Review: Battle for Hurungwe – John Padbury

Battle for Hurungwe by John Padbury is not about WW1, but rather an account of John’s involvement in the Zimbabwean civil war of 1965-1979 as part of Special Branch. 

It’s not the typical ‘bush war’ type book detailing battles and engagements. Instead it traces the evolution of a group of white men who saw the cause they were employed to protect being one of ultimate destruction and that the way forward to a better future for all was to work and live together. 

Using Mao’s Little Red Book, John discerned the thinking behind communism and used the same methods against the ‘terrorists’. A policy which bore positive results in the area of Hurungwe until politics denied Bishop Muzorewa an African solution to the struggle and the situation dissolved into a different violence.

This is a detailed, meticulously referenced book, verified by independent research conducted by Joshua Chakawa. In a few places, clearly annotated, the names and identities of individuals have been changed to ensure their and their families’ safety. Numerous maps, reports, air logs and photos are included. Apart from the strategies and tactics employed, John also covers the role of the Viscount plane shot down. 

What appeals with this account is the striving for peace within the armed struggle – changing minds and building trust in the face of counter-propaganda is no easy task. The book contains a blue-print to help bring other conflicts to a win-win conclusion. A point summed up in ‘politics is war without bloodshed; war is politics with bloodshed’ – and as Kitchener discovered, all the progress that soldiers make towards peace is so often undone by politicians. And for politicians wanting an insight to what they have to overcome, perhaps a reading (and intellectual digestion) of The Challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai might help.

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’.


An animal named

It’s a Western trait to name animals. I hadn’t given this any thought until we did a trip to Tunisia where I rode on some camels. In true novice tourist fashion, I innocently asked what my camel’s name was. The reply was ‘Monica’. When I got to camel number two and asked the same question I got a strange look and was told the camel didn’t really have a name but I could call it ‘Said, if you really want to’. This promoted further questions and discovery. A point reaffirmed when we visited Mongolia and farming friends in Tanzania. None of these people name their animals – to do so gives them an identity which leads to an attachment making the loss of the beast (for food, income etc) far more difficult to cope with.

In contrast, was the Boer tendency to name their oxen. Listening to Dr Hanschell‘s reminiscences of his time with the Lake Tanganyika Expedition, he was quite taken with the Boer oxen having names – those most prominent being Rooinek and Engelsman (Red neck and Englishman). From Hanschell’s recollection these two oxen received the most beatings and yellings – the Boer’s sense of humour (?) at the antagonism between Brit and Boer which had erupted in the 1899-1902 War.

The Boers working as transport riders too named their oxen as noted by Norman Jewell in his memoirs (forthcoming). Here, all the oxen (eighteen pairs) in each team had the same name for each position allowing any driver to take over the span of oxen.

Most recently the significance of animal names was brought home with the killing of Cecil the lion. I leave Themba Mzingwane to say more (thanks to Jennifer Upton for the link).