightening, but he was in the livingroom having tea with the Assistant Magistrate from Chilanga
Prevented game poaching by Boers
August 1914 In Lusaka during attack on Abercorn; left to meet the gun crew (May Jackson) at Broken Hill to go north. With 600 carriers undertook 520 mile march averaging 18 miles a day when the norm for carriers was 15 miles.
After reaching Abercorn, Percy was sent with 50 NRP to link with the Belgians and engage with the Germans at Kituta. He returned to Abercorn when it was discovered that the Germans had left.
19 Oct 1915 – at Fife with 50 NRP
29 Jan 1916 – Edward Northey arrives in Zomba (Sailed 4 Dec 1915, Cape Town 24 Dec, 7-11 at Livingstong with Cmdt Gen Edwards)
Orders Sillitoe with two columns totalling 138 men to go from Fife to take Luwiwa ad organise food collections once occupied.
2 Apr 1916 – Northern Rhodesia Police (NRP) Temporary Captain Officer Commanding E Company
Enteric Fever
30 Oct 1916 – in command of the area Alt Iringa to Salimu
15 August 1917 – Transfers to Tanganyika Service adn becomes OETA Bismarcksburg (Occupied Enemy Terrritory Administrator)
Nov 1918 – Political Officer, Dodoma
26 May 1920 – relinquishes command of NRP
1953 – Chief Investigator, De Beers
5 Apr 1962 – died Eastbourne

 

The Northern Rhodesia Police Association online archive

South African Awards and a WW1 literary diversion

I spotted a mention that the cricketer Hashim Amla had been awarded the Order of Ikhamanga (Strelitzia) in Silver – I’d never heard of the award, but assumed it must be something similar to the British OBE or Order of the British Empire. It seems it is, and more specifically for art, culture, music, journalism and sport.

The President’s page explains all the different symbols of the award and there’s a list of all the recipients (I assume it’s all as it doesn’t specify). Some interesting spots on the list – the award was instituted in 2003 (30 November to be precise), the number of posthumous awards was quite staggering, in 2009 there is only one award listed and in 2016 Dr Marguerite Poland features – her name is significant in the realm of novels written about World War 1 in Africa – she is the fourth out of five female authors to write about the war. Her book Iron Love was published in 1999 (See p 166 for synopsis and discussion). [I discovered the fifth female author by chance, Joan Kennedy in 1916 published Sun, Sand and Sin, the total number of novels identified to date in all languages is 53.]

A little more digging reveals there are various other awards too.

  • Order of the Baobab for South African citizens who have contributed to community service‚ business and economy‚ science‚ medicine and technological innovation.
  • Order of Luthuli for contributions to the struggle for democracy‚ nation-building‚ building democracy and human rights‚ justice and peace as well as for the resolution of conflict.
  • Order of the Companions of OR Tambo recognises eminent foreign nationals for friendship shown to South Africa. It is therefore an Order of peace‚ cooperation and active expression of solidarity and support.

For readers interested in comparisons:

I have a (new) dream

Martin Luther King dreamed of a world where there were no differences, yet it seems we constantly perpetuate these and those who try to break down barriers to bring about a better understanding of cultures and beliefs are shouted down for undermining the status quo. How illogical is that… we say we want change but we don’t really. I was therefore heartened to come across this article by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, a Nigerian novelist. She’s not the first to say what she does, there is a growing community of like-thinking people.

This is not to say don’t remember the past – it’s important to do so, as that provides our identity and gives us a sense of grounding. What we can’t allow to happen is to let it engulf us and dominate us.

1918 in Africa was a year where most of the fighting was done by black East African soldiers, alongside white and Indian – by then the majority of the Nigerian and Gold Coast soldiers as well as those from the West Indies had returned home and the Cape Corps had moved to Palestine and Mesopotamia. Yes, the officers were still white, but it is generally accepted that as many of them were new to Africa, they became reliant in ways earlier officers had done, on the support of their rank and file to understand and survive the terrain they were in. I don’t think this was much different to what was happening in other theatres when newcomers arrived. Their success and survival depended on those they were leading as much as those they were leading depended on their leadership.

I can’t help but think that of those many soldiers who fought in the war, whether by choice or coercion, all had a dream of a better world and that something beneficial had to come from the conflict. If they didn’t, they would have given up (and some did – I think of the men on the Aragon who ‘died of a broken heart’) and the many porters and carriers who couldn’t continue. But for those who lay down their arms with von Lettow-Vorbeck in November 1918, what kept them going? The African People’s Organisation saw the opportunity of being involved as a means to (hopefully) getting increased political recognition for their Cape Coloured and the South African Native National Congress kept discipline to show they could be trusted whilst the rebellious Boers could not.

From the war came leaders who led their countries to independence – Nkrumah, Kenyatta, Nyrere, Mandela and others. Recognising what the past had been, they saw the opportunities afforded by dreams and through hard work and encouragement led their people to fulfil those dreams. We know they weren’t perfect, no person is, but I wonder what they would think today when they see their people caught in a rut of blame and not having the courage to ‘take the bull by the horns’ and make their dreams come true.

Many look on the First World War in Africa as a colonial or imperial war, which it was to a large extent. However, alongside the major conflicts there were numerous rebellions and uprisings throughout Africa during those same years (I gave up trying to make a list of them) as people tried to realise their desires for a better world. This might seem to contradict the point about those who served dreaming of a better world. It doesn’t – the point is, they didn’t sit back, moan and wait for someone else to improve their world, they all did something to try and create the world they dreamed of.

This is not to say that rebellions and armed conflict are the way to improve conditions, we all know the consequences of violence. But we can take a leaf from those of different cultures and beliefs who served alongside each other and learnt to know and trust each other. (On Call in Africa, The Unknown Fallen)