Von and Van – what’s in a name?

I’ve recently read two accounts of World War 1 in Africa – one a novel, Dust Clouds of War by John Wilcox and the other a memoir to be published in 2018. In both of these texts, the British Allied commander, South African Jaap (Jacob) van Deventer, has been referred to as Deventer. Both books are by British English authors who do not fully understand naming constructions.

I’m being a little harsh here – my dad had to correct me on the pronunciation of van Deventer’s name years ago. I used to call him “van de Venter” splitting his name in keeping with many other South African names: van der Merwe, van der Westhuizen etc. Put the “de” onto the “venter” and you have “Deventer” pronounced “dear-venter”. And I’ve been known to mis-pronounce other significant names too: Tighe (“Tie” for those wondering I used to call “Tigga”), Caligula (a little before my time, was pronounced “Ka-li-goo-la”) and of course Beit (should be “bite” rather than “bate”). These are easy mistakes for readers who haven’t hear the names pronounced.So, I suppose it is not surprising that authors apply what they know of one culture to another related one.

With German names, “von” is a title added to a name in much the same way “sir” is added to British names. It’s recognition and status. For the Afrikaans South African name, the “van” or “von” is part of the name translating to “of” or “from” and specifically being lower case “v” – van Deventer originates from the Dutch for someone from Deventer in Overijssel (Ancestry).

This means that when writing German names like von Lettow-Vorbeck the “von” can be safely dropped and we can talk about Lettow-Vorbeck, but we cannot do the same with van Deventer – it’s the equivalent of calling Smith, “ith”.

Another name Wilcox gets wrong in his account is Phillip Pretorius, Smuts’ lead scout. As many have done before, he incorrectly refers to Phillip as Piet. This is in the acknowledgements noting that Simon Fonthill’s escapades were based partly on Pretorius’ search for the Konigsberg. I’m also a little puzzled as to how men could have been involved in both the Boer War (11 Oct 1899 – 31 May 1902) and the Boxer Rebellion in China (2 Nov 1899 – 7 Sep 1901). There is a window between Sep 1901 and May 1902 but I’ve not come across anyone of note having moved between the theatres. (Please let me know if you know of anyone). Lettow-Vorbeck is often mistakenly said to have fought in both, but before he was posted to China, he was in the German War Office studying the actions of the Boer War to assist the German military.
Wilcox further makes the fundamental error of referring to the Smuts raiding into the Union of South Africa during the Boer War when he should be referring to Smuts’ raid into the Cape Colony. The Union of South Africa only came into being in 1910

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An intricate web of relationships: Milner’s Kindergarten

I was recently asked what I thought about Jan Smuts’ relationship with the Kindergarten. As with every answer I tend to give, it’s not straightforward to just say ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘indifferent’. It evolved.

Milner’s Kindergarten was a group of young Oxford graduates who were recruited to help Lord Milner resettle the Transvaal after the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (South African War or 1899-1902 War). Many went on to form the Round Table which was an organisation aimed at

See chapter 4 of Carroll Quigley’s book The Anglo-American Establishment (1981) provides some interesting background to the formation of the Kindergarten suggesting it was a Rhodes-Milner Secret Society. In addition to the main group of Kindergarten, another 5 became associated with it due to their time in South Africa.

Below is a list of the 18 men – courtesy of Carroll to which I have added their achievements before answering the question about Smuts’ relationship with them. For students of South African in the early 20th century, many names will be familiar.

Patrick Duncan (later Sir Patrick) 1870-1946; barrister, connected with mining magnates in particular George Farrar; later Governor General of South Africa
Richard Feetham 1874-1965; SA Judge, formation of Wits University
Philip Henry Kerr (later Lord Lothian) 1882-1940 Private secretary to Lloyd George 1916-1921, later Ambassador to USA
Robert Henry Brand (later Lord Brand)1878-1963 wrote The Union of South Africa (1909); Director of Lloyds Bank
Lionel Curtis 1872-1955 ran Round Table after Milner’s death; wrote The Commonwealth of Nations
Geoffrey Dawson (until 1917 Robinson)1874-1944 edited The Times 1912-1919
John Buchan (later Lord Tweedsmuir) 1875-1940 author, Ministry of Information, wrote Official history of South Africa’s involvement in World War 1; Governor General Canada (archive)
Dougal Orme Malcolm (later Sir Dougal) 1877-1955 British South Africa Company, Colonial Office
William Lionel Hichens 1874-1941 Businessman
John Dove 1872-1934 Henry Brand published The Letters of John Dove
Basil Williams 1867-1950 – author of Botha, Smuts and South Africa
Lord Basil Blackwood 1870-1917 Killed near Ypres
Hugh Archibald Wyndham 1877-1961; in SA 1901-1923
George Vandaleur Fiddes (later Sir George) 1858-1925 Permanent Undersecretary Colonial Office; wrote The Dominions and Colonial Office (1926)
John Hanbury-Williams (later Sir John) 1859-1946 Military Secretary to Milner during the Anglo-Boer War
Main Swete Osmond Walrond 1870-1927 Milner’s Private Secretary; Arab Bureau
Fabian Ware (later Sir Fabian) 1869-1949 Founder of Commonwealth War Graves Commission
William Flavelle Monypenny 1866-1912

The five additional men:
Leopold Amery 1873-1955 journalist with the Times during Anglo-Boer War, 1919 Under Secretary of State Colonial Office, Politician
Edward Grigg (later Lord Altrincham) 1879-1955 Private Secretary to Lloyd George, Governor of Kenya 1925
H.A.L. Fisher 1865-1940 politician and historian (the secret elite of All Souls)
Edward Frederick Linley Wood (later Lord Irwin; Lord Halifax) 1881-1959 Viceroy of India
Basil Kellett Long 1878-1944; newspaper editor in SA and Britain, wrote biography on Smuts: In Smuts’ Camp; The Framework of Union

When the Kindergarten first arrived in South Africa, Smuts would have been very wary of them given their connection to Milner. The feelings expressed by ex-President Steyn were probably in similar vein to Smut. Steyn wrote to Smuts on 27 May 1906 (Hancock vol 2, p308):

… the difficulty was not to know what to say, but what not to say, becaue when I think of that man I almost lose all self-control. I see in today’s paper that he and Chamberlain have again been busy fabricating history.

This was in reply to Smuts’ letter (p302) of 4 May 1906 in which he said in response to a speech Steyn had given:

Perhaps Milner was not worth so much of your powder, but his policy still haunts the land, and I know of no better remedy against it than your address.

After Milner left in 1905, many of the Kindergarten remained in South Africa under the new Governor/High Commissioner Lord Selborne. During this time, their relationship with Smuts and the other Boer leaders began to change. Many helped see the four territories through to Union in 1910 and as noted above, two remained in the country, often in correspondence with Smuts, whilst others made regular visits and continued working in the country.

In the Smuts’ letters, Lionel Curtis wrote to Smuts on 25 April 1906 asking him (private and personal) whether he would be prepared to sit on a committee to help find a solution to the Burgher Settlements which constituted 1% of the white population. This group of people was seen to be economically unable to provide for themselves. Curtis was selecting a few individuals who would be able to focus on the issue at hand and not get side-tracked.

By the end of the 1914-1918 war, Smuts was reconciled to Milner, the two sitting on the War Cabinet – Milner having worked the way for Smuts to do so – and worked together for Empire at the Treaty of Versailles. Smuts was known to have dinner with Leo Amery who was on Milner’s staff again when Milner was Colonial Secretary during the Versailles Peace Discussions. In this capacity he would have also been in discussions with George Fiddes, who was a prominent Colonial Office official during the First World war years and Smuts’s work on the Mandates, Treaty of Versailles and other colonial issues would have brought them into countact.

Similarly, he would have been in close contact with Philip Kerr and Edward Grigg who were secretaries to David Lloyd George during the war years.

John Buchan, one of the later Kindergarten arrivals to South Africa after the war, was asked by Smuts to be the official historian of South Africa’s war effort. During the war, Buchan was a member of the Propoganda (Information) Department writing pieces to promote Britain’s war aims. He later died as Governor of Canada.

Of those who remained in South Africa either permanently or for a few years after Union, Smuts encountered many in Parliament and joined forces with some when the SA and Unionist Parties joined.

What may well have started out as a disparate group of men, became an intricate web of relationships exending through politics, business and literature. Its aim was to build and maintain an Empire (a British one).

The Kibaka of Buganda and World War 1

Looking up something on Uganda’s involvement in World War 1, I noticed the date 5 August 1914 and on closer investigation saw it was the day the Kibaka assumed full powers as ruler. This struck me as something to explore – it was the day after Britain declared war on Germany. Three days later, the Kibaka was made an Honorary Lieutenant of 4 King’s African Rifles.

This naturally led to questions and a bit of digging:
1. Did the Kabaka participate in the war other than in an official or honorary capacity?
2.If so, what did he do?
The following References helped piece together what we currently know about the Kibaka and Buganda’s involvement in the war:
TNA, Kew: WO 339/127215
Daudi-Chwa-II Buganda Royal Family
How Buganda Saved East Africa from German invasion London Evening Post
The Baganda Rifles Harry Fecitt

Daudi Chwa II, KCMG, KBE Kabaka of Buganda
Personal life
Born: 8 August 1896 (Mengo)
Died: 22 November 1939 (Kampala)
Education: King’s College, Budo, Uganda
Awarded CMG – 1 Jan 1918
Awarded KCMG – 16 Feb 1925

Marriage 1: St Paul’s Cathedral, Namirembe, 19 September 1914 (Abakyala Irene Drusilla Namaganda)
Children conceived during war years. Had a total of 33 children
1. Eva Irini Alice Zalwango (15 December 1915)
2. Uniya Mary Namaalwa (28 August 1916)
3. Airini Dulusira Nga’nda Ndagire (31 October 1916)
4. Kasalina Namukaabya Nassimbwa (11 November 1918)
5. George William Mawanda (10 January 1919)
6. Kasalina Gertrude Tebattagwaabwe Nabanakulya (30 June 1919)

Kingship
Succeeded: father on 9 August 1897 (deposed);
Installed: 14 August 1897 with regency;
Assumed full powers: 5 August 1914;
Crowned: Budo 8 August 1914.

War Service
Honorary Lieut 4 KAR (Uganda) 8 Aug 1914
Honorary Captain with effect 22 September 1917

Baganda’s involvement in the war – What do we know?
The involvement of Uganda/Buganda in World War 1 is a little confusing because of the situation in the area before the war broke out.

In 1911, Britain had made some Kings’ African Rifle battalions redundant as part of a cost saving exercise. This resulted in men from Nyasaland (Malawi) joining the German Askari as they needed to earn a living. Allegiance to rulers was different in Africa to what it was/is in Europe.

Another complication is that Britain tended to use men from one area in another so that they were not having to fight or take action against their own people. The construction of the four King’s African Regiments in East Africa were made up of battalions which served in different places or were on leave while other battalions of the same regiment were serving.

When war broke out, it was the European summer holiday. The governments did not expect to go to war and so many officers and government officials were on holiday. In addition, the lack of communication from London (they were very busy sorting out what was happening in Europe), meant that local decisions were made which were uncoordinated. Over the first years of the war, these groups amalgamated or disbanded with many being a name in a book with little other known of what they did.

So, what do we know?
The following forces were raised or available from Uganda:
• 4 King’s African Rifles (KAR)
• Lieutenant AJB Wavell had two companies of Baganda employed in the coastal area. Wavell is most famously known for his command of the Arab Rifles. Was there a connection?
• Uganda Reserve Company about 90 strong of 4 KAR
• Auxiliary levies, such as the Maasai Scouts and a few
• Uganda European Volunteer Reserve
• Local units (Uganda Armed Levies) in southern Uganda later known as the Baganda Rifles to defend home territories against attack. Permission was given for 555 to be recruited.

First days of war:
Lieutenant-Colonel LES Ward – commanding officer 4 KAR, Officer Commanding Uganda was the most senior military officer in East Africa when war broke out (all his seniors on leave). In fact, Ward was on his way to Mombasa to leave on retirement for England when he heard that war had broken out. He therefore went to Nairobi to do what he could to help the Governor prepare.
Major LH Hickson of 3 KAR therefore took over as OC Uganda.
3 KAR had the most troops readily available. The battalions were split into Companies.
• B Company – based at Mumia
• F Company – based at Baringo
o B & F were on route to Turkana but instructed to go to Nairobi
• A Company – based at Bombo
• G Company – based at Entebbe
o A & G were sent to Kisumu. One was later sent to Nairobi.
To replace these troops in Western Uganda, 2 of the 3 companies were moved from Northern Uganda. They were based at Masaka with a contingent of armed police. There was an outpost at Sanje.

Western Uganda remained quiet despite concerns because the Germans had withdrawn from Bukoba after a heavy defeat by Sese islanders. The German forces settled at Mwanza.

5 days before war broke out, about 31 July, the troops in Nairobi were moved to Tsvao and Voi to defend the bridges in the area and to patrol the railway lines. Two vehicles were adapted to be armoured trains. The troops consisted of:

• Half ‘D’ Company led by Captain TO Fitzgerald with one officer and 84 rifles
• Lieutenant H Home Davies (Royal Welch Fusiliers) arrive later with 21 rank and file of the half-trained KAR Mounted Infantry. They were stationed at Voi with a small post at Bura, near a group of hills some twenty-two miles out along the old caravan route to Taveta, close to the German frontier.

When war was declared in August 1914 The Regent of Buganda wrote to the British on behalf of four other Chiefs requesting that the five Chiefs & 500 of their men be sent to England to join the British Army. Is this what resulted in the Kabaka assuming his role independently and being appointed Honorary Lieutenant of the KAR?

The Baganda Rifles
Commanding Officer was Captain E Tyrell Bruce of the Uganda Volunteer Reserve.
Captain HB Tucker (98th Infantry, Indian Army) became commander in July 1916 when the Indian Army assumed command of the Baganda Rifles.

1914 and 1915 – Baganda Rifles employed on the Kagera River Front just south of the border between Uganda and German East Africa. Patrolled and supported army units holding the line. Assisted in securing Sango Bay on Lake Victoria where the Royal Navy Lake Flotilla landed supplies and reinforcements.

1916 – Baganda Rifles formed part of Lake Force.
9 June 1916 the steamer Usoga landed the Baganda Rifles, East African Scouts and the machine-guns of the 98th Infantry, Indian Army, on the eastern end of the Ukerewe Island, north-east of Mwanza. The island was an important rice-growing area for the German Schutztruppe and a wood-fuelling station for Lake steamers.
A German garrison was moving onto Ukerewe Island from the Musoma area to secure the rice crop. The British force bayonet-charged the 50-strong German advance party, forcing it back onto the mainland. 4 KAR (Uganda) landed further to the west and the island was cleared of Schutztruppe. The rice was harvested for use by the British troops.
12th July 1916 the British moved to the mainland to attack the German garrison holding Mwanza, the largest German port on Lake Victoria. Half the Baganda Rifles landed with Force B at Senga Point while the rest landed with Force Reserve near Kaienzie Bay. The British advanced overland from two directions, brushing aside small piquets of Schutztruppe.
14 July 1916 Mwanza was captured from the Germans. The German garrison withdrew south but left behind a 4.1-inch gun from the battle-cruiser Konigsberg. This gun was on a traffic-island in Jinja, Uganda.

The British pursued the Germans south towards Tabora on the Central Railway. During this advance the Baganda Rifles performed excellent long-range patrolling duties, but also suffered from a meningitis epidemic that caused many fatalities within the ranks.

On reaching Tabora, which had been captured by the Belgians on 16 September 1916, before the British arrived, Lake Force was disbanded. The Baganda Rifles, although effective and well supported by the Kabaka and chiefs, moved back to Uganda.
8 November 1916 the Baganda Rifles was disbanded at Entebbe. Many joined the KAR to serve in German and Portuguese East Africa.

There are medal cards for 230 Baganda Riflemen in Kew and recorded on the In Memory list on GWAA

This information was presented at the Diversity House Micro-nations event on 27 October 2017.

I helped find their dead

My name is Maxie.

There isn’t a photograph of me but I am a WaTaveta who lives in Taita-Tsavo in what is today’s Kenya. One hundred years ago it was British East Africa and there had been some big fights between the white and Indian soldiers of the British king and the white and black soldiers of the German king.

We were told not to get involved as it was not our war, but some of us were paid to help with building the railway line, accommodation and other things that needed doing. Later on, when the fighting moved south and more labour was needed, men were sometimes forced or work for little pay. My work kept me near home.

A few months after the big fight at the dusty hill we call Salaita, a man came looking for some bodies of men who had died in the battle. I was able to tell him about 21 graves I knew at Taveta, the local market town.

I told the man, an English soldier that “When the Germans were fighting in the direction of Mbuyuni they used to bring the wounded Englishmen into the District Officer’s house here, (which, at the time was used as a Hospital,) when these Englishmen died the Germans buried them in this place and fired guns over the graves.”

I then took him about 25 paces (20 yards) to the north of the 14 graves I had shown him to show him another 7 which the Germans carried from Mbuyuni. The man said they are going to dig up the graves and move the bodies. I don’t understand why but it seems important to them. He was also trying to find out which were the English or white man’s graves.

The burial practices I saw are strange. The wafu (dead) have a special power and we believe in the existence of Mlungu (High God). Here, the white men laid the bodies down flat. In our tradition, we stand them up in the ground and build a hut over the space. When our people die, we close their eyes so that the evil spirits cannot enter the body. I don’t know who did that for these poor soldiers. Many were lying on the ground for hours before someone found them. We then lie them on a bed. The body is washed and shaved by women past the child bearing age. The head was covered by a foot of soil. One year later we take the skull to the shrine.

At kuchumbua maridia (the end of mourning a year after the burial) we have an event where a goat is sacrificed and the remains scattered over the crops. There is a final day of wailing and shaving. A cow is slaughtered for those who dug the hole and the hut is either sold and dismantled for someone else to use, or if the surviving spouse is a woman, she lives in the hut until she dies.
The man wrote some things down and went away but I was still confused.

A few years later, another white man came along. I took him to a spot about 2000 steps (½ mile) in the direction the sun rises and 125 steps from the railway track near where they used to burn the Hindus who died. The grass was burnt a few times and the ground is swampy, but you can still see where 11 men were buried, about 18 moons ago, by the wire fence and the outlines of holes which were filled in. The fires had destroyed the fence posts and wooden markers saying who was in the ground.
Later in Voi, at the end of the railway line, I heard the man, Milner he said his name was, tell the church man Verbi and Major Layzell about what I had told him. He said that about 1 February 1916, 21 men were brought into the hospital by the Germans near Salaita Hill. They were badly wounded and died soon after. These were the graves I showed him. When other men died, they were buried next to first. There was a strange ceremony which accompanied the placing of the men in the grave. The Askari (black soldiers) fired their guns into the sky. This was strange as they usually only pointed them at people to shoot.

On 4 April 1923, this is what the man said the date was, this man asked me confusing questions which I didn’t understand, something about a Native Christian Cemetery. He then asked me where the camp was of the men who were working on the construction of the railway. He said something about a loose-leaf register, South African natives, South African Railway and Cape Corps being buried.

Oh, I knew where the graves of the railway workers were and also the South African natives. This was 2000 steps from the Taveta Station and 125 steps from the railway track. This was where the cemetery was made and was marked by barbed wire. There were 11 graves.

I also took Milner to the foot of the hills on which the Old Fort stands at Taveta, and showed him a place where I had dug a grave for the Germans to bury an Englishman in. The Englishman had been shot by the Germans for spying and brought into the building on the hill during the latter part of the day. The German Askaris carried him on a rough stretcher and the following morning my friends and I were told to dig this grave. The Germans brought a box which they placed in the grave and fired shots over.

Nineteen nights later (23 April) native minister of the Taveta CMS Mission named Johana Mbela who could talk English told the Englishman that he, Johana, was taken prisoner by the Germans and placed in the building on the hill close to where we were standing. This happened in August 1914. In early September 1914, he said the Germans brought in the man who had been caught spying with a Captain on a small hill towards Serengetti. The Captain was shot dead and the man the Germans brought in ran away to get his motor cycle and was shot in the leg. After the Germans had put this man in the next room to Johana, the Germans brought the man’s clothes and some papers into his room and asked him what was written on them, but he did not tell them. He tried to pronounce a name which sounded like Groarty. He remembered the man calling for water all night until early morning, and seemed to be in very great pain, then all was quiet.

I couldn’t believe it. Minister Johana Mbela had seen the man I had to dig a grave for. These Englishman kept saying ‘what a small world.’

References
Burial rights
Commonwealth War Grave archive, Maidenhead: CWGC 1/1/7/E/57 WG 122/8 pt 2; Verbi and Layzell who reside in the Voi District had both been Intelligence Officers during the campaign in the Taveta District.
This account was written for Diversity House Micro-nations event on 27 October 2017.

Coloured – who am I?

One of the things I love about my work is discovery. I’m constantly discovering new things – even about things I know a little about. And there’s no better way to discover something than when you have to explain what you already know to someone who isn’t sure or seeks clarification.

One such enquiry derived from a contribution to Never Such Innocence on African involvement in World War 1. A teacher making use of the resource asked for clarifiction on the use of the word Coloured to describe African soldiers from South Africa.

I can just see many non-South African readers cringing at the word. Surely I should be using ‘Mixed Race’ or some other term. No, the term is Coloured and they are a people (micro-nation) who deserve recognition and respect.

I have fond memories of mixing with the Coloured community in Reiger Park, the Coloured township in Boksburg. They had a St John Ambulance Division which my mom and others supported and taught. As a youngster I would often be a ‘patient’ for them to practise on and later, when I had passed my first aid exams we went on duty together. All this during the heady years of Apartheid when races were meant to be separate.

During the First World War, Coloured men were best known for forming the Cape Corps and served admirably in East Africa (1 Cape Corps) as well as in Palestine holding the line at the Battle of Square Hill (18-19 September 1918). They also served as ‘Cape Boys’ driving oxen and cattle during the campaign in East Africa as well as in medical and other labour capacities including in South West Africa.

Here are some links I’ve found helpful for others to understand the contribution of Coloureds to South Africa’s rich and diverse heritage.
A Profile
A 2012 film: I’m not Black, I’m Coloured – I haven’t yet seen the film so can’t comment on that aspect but it shows the term is still alive and well…
There is a lovely but heart moving film I reviewed some time back called Katrina (1969) which is available on Youtube (IMDB); which puts the community into context in terms of Apartheid but also socially – then and unfortunately still today.
Coloureds have developed their own language which you can hear a snippet (this was done for the 2010 World Cup in SA so needs to be taken in context).
And finally a piece on one of their annual festivals, the Kaapse Klopse with one of their famous songs: Daar kom die Alibama (explained)

Respect to a people still struggling for the recognition they deserve in their own country, let alone elsewhere.

Aragon vs Mendi: two carrier ships

I have written before on how I could equate the deaths on the SS Aragon with those of the SS Mendi. Transcribing the Pike Report prompted this posting.

As awful as the sinking of the Mendi was – an accident, the deaths of the more than 120 South African Native Labourers who gave up on life and who saw no future in continuing to live is a sad indictment on those tasked with their well-being. What makes it worse, is that their suffering was long drawn out, months of labour, lack of sleep and inappropriate diet, exaccerbated by the tropical conditions in which they found themselves. Later that same year, 30 December 1917, the Aragon was sunk with the loss of 610 lives.

Yes, the Mendi saw 600+ lives lost in one go, the Aragon far fewer over a a few days, but for each of the families concerned, the loss of life – Mendi or Aragon – was a huge blow: an income supplier, loved and cherished – father, son, brother, friend.

The impact on recruiting labour in South Africa was tangible. The loss of the Mendi lives saw the South African government stop recruiting for labour to serve on the Western Front. The loss of the Aragon lives was more subtle: men didn’t enlist and found excuses not to.

Until recently, the detail of the Aragon losses have been limited, if one is lucky, to a sentence or two in an historical narrative. However, the opening up of the Pike Report allows us a medical insight into the deaths, and the decisions – right or wrong – that doctors, officers and ships’ captains made in tring to ease the situation in which the men found themselves.

This is, for me, a heart-moving story of neglect through ignorance, and for some contempt on the one hand and of concern and care for humankind on the other. In the same way the survivors of the Mendi, both of the ship itself and of the Darro, had to live with their guilt and self-loathing of not being able to do more, so did the survivors of the Aragon.

Note: I’ve purposefully kept numbers approximate as records seem to differ in detail.

Continual Remembrance

I was recently asked if I believe in continual remembrance. This was the first time I’d heard the phrase – clearly I’ve not been in touch with the news and general public discussion.

After a brief hesitation, I had to say yes – it hopefully keeps us from perpetuating the mistakes of the past. ‘Isn’t that political?’ was the response. It must be if we are serious about creating the world we want to live in and that those in the past were prepared to give their lives for. Naturally this conversation has been doing its rounds in my head since.

There are three issues at play here all interlinked, as far as I can see: continuity, remembrance and politics.
What are we remembering? Why should we remember? Why is remembering political?

Continuity is ongoing. It is not once a year on a particular day. As an historian of war, it’s probably easier to be in a continuous state of remembering the past than for others. Memorials, statues, telling stories around the fire of past leaders all help keep the continuity of memories, events and persons in our consciousness.

I’m a great advocate of keeping statues around especially of those who we believe did the wrong thing by our standards. Keep the statues (not necessarily in their original location) and avoid repeating what the individual did which offends. Invariably, the statue or memorial was erected for reasons other than what is causing offense and it would be good to explore those aspects before passing judgement. Yes, Cecil Rhodes may have been racist. He was a man of his time when many believed or behaved in the same way (and to be honest, many continue to do so today). He was also generous – Groote Schuur, Cape Town and Rhodes Universities, The Rhodes Foundation and scholarship: where would South Africa’s economy be today if it hadn’t been for Rhodes and his colleagues setting up De Beers etc? Rhodes loved Africa and saw potential. In his eagerness he made some bad decisions; who of us doesn’t?

Verwoerd and Apartheid – was what he did any different to what is happening today with the rise of nationalism and individual groups attempts to ensure their independence? I don’t agree with what he did but I understand why he did it. The question is – was there another way he could have achieved the same protection of his adopted people?

The First World War – the horror of the trenches and men going over the top. Generals maligned for using their men as cannon fodder. Soldiers are servants – they follow orders – those given by politicians and national leaders (yes, some soldiers assume both roles and take matters into their own hands, but I’m not talking of them as soldiers here as they fall into the political category). A sweeping statement I know, some are blood-thirsty and all that goes with it, but they’re in the minority. I can’t help but recall Lord Kitchener’s statement ‘A soldier’s duty is not to get killed’ – a point reiterated by an officer I heard talk at Sandhurst comparing Afghanistan to the Somme. I could go on…

Remembrance. It’s easy to fall into remembering what’s in front of us: The list of war dead on our memorials, the reason for the Bank or Public Holiday, if we’re aware of it. This was brought home to me earlier this year when I was complaining about South Africa having two women’s days. The August date is for the contribution the women made to end Apartheid – Sharpville in particular.

Those often ignored and forgotten especially need to be remembered. A talk with a retired Archbishop of Africa brought this home when we were talking of the victims of Apartheid – all colours, genders and ages: those who went into exile and those family members who had to cope with the outfall back home, the young men, soldiers (both sides), forced into situations which scarred them for life, their families not aware of the wounds still suppurating below the surface manifesting in addiction, violent outbursts or depression.

These are the horrors to remember and to avoid in future, but we shouldn’t forget the positives which we can build on: the comradeship which crossed boundaries – the humanity of mankind (To be human is to be humane: Xhosa: umntu ngumntu ngabanye abuntu; Swahili: Mtu ni utu; Gikuyu: Mundu ni umundu*).

There are so many examples of this – sharing food in a foxhole, leaving medical supplies for prisoners, giving someone a drink or a place to lay their head for a time, keeping the horrors of one’s experiences from loved ones back home. Drawings of birds and animals, beauty, encountered along the way.

And finally, politics. When we think of the term, it evokes emotions often linked to elections and political parties or politicians. However, I look at politics in terms of the polity – ‘the form or process of civil government; organised society, state; condition of civil order’ (Concise Oxford Dictionary). We/I have a role to play in the civil order and so everything I do has an impact – it’s political. I often recall the advice given to me by a teaching union representative back in 2009-2011 when I was bemoaning about government decisions around Further Education and our lack of influence. He told me over his 30 years of being a union rep that he’d learnt not to focus on the big things which appeared unchangeable but to rather do what felt right on the ground, in my immediate circle, and the butterfly effect would take care of the rest. These wise words have kept me from being overwhelmed on so many occasions – and goes to the heart of my politics. Treat others as I want to be treated. Memorials (including books and archives) remind me to remember those not mentioned and to remember them all.

* Mary Nyambura Muchiri, Papers on Languages and Culture: An African Perspective (2009)
Musa Victor Mdabuleni Kunene, Communal holiness in the Gospel of St John: The vine metaphor as a test case with lessons from African hospitality and Trinitarian theology (2012)