Scottish links

There are strong links between South Africa and the Scottish. The town I grew up, Boksburg, in had one of the first Presbyterian churches in the then Transvaal. The Presbyterian church started in Cape Town, South Africa in the early 1800s following a request by the Black Watch who were on a tour of duty in South Africa for religious services of their own.

However, more well-known are the Transvaal Scottish, the military regiment which came into being after the Anglo-Boer War. Many Scots served in the war, mostly on the side of the British Empire. (The Irish were better known for serving on both sides – the leader of the Boksburg Boer Tarantale or ‘Guineafowl’ Commando¬† was allegdly an Irishman – Gravatt, a man commemorated in the local Klip Kerk or ‘Stone Church’ as the Dutch Reformed Church is affectionately called.) During World War 1, the Transvaal Scottish served on the Western Front participating in the battles of Delville Wood. A local family, the McKinlays, lost three of their four sons in Europe and Mom McKinlay was one of the two Transvaal civilian representatives at the opening of the Delville Wood memorial in 1926. Having worked on the family’s history for the grandson of the only surviving brother who had not been allowed by the army to enlist, the grandson, Scotty, died in March 2017. At least he’d discovered what his uncles had done and there’s more of a story behind the stained glass rose-window in St John’s Presbyterian Church, Boksburg – a building which itself is 100 years old in 2017.

In addition to the many Scottish miners who settled in South Africa, another notable group was the missionary contingent. Missionaries from both the Church of Scotland Missionary Society (CMS) and Presbyterians travelled to South Africa to do their bit. The most famous missionary to Africa is probably David Livingstone. Livingstone’s wife was of missionary extraction – Robert Moffat who settled in Kuruman. My husband’s family owes its origins to William Samson who took up a posting initially in Ghana in 1916 and then a few years later in Southern Rhodesia with the Presbyterian Church of South Africa. The family originated from Ayreshire and according to folklore had a connetion with the famous Scottish poet, Robbie Burns, who wrote an ode to a Samson – Tam O’Samson (rather uncomplimentary – suggesting good friendship perhaps?)

One of my earliest social memories growing up is of my parents going off to Burns’ Night suppers and dances with the local Masonic Lodge. Auld Lang Syne was (and remains) another regular Scottish link, sung every New Year’s Eve and unlike other British accents, I was most accustomed to the various Scottish dialects thanks to those who attended the local Presbyterian church.

An affinity for things Scottish remains due to these early childhood experiences, so it’s no surprise that things Scottish have a magnetic attraction today. On my way to the British Library in April 2017, taking a slightly different route to my norm, I stumbled across an exhibition in The Crypt Gallery of St Pancras Church. The church has been undergoing refurbishment for as long as I can remember so seeing an opportunit to explore below ground, I jumped at the opportunity. A Sense of Scotland, oil paintings by Davy Macdonald took me back to South Africa – Houtbay in particular – with scenes of fishermen and women fixing nets and preparing fish caught for sale. What was striking about this exhibition was the prominent role women seemed to play, unlike in Africa where this is most definitely a man’s job – one I’m happy to leave to them given the stench of the open fish-drying places we encountered in Ghana.

And an exhibition I didn’t get to see in person because time didn’t allow, but which, thankfully, is online too, is The Scottish Diaspora Tapestry. An amazing compilation of needlework from around the globe showing just how widely the Scots travelled (and settled). One day I might get to see it in all its glory.

My Scottish links continue – apart from working on the history of the Presbyterian church in South Africa from inception through to the late 1990s, I am regularly asked which clan’s tartan I’m wearing – my answer: Masaai


Slave Trade – then and now

Africa is well known for its involvement in the slave trade with much focus given to that which occurred on the western side of the continent. East Africa was also to experience a slave trade – but rather than with the Americas, the eastern slave trade was with Arabia. Names associated with the two slave trades include John Newton of Amazing Grace¬†(to the tune of House of the Rising Sun) fame and David Livingstone the missionary who died in Africa having raised the profile of slavery. For those of working on the East Africa campaign of World War 1, the account of Mzee Ali as recorded by Bror McDonell (scroll down for info on the author) gives an insight into the last days of slave trading as the Germans extended their control over the territory. Having seen the building conditions on both the east and west African coasts, personally, I think the east African slaves had the nastier facilities, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that these people were being forcibly removed from their homelands to travel in appaling conditions to an unknown future.

The ending of the slave trade in Africa brought friction in its wake, not least in southern Africa where the Boers decided to remove themselves from British control in the then Cape Colony and trek northwards leading to what we know as The Great Trek. And some might say that the recruitment and conditions of the carriers who served during the First World War was no different to that of slavery. For many the memory of slaving days was not too far distant and it would have been easy to draw parallels.

The slave trade continues today, although in different forms. This was brought home on a visit to Romania where there were posters in the airport warning young girls about human traffiking. What we also discovered on our trip was that the Romani Gypsies were originally slaves taken from India to Romania. This reminded me of the Cape Malay community of South Africa, and the Cape Coloured, some of whom can trace their origins back to the Malay States. And how fitting that Jennie Upton should share a traditonal South African recipe for Malva pudding which clearly has its origins in Malaysian tradition. Others who were technically slaves although not in name were the indentured Indians who were taken to southern Africa to work on the sugar plantations in the 19th century and later the Chinese who, in 1904, were employed to work on the South African goldmines.

Returning to Romania, specifically Transylvania, it was incredible how similar it was to aspects of Africa – I thought the souvenir sellers had invested in Zulu beadwork until I was informed by our guide that it was traditional Romanian beadwork. Fertility dolls/models were common as was subsistence farming. Unfortunately also in common was poverty and human exploitation, yet despite this, the people seemed cheerful and took everything in their stride.

And for those of ou wondering where the link with Dracula is, well there are two: one Dracula means the ‘Son of the Devil’, the devil being the name given to Dracula’s father as he wore a symbol of a dragon, the order he belonged to which was fighting the crusades. The other link is with the real persona of Dracular, namely Vlad the Impaler – the African equivalent? Chaka Zulu.