Pure duty – An irony of history

Jan Smuts in September 1919 was returning for the first time to the area he had raided eighteen years before when fighting for the Boer republic. He wrote to Issie, his wife, telling her that ‘Now I go there to ask them to let the republic go. That is the irony of history, apparently contradictory; and yet both are in the way of pure duty. But people do not easily understand such choices.’

How do leaders of all kinds convince their followers that circumstances and situations have changed, requiring a different approach? Unfortunately, Smuts doesn’t give any suggestions and judging by the fact that he lost the election in 1924, he wasn’t very successful in his attempts. 

I can’t help but recollect when thinking about human behaviour and change that Marthe Kiley-Worthington believes it takes two generations of elephants for them to overcome the effects of a traumatic experience. Is it the same for humans? Or are we more selective in our forgetting? How is it that many of the youth in South Africa today have little or no recollection of the struggles their parents went through in the ending of Apartheid? As far back as 2003 when teaching A level students in the UK about the Cold War etc, none of my students from Eastern Europe had any idea of life before 1991 – did their parents purposefully not share what they had been through?

This contrasts with friends across the globe who have come through the tail end of civil upheavals – comparing notes is fascinating and insightful. Yet our reactions and responses can be quite different to those of our parents’ generation. Some have struggled to make the transition to a more free and equal society while others have embraced the new world, with all variations in between. And yet, despite all this wealth of experience and first hand knowledge, we don’t always see (or want to see) the warning signs of society and countries getting themselves into similar twists… this strange amalgamation of past, present and future seem to play a part in how we respond to being warned of changed and changing circumstances. 

Bringing about lasting change is a slow process which many experts have written about. Yet, it still seems that a catalyst is needed to jolt us (some at any rate) to action. I wonder how elephants work through the process of overcoming the trauma their ancestors experienced?

Review: Promoting Agricultural Export Crops & Co-operative Societies in Tanzania – Somo ML Seimu

I have a confession (or more) to make regarding Promoting Agricultural Export Crops and Co-operative Societies in Tanzania during the British and Post Colonial Era, c 1914-2014. The book appealed to me for a number of reasons:

1. It took me back to Tanzania, and one of my favourite towns – Moshi – which is where the main coffee co-operative is based. The KNCU coffee shop was a good place to meet and have a coffee. Discovering how it fits into the wider co-operative movement and its influence on the rest of the country was fascinating. Little had I realised its national significance.

2. I love coffee so gaining a better understanding of how it came to be a dominant part of the Kilimanjaro economy has been a bonus.

3. World War 1 features – this is a longitudinal look, over a century, at the development of export commodities, mainly coffee, but also cotton and rice. Seimu traces the start of mass production under the short German colonial rule and the consequence of the 1914-1918 war leading to the British taking over. How they built on, and further developed, the German system making it British, until the Africanisation from post-WW2 is the main focus of the book. In dealing with what could be rather politically sensitive matters, Seimu has maintained an objective view by keeping the focus on primary source material. Gaining an idea of what is held in the Tanzanian archives (also referred to as TNA – the same as The [British] National Archives] has been great. Returning to World War 1, from as early as 1916, civil administration was being re-introduced in the Kilimanjaro area with colonial officials working with the Chagga community to improve their lot and to give them an opportunity to hold their own against the white and Asian settler communities. It’s a reinforcement of the importance of having the right people in place to enable collaboration, irrespective of background.

4. I worked closely with the author to get the book published – through the GWAA.

So, yes, I am biased, but for anyone wanting to discover how coffee and other co-operatives developed and changed over time in Tanzania, as well as getting an insight into Tanzanian economic policy and how politics influences such, then this is a book worth reading. All due to the legacy of World War One, but more significantly Africans taking the initiative.

Johari Windows and Historians

For readers who do not know about Johari, the theory of knowing what you know, knowing what you don’t know, not knowing what you know and not knowing what you don’t know. Although this is used for personal development, it is just as applicable (in my opinion) to other aspects of life. The first two are particularly helpful in planning contingencies and for working out where to start research, fill in gaps etc.

Not knowing what you know can be a bit challenging relying on triggers to remind you of what you know or read somewhere. The frustrating thing here is often that the evidence, confirmation or reference is invariably hidden in a pile of unsorted handwritten notes or amongst unsearchable electronic downloads or photographs waiting to be labelled and worked with. Trawling through some old papers I’d written I was rather surprised to see I’d looked at books I had no recollection of (sigh). What gems they held I will need to revisit.

More challenging though is what you don’t know you don’t know…this is where wider reading and an eclectic range of friends, colleagues and associates play a significant role, especially in cross-cultural/continental work. This is a huge thanks to them all.

Another huge contributor to discovering these unknown unknowns is the internet and the constant updating of information. As a result, having thought I had identified all (most) novels of World War 1 in Africa, in late 2021 it became obvious this only concerned English language books. German authors who had been hidden all of a sudden started coming to light and seem to have been more prolific in their writing. I had previously identified that more German women wrote about life in the colonies than British, but this hadn’t led to my recent novel discovery. What helped on this front is a German colleague mentioning a name/book in an English translation (book forthcoming) which effectively opened the floodgates – helped by more German author biographies featuring online – once one gets Google and other search engines to accept multi-lingual and diverse search terms. As a result, I need to revisit hypotheses and conclusions previously drawn. Some might stay the same but others are likely to change. Then there is the issue of bringing such developments to other researchers’ awareness, especially those who might not have access to paywall material or who conversely discount material not in “recognised academic” publications. This division is unwittingly (purposefully?) creating or rather perpetuating the gulf in knowledge transfer, sharing and development – adding to the ‘known unknowns’. That’s a challenge for another day.

Civil Servants in War

Samuel Prempeh in his thesis on The Basel and Bremen missions and their successors in the Gold Coast and Togoland, 1914-1926 : a study in Protestant missions and the First World War noted:

On 4 August 1914 the Administration had a European staff of 613 in the Colony and its dependencies but before the end of 1917 the staff capacity had been reduced to 531 of which no less than 91 were engaged in war service (24 were seconded for Togoland administration and 63 for military service with the Gold Coast Regiment). The largest reduction of staff necessitated similar reduction of major public works and the temporary suspension of other less important duties. Pressure of work partly accounted for lengthened periods of tours, sometimes for 18-24 months without leave…

The first impact of a 30 per cent reduction of staff was evidently the closure of a number of stations, even so heavier work and unbearable sacrifice characterised administrative life. Of the 613 officers no less than 223 served at one time or another in war service… Absence of officers and the Constabulary from the North made the maintenance of law and order a major problem…

This was not an issue which only affected the Gold Coast. Louis Botha banned enlistments and resignations from the South African civil service particularly in the Native Administration Department in order to ensure the basic functioning of state. Local councils made do as they could. Pietermaritzburg saw 107 municipal employees enlist in the war, 12 of whom died, and 15 were wounded. All widows and orphans, irrespective of background, were paid a war gratuity according to Julie Dyer. Interestingly, Pietermaritzburg saw a decrease in criminal arrests during the war years.

Others in East Africa, such as Oscar Watkins and John Anderson tended to take on more work including raising and managing the Carrier Corps whilst doctors such as Norman Parsons Jewell were responsible for military and civilian hospitals in areas such as Bukoba. Claude Oldfield, a District Administrator in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) combined his work with that of military service too.

There are many cases of the effect of civil servants joining the military if one looks, but also numerous on what was achieved by the few, including opportunities for some as I discovered in exploring the diversity of the East Africa campaign.

Novelist: Hans Heuer

Little seems to be known about the writer Hans Heuer. Hans was his author name, his official name being Willi Karl Otto Heuer.

1895 – 28 September born in Magdeburg
1930s – lived Berlin
1970 – 31 December died in Berlin

WW1 Books

1935 – Malumba. Mutter aller Mütter (novel on Tom von Prince and his wife Magdelena, nicknamed Malumba – mother of all mothers)
1940 – Ein Mann erobert Deutsch-Ost – not quite WW1 but tells of the life of Hermann von Wissmann (during WW1, a boat of this name played a part on Lake Tanganyika).


Deutsches Literatur-Lexikon – Das 20 Jahrhundert (Lutz Hagerstedt & von Wilhelm Kosch, published by de Gruyter)
Deutschtum im Ausland vol 19 1936, p884
Das Deutsche Koloniale jahrbuch, 1937, p148