One of the things that I like about biographies of political figures is that you get a more personal view of the times they lived in. Here one gets twOne of the things that I like about biographies of political figures is that you get a more personal view of the times they lived in. Here one gets two for the price of one -- Walter and Albertina Sisulu were a married couple forced to live much of their life apart, and for several decades it was rare that there would be a time when there wasn't at least one member of the Sisulu family in jail or banned.
Walter Sisulu was Secretary Gerneral of the African National Congress (ANC) at the time it was banned in 1960, and resumed his organising activities when he emerged from prison and it was unbanned 30 years later. Albertina was a leader of the ANC Women's League, and was in jail, detained without trial, and banned for many years.
They belonged to my parents' generation, but the second half of their life story was about times that I myself have lived through, and so casts new light on those times for me. It was written by their daughter-in-law, Elinor Sisulu, who knew them personally, and so they come alive in a way that is not possible in biographies written by impersonal outsiders. And perhaps because Walter was a political prisoner, the securocrats kept much of his correspondence from jail, and so, even though what he wrote was censored, there is something very warm and human that comes across in his letters to family and friends.
On reading the story of the Sisulus, I am acutely aware of how the leadership of the ANC, and of the country, has deteriorated since then. We will not see the likes of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu again, more's the pity. The time that Albertina Sisulu was a Member of Parliament, from 1994-1999, was a high point in our country's history, though we did not realise it at the time. It is sad to see how much things have declined.
But the Sisulus would be the last to claim the credit for that. They believed in party discipline, and collective leadership. They believed that leaders must be responsible to the community, and this comes out in the sharp contrast between the disciplined and humble Albertina Sisulu and the publicity-seeking loose cannon Winnie Mandela. There were events involving Winnie Mandela that received a great deal of publicity at the time, such as her notorious football club. One did not know what to believe in the media reports, so I held my own counsel at the time, because judgements based on incomplete reports are usually wrong. Albertina Sisulu held her own counsel too, but now the story can be told.
One of the things that struck me was that in a sense people like Nelson Mandela, the Sisulus and the Tambos were larger than life, and this seemed to contrast with the idea of collective leadership and being responsible to the community, in fact collective leadership works best with people who stand out from the crowd, yet see themselves as part of it.
One small point that shows how far the ANC has fallen is that when Walter Sisulu was invited to visit the People's Republic of China, and the latter asked him not to visit Taiwan, he refused, saying that he went where he was sent by the ANC, and not by the hosts of one of the places he was visiting. The contrast between that and the present ANC givernment's refusal to give visas to the Dalai Lama could not be more stark.
In some ways the book is also a family history, and here there is a shortcoming. There are pedigree charts showing the ancestry of Walter and Albertina Sisulu (though not of Walter's father, who played little part in his life), but there is no chart of their descendants, and as they had numerous grandchildren a family tree chart (or even several) showing them and their relationships would also have been useful.
It is also a love story. One of the lasting effects of apartheid was to destroy family life, especially for black people. But in spite of having to live almost half of their married life apart, Walter and Albertina Sisulu were an outstanding example of family life, and life as a married couple.
It is, however, a readable and well-researched book, and for anyone interested in South African history from 1940-2000, it's a must read. ...more
I first read this book when I was at school, some 60 or so years ago. I found it in the school library, and thought it was OK. My main memory of thatI first read this book when I was at school, some 60 or so years ago. I found it in the school library, and thought it was OK. My main memory of that reading was that it was there that I first learnt about the Augrabies Falls on the Orange River. I had never heard of the Augrabies Falls before, which, according to the book, were higher and had a greater volume of water than the Victoria Falls and the Niagara Falls, which weveryone in the school knew about. But no one else at the school had heard of the Aughrabies Falls either.
I thought that one day I would like to visit the Aughrabies Falls, and about 25 years ago I did. They were impressive. I still haven't visited the Victoria Falls or the Niagara Falls, and probably never will, but with the possibility that we may pay a second visit to the Aughrabies Falls later this year, I took this book out of the City of Tshwane municipal library and read it again.
The second reading was very different from the first. The first reader was a schoolboy who had never been to any of the places described, and could only imagine what they were like. I had to picture it like the land of Mordor in a work of fiction (which I only read abouot 10 years later, in 1966).
On the second reading I had visited several of the places described in the book, and so the second reading was a reminder of places I have known. The second reading was also after we had embarked on the study of family history, and Lawrence G. Green mentions relatives of mine or my wife's in this and several others of his books. His anecdotes are not always accurate, but they are nevertheless informative and entertaining.
How does one characterise Lawrence G. Green's books? He is a journalist, travel writer, amateur historian, gossip and raconteur. He has a journalist's nose for the news, and so in his travels he makes notes of stories, not just current news, but old news, news of years ago, stories that are, as he puts it in the title of one of his books, Almost forgotten never told.
I come to this book now with a more critical eye. Not only have I researched the family history (and so know that some of the details of his stories about our relatives are inaccurate), but I've also studied general history and historiography, and so am on my guard for evidence of racism or colonialist propaganda, which are evident in many books written by white people about history and travel in southern Africa in the first half o0f the 20th century. There is some, but less than I expected. In describing the wars of the German colonial rulers of Namibia with the Bondelswarts tribe, he notes several instances of the Bondelswarts chivalrous behaviour, trying to avoid civilian casualties, leaving a note of apology on the body of a military medical officer they had shot by mistake, as they had not noticed his medical badgges until it was too late, and saying they would not shoot unarmed doctors. The Germans, representatives of Western "civilization", on the other hand, were carrying out wars of extermination in that period (1904-1908).
Green begins his story a bit away from the river, at Union's End, the remote boundary marker where the borders of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa meet, now part of the Transfrontier Kalahari Park. I haven't been to Union's End, but I have travelled through the Kalahari Gemsbook National Park from Twee Rivieren to Mata Mata, up the dry and dusty valley of the Auob River, on my first visit to Namibia in 1969.
I did not know, having forgotten from the first reading, that there was a settlement of Basters there, different from those of Rehoboth, who once had a shortlived Republic of Mier.
Of course there is the description of the Aughrabies Falls, though when Green visited in the 1930s he had to swim streams to get to where he could see the falls, whereas when we went there in 1991 there were bridges.
He describes the history of Onseepkans, where we crossed into Namibia in 1991, a year after it became independent, when the border officials were still housed in prefabs and tents. I took the name to indicate that some travellers who had crossed the hot and dry plains of Bushmanland, south of the river (which Green also describes) had taken the opportunity to wash their hair in the river, and washed the soap out too. But apparently the name is derived from a Hottentot word, meaning the drinking place for cattle.
Green tells some of the history of the mission station at Pella, which we have not visited, but may visit later this year, where Roman Catholic missionaries, with no knowledge of building at all, constructed a large cathedral.
So the second read was much more interesting than the first, partly because I have been to some of the places mention in the book, and we hope to see some of those he mentions that we have never seen before.
So I recommend this book to anyone who has travelled in the Northern Cape or southern Namibia, or who is planning to. Others might find it interesting too, as I did when I read it the first time.
Lawrence G. Green's books follow a similar pattern, and there is a certain amount of repetition. He tells the same story in more than one book, sometiLawrence G. Green's books follow a similar pattern, and there is a certain amount of repetition. He tells the same story in more than one book, sometimes with more or less detail.
This one deals with the west coast of southern Africa, from the Cape to the Kunene, with anecdotes of out of the way places, and characters who played a minot role in history. As a journalist he collected notes on all sorts of topics, and every now and then he would work them up to a story with a connecting theme, and in this one the connecting theme is the places on the "Diamond Road" and the Skeleton Coast.
As I've already noted about his Thunder on the Blaauwberg not all of his tales are accurate. He is a raconteur, not a historian.
We have several of his books on our shelves, and the story of how this one came to be on our shelves is almost like one of his stories. It has been in our bookshelf ever since I can remember, and has the inscription, "To Frank Hayes, the most genuine of pals, from Tromp van Diggelen."
Frank Hayes was my father, and Tromp van Diggelen was my godfather, and it is just the kind of book he would give as a gift to a friend, because he loves such stories, and lived them himself. Like Lawrence George Green Tromp van Diggelen loved to go on journeys to out-of-the-way places, drawn by tales of lost cities and buried treasure. In his youth he was a wrestler, and later he was a physical fitness instructor, and my father, originally one of his pupils, became one of his friends.
I've been pulling the books off the shelves and rereading them for reasons related to family history. A researcher is trying to find out more about the life of Abraham Morris (1866-1922) the guerrilla fighter against the Germans in Namibia in 1906, and leader of the Bondelswarts Rebellion in 1922, in which he was killed.
Abraham Morris's mother was Annie Schyer of the Bondelswarts, and the story is that his father was a white trader named Morris. My wife Val's ancestry is part of the Morris family, who were traders in Namibia, so there is a possibility that Abraham Morris was related to us -- but how? There were two James Morrises, cousins, each with a brother William, who could possibly have been his father. So we search books like this looking for tiny clues that could place one or other of the Morrises in the right place at the right time to be Abraham's father.
This book mentions Abraham Morris only briefly, Thunder in the Blaaurberg gives more detail. But it has plenty of fascinting stories about various places and events.
One of the places of particular interest was the Leliefontein Methodist Mission Station, near Garies in the Northern Cape. It was a place where traders between Namibia and the Cape often called in the 19th century, and many people passed through there.
Other stories that interested me were those of the 1934 floods in Namibia, when the highest rainfall was recorded. It was the highest recorded up till then, and has never been exceeded since. When I lived in Windhoek 40 years ago there were still people around who remembered the floods of 40 years before, and there were signs in improbable places showing the levels that water in the rivers had reached then. Green tells several stories of the floods from people who actually experienced them. He also tells of odd characters and eccentrics, like the one who built a castle in the desert, and those who tried to climb lonely mountains, and, rather more sadly, those who kill baby seals for their fur.
We first heard of this book from a relative who told us that it documented the royal descent of the Green family (my wife Val is a member of this famiWe first heard of this book from a relative who told us that it documented the royal descent of the Green family (my wife Val is a member of this family), and indeed chapter 3, with the title "Blood Royal", is all about Edward, Duke of Kent, the father of Queen Victoria, and his lover Julie de St Laurent, whom he had to give up when he needed to make a suitable marriage tio produce an heir to the throne.
So far, so good. But the story is that the prince and Julie had a son, William Goodall Gteen, who was the ancestor of the Green family in South Africa. Unfortunately that is not so. The full story is told by Mollie Gillen in her book The Prince and his Lady. William Goodall Green was born in 1790 in Quebec, a year before Edward and Julie had ever set foot in Canada; his father was William Goodall, a London businessman, and his mother was Eliza Green, the daughter of a Quebec butcher. Green tells some fascinating stories, but at the most significant points this one is untrue. I've covered this in more detail here: Mystery cousins and royal legends | Hayes & Greene family history.
Another chapter, about a British spy in German South West Africa, mentions another mystery of our family history. The spy was Alexander Patterson Scotland, manager of a store on the border between the Cape Colony and German South West Africa. The Namas and Hereros rebelled against the Germans, and one of the leaders of the rebels was Abraham Morris, who was known to Scotland, and Lawrence G. Green tells something of his story in in chapter 6, "Hauptmann Schottland". Abraham Morris was also related though we are not sure how yet, and that is one of the problems we are working on in our current family history research.
I've read several of Lawrence G. Green's books, and most of them deal with stories of interesting characters or places, many of whom featured in news stories of their day, or sometimes rumours -- stories of outlaws like Scotty Smith, guerrilla fighters like Abraham Morris, spies like Alexander Scotland and many more. This one includes a diamond prospector, Solomon Rabinowitz, a visionary theorist of time, John William Dunne, a legenderay escaper and others. But the second half ofr the book was rather disappointing, where Green doesn't focus of people and places, and goes into themes, like tastes, sounds and smells of Africa, where he jumps from one place to another, and the story becomes rather fragmented.
As I said at the beginning, some of Green's stories, like the "Blood Royal" one, have been debunked, and most need to be taken with a pinch of salt, but he is a marvellous raconteur, and they are enjoyable reads, even if the history is sometimes doubtful.
I've been reading this book to mark the centenary of the beginning of the First World War.
The war could be said to have started a week earlier, on 28I've been reading this book to mark the centenary of the beginning of the First World War.
The war could be said to have started a week earlier, on 28 July 1914, with the Austria-Hungarian Empire's declaration of war on Serbia. Hostilities actually commenced on 29 July, with the Austrian shelling of Belgrade, but it was only on 4 August that German troops crossed the Belgian frontier, and only on 12 August that Austria actually invaded Serbia. German troops invaded neutral Luxembourg on 1 Agust, but the Luxembourg army did not resist, and German occupation was accepted under protest, but without fighting.
So 4 August 1914 was the day that rhetoric became reality, the start of the war that would be fought all over the world, and would last four years.
So this book, illustrated by the author, is a dramatic hour-by-hour account of the events of that day -- diplomatic, military and civilian.
The book was first published in 1970, a little over 50 years from the end of the war, and thus shortly after many of the restricted archival documents dealing with the war were released for public viewing. Thus the author can reveal not only Germany's public stand for peace and moderation with the deterioration of Austrian-Serbian relations following the assassination of the Archduke, but also that Germany secretly encouraged Austria to attack Serbia, in the belief that it would be a quick local war. When Russia began mobilising in support of Serbia, the Germans began to get cold feet, and urged restraint on Austria, but having been told that such peaceful utterances were for public consumption only, and were to be ignored, Austria went ahead anyway. German miliary planning required that France, Russia's ally, be attacked first, and the pathway to France lay through neutral Belgium, and so the fighting began, and brought Britain into the war. Many declarations of war preceded and followed this day, but this was the day on which serious fighting began.
Ian Ribbons bases his chronology on Greenwich mean time, so that one can see events that were happening almost simultaneously in widely separated places, and that only adds to the drama of the day. It would be a good read at any time, but on this day it is especially poignant. ...more
This book is about the 1970s as you probably don't remember them.
A quick glance at the cover and at the blurb gives the impression that it is a kind oThis book is about the 1970s as you probably don't remember them.
A quick glance at the cover and at the blurb gives the impression that it is a kind of cultural history of an era. For Francis Wheen the Seventies began existentially when he decided to drop out. As he describes it:
With my rucksack and guitar in hand, I came to London on 27 December 1973 brimming with the ambition and optimism of the Sixties -- a dream of change, a sense of limitless possibility -- only to find the Seventies enveloping the city like a pea-souper.
In another place he is more explcit:, when discussing when the Sixties ended and the seventies began:
So it goes for most of us as we try to reconcile our private histories with a public narrative. Philip Larkin, recording the start of free love in 1963, lamented that 'this was rather late for me.' For me, alas, it was rather too early. I came to the party a full decade later, on 27 December 1973, when I caught a train to London from suburban Kent, having left a note on the kitchen table advising my parents that I'd gone to join the alternative society and wouldn't be back. An hour or so later, clutching my rucksack and guitar, I arrived at the 'BIT Alternative Help and Information Centre,' a hippy hangout on Westbourne Park Road which I'd often seen mentioned in the underground press. 'Hi,' I chirruped. 'I've dropped out.' I may even have babbled something about wanting to build the counter-culture. This boyish enthusiasm was met by groans from a furry freak slumped on the threadbare sofa. 'Drop back in, man,' he muttered through a dense foliage of beard. 'You're too late... It's over.' And so it was. The Prime Minister, Edward Heath, had declared a state of emergency in November, his fifth in just over three years...
The promise these passages (and he blurb on the cover) give of the reconciliation of private histories with public narrative is not fulfilled. We are not told whether or how Francis Wheen dropped back in, or how he spent the rest of the Seventies. He presumably survived, or he wouldn't have written the book. So I was expecting a cultural history, but instead it was more of a political history, and the political history of the 1970s was laced with paranoia, at least according to Wheen.
So having established what the book is not, what is it?
It's the public narrative turned inside out.
Those of us who lived through the Seventies remember some of the headlines, and some of the major events. But what Francis Wheen does is take us behind the scenes, backstage, as it were, to see the stage props, and the actors without their make up. What were the motives for the much publicised political decisions? What was Edward Heath really up to with his successive states of emergency? What was the story behind Watergate, or Nixon's rapprochement with China, or the Allende coup in Chile? What was really going on with nihilistic terrorist groups like the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Tupamaros urban guerrillas in Uruguay, or the Symbionese Liberation Army?
Wheen has trawled through the various memoirs, diaries, letters and papers published by people close to the seats of power, and revealed some of the conversations about and motives for some of the decisions that were announced in the press. These documents were not available at the time, and it is only now that the inside stories can be revealed. Books have been published, archives made available, and Wheen concludes that Nixon, Heath and most of the other world leaders at the time were barking mad and quite paranoid. The Seventies were the paranoid decade, and that paranoia was the decade's major bequest to those who followed.
Most of us don't have time to read those documents, and so Francis Wheen has done it for us and made a digest of it to save us the trouble.
The trouble is that his selection of events to record would not have been mine. The events that stood out for him were not those that stood out for me, even in the public narrative.
Living in South Africa we were only very vaguely aware of Britains "winter of discontent" and its "Who governs Britain?" election (Answer: Nobody).
The Yom Kippur War of 1973 (40th anniversary at time of writing, but Telkom alone knows when I'll get to post this) made more of an impact. It meant the reopening of the Suez Canal, and within a few months I no longer looked out from my front door in Durban North on 30 or more ships in the roadstead waiting to enter Durban harbour, and one could walk on Durban's beaches without the lumps of crude oil making them took like the aftermath of an explosion in a Marmite factory.
There were some consequences of the Yom Kippur War that Wheen does mention, though -- reduced oil production, rising fuel prices, and fuel restrictions . The fuel restrictions (in South Africa) were announced in November 1973, with speed limits in towns of 50 km/h and on open roads of 80 km/h. On 30 November I was driving into town from Durban North along Umgeni Road -- the traffic was preferable to the sleep-inducing boredom of driving on the freeway at 50 km/h. I stopped at a robot and an Indian guy in the car next to me shouted, "Have you filled your tank, petrol is going up to a Rand a gallon." Several other people told me the same thing on that day. Rumours abounded, and queues at filling stations were long. Now I doubt if we'll see the fuel price as low as a Rand a litre again. But back then we were suddenly aware that whether we used it quickly or slowly, oil had to come to an end some day. Someone somewhere said that if every adult male Indian used toilet paper, the world's paper supply would be exhausted in two weeks. So yes, Wheen was right about that. The Seventies was a time of the feeling of an approaching disaster, of inflation and the imminent end of the world.
But in South Africa it was also the decade in which PW Botha and Magnus Malan decided to invade Angola (Wheen did not consult any diaries of their associates) and thus of what the South African public were led to believe was the "Border War", though much of it took place a long way from any borders.
In the 1960s, under Vorster, South Africa had turned into a police state, but with the accession of P.W. Botha there was a military take-over, By the end of the Seventies the "Border War" had mutated into the "total onslaught" and South Africa came to be ruled by a military junta which lasted throughout the 1980s.
So in Wheen's book I was expecting more of a cultural history of the 1970s, though there was not much of that. But the book did inspire me to think of how we do reconcile our private histories with public narratives, even if Wheen does not deliver on this. I'll continue with that theme on my blog, since it drifts away from the actual content of the book.
Since Namibia became independent in 1990 there has been increased interest in its history, including its pre-colonial history. The problem is that theSince Namibia became independent in 1990 there has been increased interest in its history, including its pre-colonial history. The problem is that there are few written sources for that period, and even fewer published ones, and many of those that were published (mostly in the 19th century) have long been out of print.
Captain T.G. Een spent some time in Damaraland (Hereroland) and Ovamboland between 1866 and 1871, and when he returned to his native Sweden published an account of his experiences in 1872. The archives of Namibia have been published some of their manuscriupt holdings, such as letters and diaries of European missionaries and traders who were in Namibia at that period. But diaries are personal documents, and tend to be quite sketchy.
Thanks to a grant from the Swedish Agency for Research Co-operation for Underdeveloped Countries, Eens books has now been translated into English by Jalmar and Ioene Rudner, and published with a new introduction and annotations by the Namibia Scientific Society.
Unlike a diarist, or even most letter writers, Een is writing for readers who have never seen the country he describes, and so he gives a vivid word picture of the places he visited and the people he met. In some ways the descriptions are superficial. Een was a sailor, not a trained anthropologist (actually there were no trained anthropologists in that period). He describes the everyday life and customs of the Herero and Ovambo people as he observed them, but he did not speak the languages of those peoples well, and communicated through interpreters who used Dutch, which Een did not speak well himself. So while he describes external customs, his interpretation of their inner meaning tends to be skimpy and shallow. One of his complaints was that the German missionaries, who had studied the languages, kept their knowledge to themselves, and were unwilling to share it with others who wanted to know the people of the country better.
He gives some interesting details of relations between different groups of people. When he first arrived in 1866 with C.J. Andersson, the Anglo-Swedish explorer and trader, they were based at Otjimbingwe on the Swakop River, which was then the capital of Damaraland (Hereroland). There were then at least four distinct groups of Herero-speaking people -- the followers of Maharero, the followers of Zeraua, the Himba of the Kaokoveld to the northwest, and the Mbanderu of the east. Maharero and Zeraua and their retinues lived at Otjimbingwe, and they were occasionally invited to dinner by Andersson, but never at the same time. When Zeraua came to dinner, he sat at the table. But when Maharero came to dinner, he sat on a chair by the door, away from the table, because of his bad table manners. But Andersson did not want them to know of this different treatment.
When I lived in Namibia over 40 years ago one of the things I wondered about was how traders back in the 19th century managed to travel with their ox wagons through the waterless Namib desert. A few miles outside Luderitz there was a railway halt called Grasplatz, because they used to store grass for the oxen there, for the next stage of the journey. The diarists described "wagon trains" going from Otjimbingwe to Walvis Bay and returning, but they don't describe how they did it. But Een does describe it, in some detail. And that is the kind of thing that makes his book interesting.
Of course, like a diary, it is still a personal book. He praises the Damaras (Hereros) at some points, but criticises them at others. He thinks they are lazy, ungrateful scroungers, and makes no bones about it, and gives several examples. But he also writes of several that he regards as friends. When I was in Namibia a century later, I had several Herero friends, but none fitted that description. I did know one or two scroungers, but other Hereros thought they were weird too. But perhaps a hundred years of history can make a big difference, to all parties.
So we have Een's view of people of other cultures, but his description of them for the benefit of Swedes also tells us something about 19th-century Swedish culture and values. One of the interesting sidelights was that, according to the translators' notes, there were 137 white people in Damaraland at that time (though the number can't have been constant, they were always coming and going). They were of various different national origins, but the missionaries were all Germans of the Rhenish missionary society. Een describes the differing responses to the news that the Germans had won the Franco-Prussian War.
All whites who were not of German nationality wished the French army to be victorious, and we awaited news from the front with intense interest. When the victories of the German forces became known, in their usual manner of course, started bragging and blustering and behaving arrogantly. Of course these wonderful victories with all their bloody deeds, which have taken the European civilization a big step backward, had to be observed and celebrated with German thoroughness here in the wilderness also. To begin with, Mr Hahn, the High Priest of the missionaries, took down the mission flag, a red cross on a white background, and raised the flag of the North German Federation instead. The holy sign of the cross had to be replaced by that of 'das grosse Vaterland'. The common symbol of peace of the Celestial Empire for all peoples had to give way to the German nation's flag of victory. That was not enough. The black Christian brethren must not be left ignorant and unstirred by the victories of the Germans... The Negro boys (presumably from the mission school) were surely less interested in their German brethren's victories than in the slaughtered ox with which they were treated to mark the occasion... All we white men were upset by this deed which we found improper in a neutral country, and especially coming from men of the cloth who should preach peace or at least avoid open approval of war, which they otherwise condemned in their preaching to the natives...
Een responded to this by raising a Swedish flag over his house at Omaruru, and went on to say,
In order to counteract all influences of the German flag still further, I made another flag of my own design, a large white star on a blue background. I hoisted this flag and tried to explain to Old Wilhelm (Chief Zeraua) that it was the flag of the Damara people, the symbol of their unity and harmony about which they should gather in times of danger to defend their country.
It little details like these that make Een's book an interesting read, and help to bring the past to life.
It was also interesting to me because Een was a friend of Fred and Kate Green, my wife's great great grandparents, and throws some interesting light on the family history. I'll deal with that in an expanded version of this review on our family history blog. ...more
Axel Wilhelm Eriksson (1846-1901) was a nineteenth-century Swedish hunter and trader in south-west Africa, and this "life and letters" book gives a piAxel Wilhelm Eriksson (1846-1901) was a nineteenth-century Swedish hunter and trader in south-west Africa, and this "life and letters" book gives a picture of his life, and what life was like for others there at that time.
All agree that everyone who knew him liked A.W. Eriksson, and he was well-known and widely-respected in what are now Namibia and Angola. That did not stop them from abusing his hospitality, taking advantage of his kind and generous nature, and cheating him on every possible occasion.
It took me nearly three months to read this book, mainly because I interrupted it by reading some of the sources on which it was based.
Axel Wilhelm was born in Vänersborg, Sweden (then spelt Wenersborg) on 24 August 1846, and in 1865, at the age of 18, he travelled to Damaraland (Hereroland), now part of Namibia to help his fellow-Swede, Charles John Andersson, to collect and mount specimens of the animals and birds of southern Africa for Swedish museums. Within 18 months of Eriksson's arrival Andersson had died and Eriksson buried him in what is now southern Angola.
Eriksson then carried on hunting and trading on his own account, and became the biggest businessman in Damaraland, though he had to face setbacks caused by wars, droughts and, in 1897, the Rinderpest, the cattle plague that killed off most of the cattle in sub-Saharan Aftica.
My interest in him is twofold: having lived in Namibia for a couple of years I am interested in its history, and Axel Wilhelm Eriksson married a relative of my wife, Frances (Fanny) Stewardson, so their children are related. You can see more about that on our blig here: Elusive Namibian families.
The marriage was not a happy one, and ended i n divorce ten years later, when Axel Eriksson found that Fanny had committed adultery with his clerk, Clement Stephen Stonier. In one of his letters he described his marriage as "ten years of hell". After the divorce, in 1883, he took his three oldest children, Sara (nearly 10), Andrew (6) and Axel (nearly 5) to Sweden to go to school there, and to be cared for by his elder sister Mathilda Olsen, who had herself been deserted by her husband. The youngest daughter, Maud, was brought up by cousins in Cape Town, where she married James Kirby, and later lived in England.
Axel Wilhelm Eriksson was joined in Damaraland by several of his brothers and a number of other Swedes, some of whom also became related by marriage by marrying into the Stewardson family, namely Oskar Theodore Lindholm and Charles Reinhold Carlsson. ...more
A couple of weeks ago I wrote in a blog post Gunning for the Dixons about some of the problems of locating the Dixon family in what is now Namibia.
WeA couple of weeks ago I wrote in a blog post Gunning for the Dixons about some of the problems of locating the Dixon family in what is now Namibia.
We were interested because some members of my wife's family had married into a Dixon family (as described in the blog post in the link above) and they also appeared to be business partners of the Dixon family, but most of the records we had found were confusing and it was possible that there was more than one Dixon family. We made contact with the author of this book, but weren't able to get hold of a copy because of a postal strike. Now at last we have a copy, and things become a little bit clearer.
This book deals with only one of the families, and makes no mention at all of the other, but that at least helps us to say that people who can be identified as members of this family are very unlikely to be members of the other.
Both Dixon families were probably Irish in origin, however.
The two Dixon families are:
1. Benjamin Dixon and Lodivia Manifold (the subjects of this book) 2. Peter Daniel Dixon and Whilhelmina Hendriks
I will refer to them as the "Ben Dixon" and "Peter Dixon" families.
Ben Dixon became a business partner of James Morris, and their two families set out for Namibia in 1843, travelling overland by ox waggon. They were Wesleyan Methodists and travelled part of the way with some Wesleyan missionaries, and stayed at mission stations on the way. They crossed the Orange (Gariep) river on Christmas day 1843, and reached Walvis Bay in about June 1844. This is all described in detail in the book, seen through the eyes of the Dixons' eldest daughter Jane, who was 13 years old when they left, and had her 14th birthday on the journey.
The Dixon and Morris families built two houses and a store on the Kuiseb River, at a place they named Sandfontein, about three miles from the present town of Walvis Bay, and began trading for cattle, which they exported to St Helena to provide meat for the British garrison there. In September 1844 Mary Morris gave birth to a daughter at Sandfontein (she was named Sarah Ann Kuisip, because she was born on the Kuiseb River, though that is not mentioned in the book).
They kept a couple of lion cubs as pets, and various sailors from ships in Walvis Bay harbour wanted to buy them, and when they would not sell, tried to steal them. Walvis Bay harbour was amazingly busy in those days, mainly with ships collecting guano from the offshore islands, and sometimes there were 10 or 12 of them in the bay at the same time, come to re-stock with stores before going back to collect more guano.
For a while the business prospered, and then things went bad. Fewer guano ships arrived, and many of the people inland who traded cattle for goods did not pay for the goods, and so Ben Dixon and James Morris had so go on debt collecting tours. The debtors, however, sometimes decided that they easiest way to pay their debts was simply to steal the cattle from someone else, or even from those to whom they were owed. One group bought a waggon for a number of cattle, and then took the cattle back to haul the waggon home. Complaints to the British government about this led to the St Helena contract being cancelled.
James Morris took a large herd of cattle overland to Cape Town, to try to sell them there, and returned by sea with his sister Fanny and her husband Frank Stewardson, and their two children. Fanny and Frank Stewardson were my wife Val's great-great-great grandparents, so snippets like that were of special interest to us.
So one thing that we learned from the book was that while that Ben Dixon and the Morris and Stewardson families were in a business partnership together, they did not intermarry.
Eventually Ben Dixon returned to the Cape Colony, but instead of going back to Cape Town he settled in Little Namaqualand, on a farm near the town of Garies. Their eldest daughter Jane married William Latham, and remained in what is now Namibia until her husband's death, then went to stay with her parents. The second daughter, Rebecca, married Frank Bassingthwaighte, and their family remained in Namibia, and some of their descendants are still there today. The younger members farmed in the Northern Cape, and so the Ben Dixon family is mainly associated with Namaqualand, as the book's title suggests.
The Peter Dixon family seems to be entirely different, though also perhaps originally from Ireland.
Peter Daniel Dixon was the son of McCombe Donald Dixon and Maria Sprewt. He was born in the Cape Colony about 1821, and married Wilhelmina Hendriks, by whom he had at least 7 children. He was trading in Walvis Bay in the early 1860s, and his daughter married Fred Green, the elephant hunter, but died in about 1860, and they seem to have had no children. Fred Green then married Sarah Kaipukire, and after a separation or divorce, married Catherine Stewardson, the daughter of Frank and Fanny Stewardson mentioned above. So Fred Green was married into the Peter Dixon family, but was also friendly with the Ben Dixon family.
Peter Dixon married a second time to Annie Cloete, probably in Damaraland, but if they had any children, we know nothing of them.
Though it appears that we are not related to the Ben Dixon family either by descent or marriage, the book was nevertheless a fascinating and informative read, and gives a good insight into life 150 years ago.
When I saw this book in the Protea Bookshop in Pretoria, I immediately bought it, mainly because of my interest in family hsitory and Namibian historyWhen I saw this book in the Protea Bookshop in Pretoria, I immediately bought it, mainly because of my interest in family hsitory and Namibian history. My wife Val's paternal great grandfather, Frederick Vincent Greene, was born at Ehangero, Damaraland, in 1868. His father, Frederick Thomas Green, a Canadian, lived in Damaraland for 25 years as a hunter and trader, and when he died in 1876 William Chapman attended him at his death bed, at Heigamkab in the dry bed of the Swakop river. He describes the scene in his book in some detail.
The late Mr Frederick Green had arrived shortly before at the bay [Walvis Bay] and had gone with his family on a trip to Cape Town so I decided to wait for his return and then go with him to the interior. During the time I was waiting for Mr Green I enjoyed the hospitality of Mr John Gunning, the manager of Mr A.W. Eriksson's store in Walvisch Bay.
When Mr Green returned I joined him and we left the Bay for the interior, he was very unwell. After reaching Hykamgap in the Swakop River he became worse and died on the 4th May 1876, succumbing to what Mr Palgrave said was an acscess on the liver, the last days of his illness being marked by vomiting. I was in the wagon with him during the last night and present when he breathed his last. Poor man, he left a widow and a number of children!
Chapman goes on to give a summary of what he knew of the life of Fred Green, who had been a friend of his father, James Chapman.
Family historians like to get birth, marriage and death certificates for information about their ancestors, but there was no registration of these events in Namibia in those days -- at that time the country consisted of a number of mini-states that sometimes quarrelled among themselves. Fred Green's death took place during one of the peaceful interludes, though he himself had participated in some of the earlier battles. But Chapman gives as much information as most death certificates, and with a more human touch.
William Chapman went to Damaraland as a teenager to seek his fortune. He had a romantic notion of following in the footsteps of his father James Chapman, and saw Fred Green as a Nimrod who would teach him the ropes. He was 16 at the time.
Instead he had to be content with Fred Green's brothers-in-law, William and Charles Stewardson, teenagers not much older than himself, who were equipped and sent out to hunt and trade by the aforementioned Mr A.W. Eriksson. It makes me wonder about the youth of today. How many parents would send three kids aged 16 or 17 out on a business trip, putting them in charge of expensive equipment, and in a country full of wild animals, some of which they would hunt, and others which would hunt them? Though I suppose we do send them to war, to hunt and kill other human beings.
But William Chapman did not get on well with the Stewardson brothers, nor they with him. Reading between the lines, it sounds like a high school kid being excluded from a gang. The Stewardsons had been brought up rough, in a desert country. Chapman was the citified kid, who had been to a relatively posh school, which taught him gentelman's manners. The Stewardsons preferred the company of their Damara and Herero servants, and at nights around the campfire preferred to talk to them, in their own languages, thus excluding the city slicker, who spoke only English and Dutch.
Chapman grew up fast, however, and eventually went into business on his own account, and migrated northwards to Angola, where he farmed, hunted and traded for 48 years.
The book is in two parts. The first part, the reminiscences proper, he began to write in 1916, mainly for his children, or at least at their request, and is the story of his life and of the people he encountered. The second part is an account of the Dorsland Trekkers, who left the Transvaal when it was under British rule about 1880, and went north-west through what is now Botswana, ending up in Angola, which was gradually coming under Portuguese rule.
It seems that he may have intended the second part for publication, but never actually got round to finishing it, because there are blanks for things like dates and names to be filled in later, and towards the end it is in obvious need of much editing. Most of the last part is a series of anecdotes intended to show how terrible Portuguese rule in Angola was, and why the Dorsland trekkers left after having lived there for nearly 50 years. There is no account of how they left and what subsequently happened to them.
Except for those last 50 or so pages, the book is very readable, and gives an interesting picture of what life was like in Namibia and Angola a century or more ago. There are also several photographs.
One of the things that struck me was some strange inconsistencies. I'm not sure if they were mere personal idiosyncracies, or if they were attitdes common among white people living there at the time. At times Chapman rails against the Portuguese for their unjust treatment of the "natives", and gives accounts of such practices as forced labour, imprisonment (and even killing) without trial, confiscation of livestock and so on. And then in another place he accuses the Portuguese of over-familiarity, giving chairs to natives to sit on when they meet for discussions and similar malpractices. The British and the Boers, he avers, would never sink to that level.
The value of the book is enormously enhanced by comprehensive annotations by the editor, Nicol Stassen. He has gone to a great deal of trouble to identify people and places mentioned in the text and to provide useful information about them in footnotes. It is almost worth buying the book for these alone.
Reviewing a book is always a subjective exercise, but even more so when you know the author. I first met Michael Lapsley in 1974, when he came with anReviewing a book is always a subjective exercise, but even more so when you know the author. I first met Michael Lapsley in 1974, when he came with another member of the Society of the Sacred Mission to speak to our youth group in an Anglican parish in Durban North. He had only recently arrived in South Africa from New Zealand.
Our paths have crossed at fairly long intervals since then, partly because he was deported from South Africa and for long periods I did not have a passport, so when he was deported I did not expect that I would ever see him again. In 1977 I had a passport for a brief period, and we went to Swaziland on holiday, and he happened to be there too, also on holiday. But when he returned to South Africa he was in Cape Town and we were in Gauteng.
Nevertheless, we lived through the same period of South African history and so even though our paths crossed rarely, they were sometimes parallel. So there were several parts of the book where I felt as though I was reading something that I could have written. I cannot discuss all the thoughts that the book provoked in me in a single review, so I'll probably write a couple of blog posts about some aspects of it later. For now I'll concentrate on the core of the book, which is the healing of memories.
The book begins with the bomb that maimed Michael Lapsley in April 1990, which became the defining moment of his life, and changed the course of his life to a new ministry of healing of memories. And that is where our paths diverged, because I never experienced anything like that.
About 2/3 of the book is taken up with the healing of memories, and it made me think about it more, which no doubt is what was intended.
I had heard of the notion of the "healing of memories" before. When I was at college in Durham there was a book on Clinical theology by Frank Lake, which dealt with the topic, and became very popular. We had a fundi on the subject, Michael Hare-Duke, come to the college and tell us about it. It included the idea that the memories that needed to be healed went back to one's birth and beyond. It all seemed somewhat remote to me.
At about the same time there was a Roman Catholic priest, Francis MacNutt, who became involved in the charismatic renewal, and taught about the healing of memories. But I never read his book and it still seemed remote from me.
And now Michael Lapsley comes with this book and tells how we have all been wounded by apartheid and the struggle against it, and especially by what we have done, what we have failed to do, and what has been done to us.
And that made me think a bit more about it. It was a lot closer to home than Frank Lake or Francis MacNutt. I can think of many things I have done that I wish I had not done, usually because they have hurt other people. Perhaps those are memories that need to be healed, but most of them have little to do with apartheid or the struggle against it; they are more the result of my own captivity to the passions: anger, pride, lust, greed, impatience, the need for self-justification etc. I find it harder to think of things I have failed to do, because those are things that do not exist and have never existed. In what circumstances would it have made a difference if I had done something different? I'm not sure; it becomes speculative.
What has been done to me?
Well no one has ever sent me a parcel bomb, or if they did, it must have gone astray in the post.
I did once have a phone call from a guy who said, "Hayes, you bloody commie, I'm going to slit your throat." I said "Thank you," brightly and cheerily, and he hung up.
I've been banned, I've been deported from Namibia, and I've been sacked from a few jobs, and had my passport confiscated or applications for a passport refused, I've been forced to leave my home more than once. But none of those caused direct physical injury, like Michael's parcel bomb, or like many of the people described in the book as having been tortured, assassinated etc. So in all those things I haven't had the kind of resentment about ill-treatment that would make me feel a need to be reconciled to anyone in particular.
The evil of apartheid, as Michael Lapsley points out in his book, was systemic. No one person was responsible for it. Our struggle was not against blood and flesh, but against the principalities, the authorities, the world powers of this present darkness.
Well, I did discover one thing. Mr Vorster signed a banning order for me on 11 January 1966. I never received it because I skipped the country before it could be delivered, and I only discovered it a few years ago, in my Department of Justice file in the archives, and discovered that it had Mr Vorster's personal animosity behind it. But at the time I was not aware of the banning order, nor of the animus that lay behind it.
And a few months before, when talking to a friend who was preparing for baptism and had all sorts of questions about the Christian faith, she said, "We are supposed to thank God for everything, but how can you give thanks to God for Mr Vorster?" And I said, without thinking, "You can thank God for giving you Mr Vorster to love." And then wondered where that had come from, and if I had really said it. I concluded that it must have been one of those things that the Holy Spirit does.
The Security Police used to follow us around in those days, and we got to know some of them by sight, and we were on speaking terms with some of them. One in particular was Warrant Officer van Rensburg. I found his home address and when I was overseas I used to send him Christmas cards. Once they followed us to a meeting in a rural area, and when crossing a stream water got into the car's distributor, and we were stuck in the middle of the stream. A couple of us went on to the meeting on foot while the rest stayed and we took our time about cleaning the distributor, and the SB could not get past, and were furious with us, as they never made it to the meeting.
On their way back, however, their car got stuck on a ridge of rock, so that it was rocking with either the front or back wheels touching the ground, but not both. It also holed their petrol tank. We waved at them as we passed, and some of our party were gloating from schadenfreude, but I thought it was inappropriate, and said so. If we hadn't been late for the next meeting, I'd even have stopped to help them. They were victims of the system too, and were just doing their job. I don't think the ones I met were the ones who actually tortured anyone. They just watched people, tapped their phones, opened their mail, and interpreted what they saw and heard in terms of the demonic ideology that held them captive, and sent off reports coloured by that view to Kompol in Pretoria. And compol would in turn report to the Minister of Justice and say "Ban this one, remove that one's passport, detain that one, and charge that one with high treason." If I encountered any torturers, I didn't know it. I did know people who did encounter torturers, of course, on both sides of the conflict. But I got the feeling that the "healing of memories" part of the book was for them, not for me; for the tortured and the torturers, the bombers and the bombed. The closest it came to me was the sackers and the sacked.
Later, in 1972, a banning order did catch up with me. But I thought of it rather as a badge of honour than as something bad. The worst thing about it was a telegram I received from a Methodist minister friend, "Deep shock and anger at arbitrary action against you." It would have been more appropriate, it seemed to me, if he had said something like, "Congratulations! You've made it." Great is your reward in heaven, we are told (Matt 5:11-12). Why should a reward in heaven cause deep shock and anger?
So in all this, I could not think of anyone that I needed to be reconciled with, anyone who had caused a festering memory that needed healing -- at least not in relation to apartheid and the struggle against it.
But as I read the book more things came to mind. Some names came to mind. And I thought, yes, with those people there may still be some unfinished business. Interestingly enough, the names were all German. One was Jürgen Meinert, who in 1971 fired me from the Windhoek Advertiser, which he owned, along with the Allgemeine Zeitung. He hadn't hired me -- the editor had done that -- and I'd never met him and didn't even know who he was. I met him for the first time the day he fired me. On the same day he fired my friend Toni Halberstadt who was also involved with the Anglican Church in those days.
There was also Kurt Dahlmann, the editor of the Allgemeine Zeitung, who, some of my colleagues on the Windhoek Advertiser told me, had been gunning for me, and also wrote a lying editorial about me. He it was, they said, who asked Jürgen Meinert to fire us. But then in 1978 Kurt Dahlmann got a taste of his own medicine when he himself was fired by a new bnoss who was even more right-wing than he was. Perhaps it was Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid.
The third one was a Mr Klingenberg, a farmer of Commondale, near Piet Retief. He was the absentee landlord of a farm in the Utrecht district, on which there was a small Anglican Church, and one day, just as we were about to start a service, he came and closed the church at gunpoint. We thought that the SB had probably put him up to it.
So perhaps I do have some memories that need to be healed after all. And Michael Lapsley's book has made me think of them.
But then I think about it again, and think no, that is too trivial. I can say yes, I've suffered human rights abuses, but they weren't too gross; perhaps they were God's way of teaching me to sympathise with those for whom they were gross, like Michael Lapsley himself. Whatever human rights abuses I suffered were merely temporary inconveniences, for him they were permanent disabilities. When South Africa became free in 1994, my temporary inconveniences ceased; but Michael Lapsley's disability will last for the rest of his life. ____
This book is tale of three cities -- Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut. But it is a great deal more than that, as it is also the history of the region ofThis book is tale of three cities -- Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut. But it is a great deal more than that, as it is also the history of the region of the world in which the three cities are located, the region known to the French as the Levant, which is equivalent of the Latin "Orient", and means the land of the rising sun. More specifically, it refers to the lands bordering the Eastern Mediterranean which, from the 16th century to the 20th, were part of the Ottoman Empire.
The three cities that feature in the story (to which can be added a fourth, Salonica), were trading ports in this period, and were subject to a great deal of foreign influence, and in some periods the consuls of the trading nations, mainly West European, had more influence than the Ottoman government, or even its local representatives.
One result of this was that these cities became cosmopolitan, with a great variety of races, religions, languages and cultures represented in them.
Western Europeans were known as Franks, and the ones who were most active at the beginning of the period were Venetians and Genoans, and a kind of piggin Italian, known as Lingua Franca (the language of the Franks) became the de facto language of business in the Levant. In later times French and British influence overshadowed the Italian, but the concept of a Lingua Franca as a language of trade remained.
Much of the trade was in the hands of dynasties of foreign merchants, families who lived in the Levant for generations, yet never became assimilated into the local culture. In the 19th century, however, there were forces of change and modernisation. In Egypt Muhammed Ali, the Albanian-born Ottoman governor, aided by the foreign consuls in Alexandria, made Egypt virtually independent. The foreign communities had their own schools, and even universities, using their own languages rather than Arabic or Turkish.
In the 19th century there was also growing nationalism, both in the local regions becoming aware of themselves as distinct nationalitities as opposed to the Ottoman Empire, and also the powers behind the foreign communities, such as Britain and France, and later Greece.
Mansel presents the history of the Levant as a struggle between cosmopolitanism (good) and nationalism (bad). Nationalism could not tolerate cosmopolitan cities, except where nationalists perceived trade as advantageous to their cause, and in the 20th century the cosmopolitan cities were nationalised, and made homogeneous, some more violently than others. Cosmopolitan Salonica became Greek Thessaloniki. Cosmopolitan Smyrna became Turkish Izmir. Alexandria expelled the foreign communities in the 1960s (even those whose members were Egyptian-born), and Beirut was torn apart by civil war in the 1970s.
I was aware of some of these events, from reading about them in other histories, or, in the case of more recent ones, in newspapers, but Mansel manages to weave the different threads into a tapestry to create a coherent picture.
Mansel's sympathies lie strongly with the cosmopolitan side, and at times I think he paints too rosy a picture of it. For one thing, the "cosmopolitan" side of these cities was the preserve of a wealthy elite, and did not affect most of the local people at all, or at least not in any advantageous way. And though I am sure that Mansel is correct in his assessment of the harm done by nationalism (much of the present tension in the region is the result of competing Arab and Jewish nationalism), the cosmopolitan paradise is, I suspect, overrated. In Lebanon before the civil war of 1975, for example, Mansel points out that deals were more important than ideals, and seems to regard this as a desirable state of affairs. But I wonder who prospered, and though those who prospered as a result of the war were an even smaller minority, I suspect that it was the very obsession with money that increased the dissatisfaction that led to the civil war in the first place.
In spite of this, however, the book is useful in helping to untangle some of the threads of mechantilism, captialism, nationalism and imperialism that affected and continue to affect the region once known as the Levant. ...more
Occasionally one comes across a book that explains some things that one has always wondered about, and this is one of them. I've read several historieOccasionally one comes across a book that explains some things that one has always wondered about, and this is one of them. I've read several histories overing the period of the Second World War, and even did a History Honours paper on modern Germany, which covered that period. but there were some things that I never understood, and this book has helped to explain some of them.
The things that I find most interesting in history are transitions: from peace to war, or from war to peace; transitions such as revolutions, and other things that make big changes in people's lives. And I want to know how these changes affected people. This book deals with one such period: the end of the Second World War in Europe.
I knew, from reading other history books, that one of the problems facing the victorious Allies after the surrender of Nazi Germany was that of Displaced Persons, or DPs as they were known. But it was never really clear who these people were, or what were the problems they posed. Why couldn't they just go home once the fighting was over?
It was not until I read this book that I realised that there was a difference between DPs and refugees, and just what constituted the problem. I thought that Displaced Persons included anyone who was left far from home when the fighting ended, including refugees, prisoners of war, and people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the war started, like "enemy aliens".
But it appears that in the minds of the Allied administrators DPs were a particular class of persons, people who were brought to Germany during the war, voluntarily or forcibly, as labourers.
As the war expanded, with the successive German invasions of Poland, Norway, the Low Countries, France, the Balkans and the USSR, so more and more Germans were conscripted for miliary service, leaving labour shortages in the farms and factories in Germany. To alleviate this shortage, the Nazi government recruited or conscripted labourers from the occupied territories to keep production going. Apart from a few volunteers from places like France, most were in fact slave labourers.
In an ideal world, once the war ended the demobilised soldiers would go back to their old jobs and the labourers would go home. But the old jobs were sometimes no longer there, because the factories had been bombed, and the transport infrastructure likewise. Also, once the war ended the last thing most of the forced labourers wanted to do was to continue working for the Germans.
The Allies had foreseen some of this, and had set up the United Nations Rehabilitation and Relief Administration (UNRRA) to deal with it once the war ended, but bureaucratic bungling and ineffective leadership meant that took a long time to work effectively. UNRRA was also dependent on the miliary authorities in the four different occupation zones for such things as transport, and the miliary authorities had other priorities, so urgently needed food and medical supplies often took a long time to arrive.
Camps were set up for DPs, to provide food and shelter until they could be sent home, but they were of many different nationalities, and some of the more nationalistically-minded of them demanded to be housed in separate camps, and nationalities were disputed. For example, at the end of the war, Poland had moved westwards, and DPs who had been born in Poland before the war found that their homes were now part of the USSR, and the USSR claimed them as its citizens, and they did not want to return home.
Jews and Ukrainians demanded to be treated as separate nationalities, and to live in separate camps, though at that time there were no separate states for those nationalities. Zionists from Palestine visited the Jewish DP camps, and persuaded most of the inmates to demand that they be "repatriated" to Palestine, something which the British, in their zone, were reluctant to encourage, because since the First World War they had governed Palestine under a League of Nations mandate, and the Arab population there were opposed to more Jewish immigration.
Many of the DPs from Eastern Europe, which was now under Soviet control, had no desire to go back home, and many wanted to go to America, which had seen hardly any fighting in its own territory during the war. Because of the westward movement of Poland, many Germans were expelled from western Poland (which before the war had been eastern Germany), and this aggravated the problems. Immediately after the end of the war there were outbreaks of diseases like typhus in the DP camps, though newly-invented drugs and insecticides, like penicillin and DDT, helped to control them.
One of the biggest problems was feeding the population of the camps, and indeed the population generally, was the problem of feeding them. One of the things that had puzzled me in the past was why in Britain, there was no bread rationing during the war, such rationing was introduced in 1946, and food rationing in Britain was more severe immediately after the war than it was during the war. This book provides an explanation of that too.
The influx of yet more refugees placed an intolerable burden on the British Zone. Only 17 per cent of those who had entered the zone by 15 June 1946 were adult males, and only 60 per cent of those were fit for work. The arrival of 750,000 economically unproductive expellees aggravated the food, housing and public health situation. In late 1948 there would be 243 people per square kilometre in the zone, compared with 167 in the American and 131 in the French; it was estimated that, if you reckoned on one person per room, the British Zone was short of 6.5 million rooms. The situation was at its worst in Schleswig-Holstein, where 120,000 people were still living in camps.
To feed the extra mouths, the British authorities made desperate efforts to raise food production and make the zone more self-supporting. They had some 650,000 acres of grassland ploughed up -- top produce, it was hoped, a 10 per cent increase in the grain harvest and and a 75 per cent increase in potatoes. They tried to persuade farmers to slaughter their livestock hers, so as to provide meat and reduce the demand on arable pasture and on feedstuffs. They forbade the growing of luxury crops; cut the amount of grain allowed for brewing; encouraged the cultivation of vegetables in town gardens and allotments; did what they could to compel farmers to bring their produce to market.
But this policy was only partially successful. The farmers of northern Germany, who were by long tradition animal husbandmen and not cereal growers, resisted attempt to change their ways; there wasn't the staff to enforce the changes. Food production was further handicapped by shortages of seed, fertilisers and equipment. British policy fell between two stools, providing neither effective coercion nor effective incentives.
It was clear that clear that considerable imports would continue to be necessary for several years. The British would have to juggle the needs of the Germans against those of their own population -- whose bread was rationed in 1946 -- and other regions of the world, such as India (Shephard 2011:246)
Another interesting facet of the food problem lay far from Europe, in America:
On the face of it there should not have been a food problem at all after the war. More than enough was produced in the western hemisphere -- and in particular, in the United States -- to feed the starving Europeans, and probably the starving Asians as well. The war years had seen a second agricultural revolution in the United States, as a severe labour shortage led to the systematic application of mechanisation and fertilisers which transformed the productivity of the land. By 1946 American agriculture was producing a third more food and fibre than before the war, and with much less labour.
However, Americans now wanted to eat more meat, and it paid their farmers to feed their cereals to the livestock needed to produce that meat, rather than to human beings. For the first time in history, high meat consumption in one major country would distort agricultural output all over the world.
However, the roots of the problem went back further than that. The people who ran US agriculture were mindful of the huge surpluses in the 1930s, when overproduction had destroyed farm prices: their main objective was to avoid any repetition of that nightmare. At the end of 1944 the United States War Food Administration had decoded from a few shreds of doubtful evidence that Europe was not going to starve when the war ended. Accordingly -- and against the advice of Herbert Lehman -- it took steps to avoid overproduction, by reining in farm output, relaxing rationing controls so that American civilians could eat up existing food stocks and stopping all stockpiling for relief. The object of this "bare shelves" policy, says historian Allen J. Matusow, "was to come as close as possible to see that the last GI potato, the last GI pat of butter and last GI slice of bread was eaten just as the last shot was fired". Its potentially disastrous effects of European relief were soon apparent and by the spring of 1945 public figures such as Herbert Hoover were warning of the perils ahead. Yet it was almost a year before decisive action was taken, partly thanks to Lehman's ineffectiveness in Washington, and partly due to the different priorities of the Truman administration, and its Secretary of Agriculture, Clinton P. Anderson, who was determined to put the interests of the American consumer before those of relief.
Which is where meat comes in. If there is a villain in this story, it is the sheer hoggery of the American military, which insisted on annually requisitioning 430 pounds of meat per soldier, thus taking up a fair amount of the available livestock and diverting grain production away from human consumption. However, in wartime meat had been rationed for the American domestic consumer; with the coming of peace, and Americans now eating considerably better than in the 1930s, there was huge pressure on Washington to remove the rationing, while the incentive to American farmers to sell their cereals for animal rather than human consumption remained strong. In November 1945, the Truman administration removed all rationing from meat, oil and fats (Shephard 2011:251).
Reading about the problems faced by UNRRA, and especially the bureaucratic bunglings described in the first few chapters of the book, also helps me to understand some of the failures of transformation in South Africa. In both cases, the planners underestimated the hugeness of the task. And as in South Africa, where so much of the money earmarked for development is siphoned off into the bottomless pit of corruption, so in post-War Europe, much disappeared in a similar fashion, and also into the black market.
What I liked about this book was that it did not just describe things in terms of bald statistics and policies and minutes of meetings, but also tells the human story of the people in the camps, and what life was like for them, and it uses not only official sources, but diaries, letters and personal accounts written by military officers, UNRRA officials, and DPs themselves. This gives a fuller and more human picture. ...more
This is a 700-page history book that reads like, and is as gripping as a novel. It covers the first battle of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, the battle oThis is a 700-page history book that reads like, and is as gripping as a novel. It covers the first battle of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, the battle of Isandlwana, when the British invaded Zululand, and retreated with a bloodied nose.
The term "history book" needs to be qualified, of course. Many historians believe that detailed descriptions of battles are not real history. For real historians, they might say, the actual battle is not important, only the causes and the results.
This book is not even about the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 as such. It is just about the opening battles, or to be strictly accurate, the opening battle, the Battle of Isandlwana. The Battle of Rorke's Drift was a mere side-show, boosted by the British war propaganda machine to divert attention from their defeat at Isandlwana.
Having said that, however, Ian Knight describes the causes of the war at some length, and it is interesting to compare it with other books on the same topic. There was a flurry of books on the Anglo-Zulu War around the time of its centenary in 1879.
I became interested in the topic when I learned that my great grandfather had fought in the war. My grandmother had died three years before we became seriously interested in family history, but I talked to her cousin, whose mother's birthday book had an entry for Captain Richard Wyatt Vause VC. The VC bit sounded rather unlikely to me, but I asked other members of the family, and one cousin had my great grandfather's diary of the Anglo-Zulu War. He wasn't a VC, and he wasn't a captain, but he was a Lieutenant in the Natal Native Horse, and he was one of the few on the British side who escaped alive after the Battle of Isandlwana. I'm glad he did, because if he hadn't I wouldn't be here.
A second reason for my interest was that I was living in Zululand at the time of the centenary of the war, and we visited the battlefield both on the centenary itself, and for the centenary celebrations four months later. On the actual centenary there were some overweight people marching up and down wearing British redcoat uniforms, no doubt left over costumes from the filming of Zulu Dawn. At the celebrations there were some descendants of members of the Zulu army running up and down, also overweight, and quite exhausted by their exertions. I suspect their great grandfathers would have been quite amused.
When I first became interested in the Anglo-Zulu War the most up-to-date account was The washing of the spears by Donald R. Morris, so I read it. Now, forty years later, Ian Knight has produced a new account, and it is quite interesting to compare them. Both are very readable accounts, and well written.
In the intervening period there has been a lot of effort to collect more primary source material and make it more accessible to researchers, so Knight had access to a lot more source material than Morris did, and he quotes from it quite extensively. So Knight's book has some first-hand accounts from both sides (including excerpts from my great grandfather's diary). This makes the story come alive more, so that on reading it, one almost feels that one has been there.
This also means that Knight can fill in some gaps, and answer some of the questions that could not be answered in Morris's account. Morris, for example, mentions a 12-year-old drummer boy, who was strung up by the heels and had his throat cut. Knight mentions that there were rumours of such things in the press, and stories to that effect later told by soldiers to frighten new recruits, but there was no evidence that any such thing happened, or that there was anyone younger than 17 in the British army, and the drummers were mostly middle-aged men. There may have been a few that young on the Zulu side, but they were not actually soldiers, but rather camp followers, perhaps come to help carry equipment for an older brother, and to catch a glimpse of the excitement.
There are some curious differences in the accounts of the lead-up to the war. Morris and Knight emphasise different points, and each includes some things that the other omits. Morris's account, with fewer sources available, is sometimes contradictory. He appears to accept the British propaganda line that Zululand, with its large army was a threat to Natal, and that the British therefore had no choice but to invade Zululand to deal with this perceived threat, but at the same time he acknowledges that King Cetshwayo of Zululand had no hostile intentions towards Natal, and simply wanted to live in peace.
Both books deal with the confederation policy of Lord Carnarvon, the British Colonial Secretary, which was the real cause of the war. Carnarvon wanted to unite the various colonies, republics and independent kingdoms of southern Africa under British rule. Both books mention that the invasion of Zululand was preceded by the British annexation of the Transvaal by the erstwhile Natal secretary for Native Affairs, Theophilus Shepstone. Knight, however, comes up with the explanation, which was new to me (or else I simply hadn't appreciated it before) that Shepstone introduced the whole confederation scheme in conversations with Carnarvon, and convinced him that it could work in South Africa as it had in Canada in 1867.
Knight, however, omits all mention of James Anthony Froude, Carnarvon's spin doctor for confederation, who was sent to convince everyone of its benefits. He does mention that the Cape Colony was brought around to the idea by the simple expedient of sacking its prime minister, but omits a description of the way in which the same object was achieved in Natal, where Sir Garnet Wolseley was sent to "drown the liberties" of the colonists in sherry and champagne.
In military matters, though I am no expert in such things, I think Knight gives a more accurate picture. Morris speaks of Zululand as having a large "standing army", which is not quite true. The Zulu military system at that time more closely resembled that of the Swiss, with all males of military age subject to call-up, and being called upon to attend the king at various times. They generally provided their own weapons (only the shields were government issue). It was the British empire that had a standing army, like the two battalions of the 24th regiment, who were full-time professional soldiers, armed, fed and paid by the government. That was why the British lost the battle of Isandlwana, but won the war, because a standing army has a better chance in a drawn-out campaign.
Morris also, for some strange reason, plays down the fact that both sides used firearms. The blurb in the front of Morris's book emphasises this even more:
In 1879, armed only with their spears, their rawhide shields, and their incredible courage, the Zulus challenged the might of Victorian England and, initially, inflicted on the British the worst defeat a modern army has ever suffered at the hands of men without guns.
It is true that the British infantry were better trained in the use of firearms, and had state-of-the-art Martini-Henry rifles, which had a longer range and were more accurate than most of the guns in the Zulu army, but until the fighting got to very close quarters, most of it was by exchanges of gunfire. In hand-to-hand fighting, the British used bayonets fixed to the end of their rifles, while the Zulus used short stabbing spears. The bayonets had a longer reach, but once someone got inside that reach, it was over.
[Author:Ian Knight] also makes it pretty clear that war was not the romantic and glorious affair that was pictured in contemporary Victorian paintings. It was brutal, vicious and messy. Both sides killed prisoners and unarmed civilians. Some, like George Hamilton-Browne, would probably today be described as a war criminal, and his troops seem to have behaved like Arkan's Tigers in more recent times, though Hamilton-Brown treated his own troops pretty badly.
Another thing that comes out in Knight's account is the parallels between the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and the Iraqi-American War of 2003. There was the same spin-doctoring in search of a casus belli, the same scare tactics and bogus threats (weapons of mass destruction/the Zulu plan to invade Natal). The main difference is that the Zulus fought better than the Iraqis.
The centenary of the war in 1979 occurred at the height of the "revisionist" movement in South African historiography, and much of the writing at that time was of the Marxist school, in which a "rigid theoretical framework" and concentration on abstract economic forces made for dull reading. Learning that unamed people who were in a position to "extract surpluses" and actually did so in unnamed places is dead boring to read.
Knight, I am glad to say, does not follow that trend. He tells the story of people and events, and his theoretical framework, if any, is less obtrusive.
And the impression that I get from Knight is that, if he has told the story accurately, Theophilus Shepstone was the villain of the piece, aided by his family, whether they extracted surpluses or not. Shepstone it was who worked himself into a position where he controlled much of the lives of the black people of Natal. It was Shepstone who urged the confederation policy on Lord Carnarvon. It was Shepstone who recommended to Garnet Wolseley that Zululand be broken up into 13 statelets whose rulers fought, as a contemporary described it, like Kilkenny cats. In other words, Shepstone embodied the principle of "divde and rule" in his own person.
And Shepstone's brother John "continued to dominate the Natal Native Affairs department thoughtout the 1880s, using his considerable influence to block any attempted resurgence of the Zulu royal house. As late as 1904 he provided evidence to the South African Native Affairs Commission arguing against allowing black Africans a right to vote in colonial elections (Knight 2011:692) -- an injustice that was only rectified 90 years later, in 1994. ...more
For 30 years, a human generation, the Federal Theological Seminary of Southern Africa (Fedsem) was one of the best-known institutions for theologicalFor 30 years, a human generation, the Federal Theological Seminary of Southern Africa (Fedsem) was one of the best-known institutions for theological education on the sub-continent. It was born in controversy, it existed in controversy, and it died in controversy, a controversy that continued long after its death. And now, at last, someone has written a history of its brief career, like a meteorite flashing across the sky, twenty years after its death.
At one level it was a bold expression of ecumenism, where clergy of the Anglican, Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian traditions were trained on the same campus. Yet it was that same ecumenism that ultimately killed it.
At another level it was a thorn in the side of the apartheid government. It was created by apartheid, it resisted apartheid, and the National Party regime tried to kill it. And in the end it died with the apartheid regime, not because of any direct action of the apartheid government, but because of its own internal contradictions.
I was never a student at Fedsem, and never taught there. I had friends who were students there, or who taught there, or both. My contacts with Fedsem were brief and fleeting, and many contradictory and almost incomprehensible stories came out of it. And now at last there is this history, that tells the story as a connected narrative, which enables one to see the wood for the trees.
The Fedsem story is a story of eviction, dispossession and homelessness. The theological colleges used by various denominations for training black clergy were build on the periphery of big cities. The white suburbs of those cities expanded and surrounded them, so that they became "blackspots" in "white" areas, something that the apartheid government could not and would not tolerate. So they had to move.
I knew some of the teachers and students at St Peter's College (Anglican) in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, in the early 1960s, just before the move. The teachers were members of the Community of the Resurrrection (CR), an Anglican religious order. The CR fathers not only taught in the college, they conducted parish retreats and missions throughout Johannesburg. Across the road from the college was St Benedicts House, a retreat and conference centre, and once a month they held "shoe parties" which were attended by people from far and wide, where a speaker would speak on some topic of interest. That was where I met some of the students (one of them was Desmond Tutu). I also met some of the students at student conferences, and Brother Roger of the CR, who became something of a guru or spiritual elder to me. Brother Roger was a fundi on art and literature, and introduced me to authors I would otherwise never have read, like Samuel Beckett and the Beat Generation authors.
In the college library there was a sculpture of a black madonna by Leon Underwood, the man who taught the famous sculptor Henry Moore. At the end of 1962, when the college was about to move to the new campus at Alice, there was some discussion among the CR fathers about what to do with the sculpture. Brother Roger said they should take it to Alice, with the students, as a kind of symbol of black or African Christianity. It would have been prophetic of the Black Theology that was nurtured in Alice in the coming years. But taking it to Alice would have put it out of reach of the white art cognoscenti of Johannesburg, so in the end it stayed.
Brother Roger was quite enthusiastic about the new federal seminary in Alice, though he himself never taught there, but was transferred back to the CR's mother house in Mirfield, England. Being forced to move was a bad thing, but it gave the opportunity for a new ecumenical experiment in theological education. The different denominational calleges would share the same campus, and have their own dormitories and dining halls and chapels, to do things in their own style, but they would have a shared library, and shared lectures in some subjects. It was a bit like the college system at some English universities, like Oxford, Cambridge and Durham, which seemed to work quite well.
The land on which the seminary was built at Alice was between a white and a black area, and the government, perhaps relieved at the idea that theological education was becoming a "border industry", gave the assurance that the seminary could be built there, and would not be forced to move again. It was also adjacent to the University College of Fort Hare, and there was one school of thought that held that theological seminaries should be in or close to universities, so that students cvould study for degrees. There was one problem with this; the government had recently taken over the University College of Fort Hare, and was determined to change the culture of the institution. At that time there were "English" and "Afrikaans" universities in South Africa. The English ones generally encouraged a spirit of free enquiry, and wanted students to think for themselves. The Afrikaans university culture, however, was generally one of conformity. Fort Hare had previously been affiliated to Rhodes University, an "English" university, but when the government took it over with the intention of making it a Xhosa tribal college, the students resisted. The other tribal colleges initially tended to be more docile, because the students had known nothing else.
And the Federal Seminary likewise encouraged students to think for themselves, so it became a refuge for the For Hare students. The authorities at Fort Hare therefore tended to blame the Federal Seminary for student unrest on their own campus, and could not see that it was their own attempts to impose an alien model of education that was the primary cause of the unrest.
Twelve years after the Federal Seminary was established in Alice the land and buildings were expropriated by the government, and the staff and students were told to vacate the buildings two days before the new academic year began. In 1975 the seminary moved to temporary premises in Umtata, but the Transkei homeland authorities also felt threatened. by it, and after a year they had to move again, to the Edendale Lay Ecumenical Centre near Pietermaritzburg. After a few years the seminary acquired new land nearby in Imbali, and the the seminary was rebuilt, but on a more unitary model. The seminary moved into the new buildings in 1980.
In the paragraphs above, I've told some of the story that is not in the book, and it seems to me that the book does have some shortcomings in the way it tells the story.
One of the shortcomings is that the book is very thin on the first 7-8 years of the life of the seminary, which would surely have been formative years. The story is told mainly from the point of view of the seminary council, from minutes and memoranda and records of decisions. The staff and students barely feature. The human element of the story is missing. It is only with the emergence of Black Theology (which Fedsem nurtured and developed) in the early 1970s that the story begins to liven up.
But one thing that is apparent is that throughout the life of the seminary there were at least two different models of ecumenism, which sometimes clashed, and and it was that clash, an internal one, rather than external forces, which eventually destroyed the seminary. There was the federal model, favoured by the Anglicans, which we may call Fedsem, and the unitary model, favoured by the Congregationalists, which we may call Unisem. And reading the book one watches with fascinated horror, or horrified fascination, as the decisions made inexorably led to the disintegration of the seminary, the destruction of the buildings, and the end of the bold experiment in ecumenical theological education . The colleges of the different denominations are now as separated as they were before 1963, geographically and in every other way.
According to the authors this disintegration was unforeseen, and that is where I disagree with them. It could easily have been foreseen, and was foreseen. The authors appear to favour the Unisem model, and I suspect that that may be why they gloss over the first seven years or so of the seminary, when it developed within the federal model.
My bias is towards the Fedsem model, and it seems to me, after reading the book, that one of the biggest weaknesses is that they spoke of training people for "the ministry", without really examining what they thought "the ministry" was. The problem was that the Anglican ministry was different from the Congregational ministry, and the Congregational ministry was different from the Methodist ministry and so on. But I would contend that even within the Anglican view of things, to speak of "the ministry" is to overlook the fact that there are, or should be, many ministries.
The authors quote a letter from Frederick Amoore, the Anglican Provincial Executive Officer, that explains the difficulty and the cultural differences from an Anglican point of view:
There is a good deal of concern among the Bishops about the tendency in some quarters to consider that the seminary is only an institution for theological instruction and for the award of degrees and diplomas. A good deal of the difficulty in relationships comes from the fact that this conception is very different from the Anglican idea of a theological college in which the regular daily life of prayer and worship and the formation of ministerial character and practice is at least as important, if not more so, than the theological instruction given (Denis & Duncan 2011:218).
On the Alice campus, each college (St Peters Anglican, Adams Congregational, John Wesley Methodist, and St Columba's Presbyterian) had its own chapel, in which they could organise worship according to their own tradition. They could attend each other's services, and l;earn about each other's traditions without feeling that their own was threatened.
At Imbali, in the interests of fostering "unity", there was only one chapel, owned by the Anglicans, but which was used by all. It was owned by the Anglicans because the Anglicans used it more, but it was the Congregationalists and Presbyterians who objected to the furnishings being too Anglican, yet were most insistent that there should be one chapel, to foster unity. But instead of fostering unity, the chapel, and worship generally, became a bone of contention.
The Alice campus showed the diversity of the different traditions participating in Fedsem, but when the Imbali campus was build, the superecumenists insisted that the architecture must emphasise unity (and uniformity) and eventually the different colleges were abolished, mainly at the insistence of Joe Wing and Francois Bill, who tended to be superecumenists. The authors of the book say (Denis & Duncan 2011:230)
Nobody anticipated on the day of Wing's departure that Fedsem would close less than three years later. It is only with the distance of time that the merging of the three colleges into a single institution appears problematic. Rather than preventing interdenominational tensions, the new structure exacerbated them.
Yet the letter from Frederick Amoore, quoted above, ought to have made it obvious that this would happen. As the model of ministry the seminary was operating on moved further away from that in the minds of most Anglican bishops, the fewer bishops would send their students to the seminary. Some bishops, who had themselves been students at Fedsem, might continue to send students there for a while out of loyalty, but in the end even they would reach a point when they had to say that the training received did not meet the needs of the church.
On reading the book, I was struck by the insistence by what I have called the "superecumenists" on the desirability of uniformity of architecture, and the undesirability of diversity. It reminded me of the similar insistence by 19th-century European missionaries to South Africa that their converts should adopt European architectural styles and build square houses, and some even regarded the number of square houses among their flocks as a measure of their success.
I have concentrated on the ecumenism aspect of Fedsem because it was initially one of the greatest strengths of the project, but when overdone became one of its greatest weaknesses. I wonder whether things might have been different if the seminary had not been forced to move from Alice, and had been able to keep the federal structure, architecturally as well as in other ways. . But the book is very good in describing what happened, and putting the history (and the fragmented stories that one heard) in perspective. ...more
I largely agree with the author's conclusion when she says:
The main thesis that has been pursued in the book is the one that the Balkans suffered eth
I largely agree with the author's conclusion when she says:
The main thesis that has been pursued in the book is the one that the Balkans suffered ethnic quakes, largely because of the impact of European ideas (initially nationalism, then fascism and communism) was so profound and clashed so indelibly with older 'autochtonous' ideas found in religious practice and traditional culture. Although the forms that violence took during ethnic cleansing were often 'traditional' in the sense that they had a large symbolic content and involved the honour of the individuals involved, the ideas that inspired this violence were modern and European in their origins.
While I largely agree with both the thesis and the conclusion (of which that paragraph forms part), I think the author has failed to support the conclusion with evidence in the body of the book.
There is plenty of evidence of ethnic cleansing in the body of the book. Horror stories abound, both of the ethnic cleansing, and the violence and cruelty that often accompanied it. It tends to leave one feeling depressed about the depths to which human nature can sink, and to want to conclude that the Calvinist theory of total depravity is the most apt description of the human race.
The author does manage to link the actions of ethnic cleansing with nationalist rhetoric fairly well, but the rest of the evidence for the conclusion, where it is present at all, is not coherently argued in such a way as to support the thesis.
There is virtually nothing about "the older 'autochtonous' ideas found in religious practice and traditional culture." They are occasionally mentioned in passing, not in such a way as to show how they clashed with the theory and practice of ethnic cleansing. I expected at least a paragraph or two in the introduction on the main religious and cultural ideas in the introduction, and on their relation to the nationalist ideas. But where they are present at all, they are scrappy and disconnected.
To give just one example (not mentioned at all in the book) there is the oft-repeated saying that "Hellenism is Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy is Hellenism" and in view of the main thesis of the book this deserves at least some analysis, and some estimate of how widely it is accepted.
At the end there is a rather telling paragraph that that shows the result of this kind of thinking. The author points out that until 1945 Salonika (now Thessaloniki) was a polyglot multiethnic community, of which the largest component was Sephardic Jews. They author goes on to say:
In July 1992, the ethnological museum in Salonika had no exhibit to commemorate the Sephardic Jewish element in the city's population, which was annihilated during the Nazi occupation. When the anthropologist Jonathan Schwartz 'asked a member of staff about this absence... they could not understand what the question was about. It was taken for granted that the Museum is Greek. Ethnology is apparently a scientific euphemism for Nationalism.'
Those who lived through the apartheid era in South Africa would understand the last sentence only too well.
When I was working on my doctoral thesis on "Orthodox mission methods" I had to pay quite a lot of attention to the question of religion and nationalism, especially as it manifested itself in the Balkans. It is closely related to mission, because, as one woman said at a church social gathering, "The Orthodox Church is not missionary, because its purpose is to preserve Greek culture."
One of the things that struck me was just how the ideas of nationalism affected the Balkans, and the uneasy relationship they had with Orthodox theology. There was a tendency for them to mingle (as in "Orthodoxy is Hellenism and Hellenism is Orthodoxy"), but there was also an awareness that they were separate, and not altogether compatible. Some spoke of "Romanity" in distinction to "Hellenism", harking back to a pre-Ottoman multiethnic empire. For more on this see Nationalism, violence and reconciliation
Carmichael's conclusion that the ideas that inspired the violence were modern and European in their origins, is very important, but again, she fails to draw the lines clearly enough. She occasionally refers to them as "Herderian", but that is about all.
One reason that I think it is important is that people of Western Europe and their offshoots often speak disparagingly of Africa and Africans as if Africans were somehow genetically predisposed to violence. They point to such things as the genocide in Rwanda in 1994-95 as if this were something peculiarly African, yet in that very period, similar events were taking place in Europe, in the Balkans.
Again, many Western Europeans tried to distance themselves from the Balkans, and tended to retard the region as not really European. Carmichael speaks of "a tendency to burden a large region with almost insurmountable legacies and an overarching reputation for pathological violence", but fails to note, except in passing, that Western Europe not only generated the nationalist ideas that led to the violence, but that the West by its own intervention, and for its own self-interest was just as much a participant in the violence. The Nato bombing of Yugoslavia was no less "pathological" than the violence of any of the parties fighting on the ground. Western Europe cannot disown the Balkans as something intrinsically "other" and non-European.
And the violence in the Balkans in the 1990s was little different from violence in Africa in the same period.
Generally, the case the author makes is a good one; it's just a pity that it wasn't better argued.
Bill Bendyshe Burnett (1917-1994) was an Anglican bishop in South Africa, and was Archbishop of Cape Town from 1974-1981. He was also Bishop of BloemfBill Bendyshe Burnett (1917-1994) was an Anglican bishop in South Africa, and was Archbishop of Cape Town from 1974-1981. He was also Bishop of Bloemfontein and of Grahamstown, and General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC). After his experience of "baptism in the Holy Spirit" he became influential in charismatic renewal circles, not only among other denominations in South Africa, but all over the world. Yet the nearest we have to a biographical source is his autobiography, The Rock that is higher than I, edited privately and published after his death by his wife Sheila.
After reading it, I doubt that he intended to have it published in its present form. It reads like a very rough first draft, which seems to indicate that he was still working on it when he died, and his family had to publish it in an unfinished form.
Fully half the book is taken up with Burnett's early life, and his experiences in the Second World War, especially as a prisoner of war in Italy. This is generally well written, and forms a coherent narrative. It looks as though it may have originally been written for his family, for children who asked him "Daddy, what did you do in the War?" I wish my father-in-law had written such an account -- he too was captured at Tobruk, and escaped from an Italian POW camp.
The second half of the book, which covers his time at St Paul's Theological College in Grahamstown and his ministry as an Anglican priest and bishop, is much more sketchy, consisting of a series of disconnected anecdotes, many of which raise more questions than they answer. This is a pity, since this is the part of the book that would be of most interest to most readers.
I first met Bill Burnett in 1960, when he was Bishop of Bloemfonein. It was the inaugural conference of the Anglican Students Federation (ASF), held at Modderpoort in the Free State snd I attended as a student. Since the conference was being held in his diocese, Bishop Burnett was the celebrant at the first Mass of the conference, in the priory of the Society of the Sacred Mission (an Anglican religious order), and he also read the first paper, on "The theological roots of Anglicanism".
In the afternoon he read a second paper, on "The Church of the Future". He said that people are generally unsuccessful in relating the rapid advance in technical knowledge to what really matters. The Church must bring a theological basis back to the centre of our lives. Intellectuals are out of touch with modern theologians. People must become more aware of the theological purpose of what they do in everyday life. Many church buildings in this country are mock-Gothic and out of touch with reality. This could be rectified if architects knew what a church is for. The church should use modern skill, knowledge and materials to build more functional buildings. In music we wallow in Victorian slush -- as far as art is concerned, the church is wearing clothes which are out of date. Modern art is symbolic, and ideally adapted to the use of the church. In the experimental liturgy there is no blessing -- the congregation is told to go out into the world and "be the church." The Church of the future must be reunited, and the Ceylon scheme of reunion is a good pointer in this direction. Denominational apartheid is an evil which must be remedied. The Ceylon scheme will keep the ancient scheme of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. The Church must become indigenous in each locality, but this must not be paramount, as the word "Anglican" seems to suggest. The emphasis is often too much on "Anglican" and too little on "Communion". The church over the whole world is too "Anglican" -- too "English". How can we be indigenous and yet remain Catholic? Nationalism must not cause us to lose our Catholic principles. We must really BE the people of God. The Church must be built around the altar, font and pulpit as the buildings are. We must live as if we really are in the dying and rising community which is the Church. You do not become a Christian and then join the Church. We are baptised into a body, a community - the Church, which is the Body of Christ. We must become what we are by virtue of our baptism. The altar and pulpit enable us to do this. We are Christians, and we must become what we are. We neglect the Holy Spirit too much. One cannot see God and live - our preaching must say this, but because we are dying with Christ, we must also rise with him. Worship is not merely one of the things the Church does - the Church is a worshipping community. We place our lives and all that we have on the altar, and receive all this back to become the Body of Christ. The perfect union with Christ will come at the Last Day - at the consummation. At every Mass we are waiting for the bridegroom.
As an impressionable teenager this made a great impression on me, which is why I made extensive notes, and included them in my diary. I also later discovered that much of what he described and was advocating as part of Anglican faith and practice was already there in the Orthodox Church, and had been all along, but that is part of my story, not his.
One thing that has puzzled me a little was that when they prayed for the bishop in the Diocese of Bloemfontein, they used his middle name, and prayed for "Bendyshe our Bishop", yet in Grahamstown and Cape Town it was his first name that was used, "Bill our Bishop". A minor point, perhaps, but one that one hopes to find explained in an autobiography, and it is things like this that make the book seem like a published first draft rather than a finished work.
In the chapter dealing with his time at St Paul's Theological College in Grahamstown, in the immediate postwar period, Burnett notes that he and the other students were influenced by the theology that had begun to emerge from the resistance to Nazism in Germany, and says that he was more impressed with Paul Schneider than with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, though he does not compare their theology or give reasons for his preference.
Perhaps he intended to expand on this later, and this too gives the impression of a rough draft. But then he says (p. 123), "If I were to write about every parish or diocese in which I have ministered I would have to write many books. I give notice that I have no intention of doing so."
And so his ministry as assistant curate at St Thomas's Church in Durban and as school chaplain at Michaelhouse is covered in less than a page, which contrasts sharply with the amount of detail in his account of his life as an escaped POW. His time as Vicar of Ladysmith is similarly sketchy, dealing only with a description of some of the tramps who came to the vicarage asking for help. This is supplemented by a letter in an appendix; the letter, from John Henderson, a parishioner in Ladysmith, describes how Bill Burnett influenced him and others to train to become Anglican priests. The sketchiness, however, leaves one with the impression that Bill Burnett did not value parish ministry very highly.
The same applies to his description of his ministry as Bishop of Bloemfontein. There are a few disconnected anecdotes, but nothing of substance. When Burnett was nominated as a possible candidate for Archbishop of Cape Town one priest in the Diocese of Bloemfontein commented, "Very few of the people here with whom I have discussed the matter want Bishop Burnett. As you know he was bishop here and I have yet to find any clergy or laity who look back with much pleasure to the time of his episcopate. The CSM and AA sisters found it a traumatic experience to coin an Americanism. No doubt he has gained in maturity and judgement since then: but his present ? enthusiasm for Pentecostalism continues to make him a dubious character in the eyes of some."
In the light of that, it is interesting that Burnett has only positive things to say about the Community of St Michael and All Angels -- that they ran "a splendid little school" and made a great contribution to the development of the nursing profession in South Africa. So one is left wondering what the "traumatic experience" could have been.
In this chapter, too, however, an element of bitchiness appears, which grows stronger as the book proceeds. He describes the way in which English-spealing Anglicans and some Afrikaners distanced themselves from the policy of apartheid, and says "These people and their friends of whom Miss Louisa Marquard was one, distanced themselves completely from the apartheid philosophy and practice, and, in some cases, this meant leaving the Church as well. Their predicament and sufferings were unknown to people such as Archbishop Joost de Blank, and Bishops Trevor Huddleston and Ambrose Reeves, who did not have the opportunity given to us and for which we thank God as we remember the courage and integrity of these friends."
This again raises more questions than it answers. Why did their distancing themselves from the apartheid philosophy and practice mean "leaving the Church"? And what is the significance of their predicament and sufferings being unknown to the bishops mentioned, none of whom was ever Bishop of Bloemfontein, nor did they ever have any pastoral ministry there? It just comes across as a very nasty piece of innuendo. Trevor Huddleston (who was not a bishop during Bendyshe Burnett's time as Bishop of Bloemfontein, but was responsible for training the novices at the Community of the Resurrection's mother house in Mirfield, England), wrote a book, Naught for your comfort, in which he criticised the philosophy and practice of apartheid, and described the effects of the practice as he observed them as a pastor in Sophiatown, and the ethnic cleansing which took place there in the mid-1950s. The implication seems to be that if he had known of the way in which Burnett's Free State friends had distanced themselves from apartheid, Huddleston would not himself have criticised it. That doesn't make any sense, so why mention Huddleston's name at all at this point? This kind of bitchiness does not seem to be evidence of the fruit of the Spirit, but rather of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-23). I know this because I myself have often fallen into the same temptation.
At this point Burnett owes it to his readers to say what it is that these bishops said or did to cause him to mention their names here. Perhaps he might have done so if he had lived long enough to prepare the book for publication, but as it is the reader is left hanging, wondering what is going on.
The following chapter deals with Burnett's time as General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, which is again marred by bitchiness, as he describes the arrest and trial of Dean ffrench-Beytagh, and concludes by saying that he went to England "where he was able to bask in the glory of his anti-apartheid stance".
It was when Bill Burnett was at the South African Council of Churches that it collaborated with the Christian Institute in drafting the "Message to the people of South Africa", which was a theological critique of the ideology of apartheid, and described it not merely as a heresy, but as a pseudogospel. He quotes part of a summary of it in his book, and says, "This is simply a small taste of our 'Barmen Declaration'. It angered the National Party Government and, I suspect, bored the English-speaking people, and it changed nothing."
I don't think the last statement is true. Black Christians who read it said it was nothing new, it was something that most black Christians knew. It was the whites who needed to read it, they said. And for whites who read it seriously, it posed a choice: choose this day whom you will serve, the false god of apartheid, or the Lord. Even those who denied that there was such a choice did not remain unaffected. For some, even some in high positions in the National Party, a seed of doubt was planted.
Bill Burnett was elected Bishop of Grahamstown, and in 1972, soon after he moved there, he experienced "baptism in the Holy Spirit", which revitalised his ministry. While in Grahamstown he introduced the Human Relations and Reconciliation Programme, to challenge racism in the church, and this involved setting up "challenge groups" that would challenge instances of racism.
The charismatic renewal movement in the Anglican Diocese of Grahamstown started with a priest in Queenstown, Peter Campbell, and once the bishop himself had been "zapped" it spread rapidly in the diocese, and Burnett tells of instances where clergy who were initially sceptical were drawn in. He was asked to give a testimony at the South African Congress on Mission and Evangelism in Durban in 1973. The Congress, organised by the South African Council of Churches and African Enterprise, an interdenominational evangelistic organisation, marked the first large meeting of "evangelical" and "ecumenical" Christian bodies in South Africa, but the Pentecostals and Roman Catholics were not really included. Bill Burnett and David du Plessis, however, introduced a Pentecostal element.
Bill Burnett was elected Archbishop of Cape Town in 1974, and clergy from Grahamstown who were asked about it were generally more positive than those of Bloemfontein, cited earlier. They thought his pentecostal experience had made him a better pastor.
In Cape Town the Archbishop's residence, Bishopscourt, became a centre of renewal, and developed a community. Several young men who thought they might be called to ordained ministry went to stay there to test their vocations. Burnett describes how dying parishes were revitalised, and people were healed. But when the synod of the big and unwieldy Diocese of Cape Town refused to divide it into smaller and more easily manageable ones, Bill Burnett resigned, and devoted himself to the Support Ministries Trust, which he founded to promote charismatic renewal in parishes, and internationally in a simialr organisation called Sharing of Ministries Abroad (SOMA). In some places the book appears to muddle these two. He travelled widely, attending renewal conferences, and conducting retreats and seminars. Much of this part of the story is told in short pericopes, lacking details, especially of dates and people involved. Even where people's names are mentioned, we are told little about them or their background.
The book ends with a kind of polemic against "liberation theology", which Burnett seems to have equated with the "Kairos Document", which was produced in late 1985, and signed by a number of clergy and lay leaders of various denominations, and then circulated. Burnett does not quote from the "Kairos Document", nor does he even describe its content, but criticise it, leaving the reader to guess what exactly he is criticising. I would say that many of his criticisms are valid, but what he is criticising is not "liberation theology", and so his criticisms in effect create a caricature of liberation theology. He is doing, by implication, what he implies that Bishops de Blank, Huddleston and Reeves were implying against his friends in the Free State. This implied cricisms of implied views for implied criticisms of other views becomes far too nebulous, and by the end of the book it appears that Bill Burnett had lost the plot, and so the charismatic renewal ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper, running into the sand and leaving little to show for itself.
I don't think this book does justice to Bill Burnett, or to his role in South African Christianity. The first part is well told, but, apart from some formative experiences, does not relate to the second. The second, describing his ministry as a priest and bishop, is scrappy and badly told, though it is evident that his ministry had three phases: the first, developing theological convictions expressed in the "Message to the people of South Africa"; the second, receiving the power of the Holy Spirit to live according to those convictions in joyful freedom; and the third, a kind of withdrawal into embitterment and carping criticism, with the joy apparently dissipated, which also seems to affect the way the rest of the story is told.
There really needs to be a full biography that will look at both the good and the bad points to do justice to Bill Burnett and his ministry, and the way it influenced the church and society or failed to do so.
This is a strange book. It purports to be a continuation of Winston Churchill's work of the same title, which ended at the end of the 19th century. IThis is a strange book. It purports to be a continuation of Winston Churchill's work of the same title, which ended at the end of the 19th century. I haven't read Churchill's work, so I can't compare it with that, but the point of view of the author seems to be set at the end of the 19th century; I can only describe it as "neojingoism". It's the kind of outlook I could imagine my grandfather having, if he'd been alive today, and not experienced any of the intervening period since the beginning of the First World War. Perhaps one could also call it neo-Edwardian. It reminds me of the song, I think by Flanders and Swan:
The English, the English, the English are best I wouldn't give tuppence for all of the rest.
And that is the viewpoint that permeates the whole book.
In spite of this quaint anachronistic approach, however, the book is quite well written, and for the most part, not boring, and at times entertaining. At least, since the author makes his own point of view obvious, one is forewarned about some of the biases. There are quite frequent asides for sermonettes on the virtues of capitalism or the English-speaking peoples, or pointing out the vices of lesser breeds who don't share the virtues of the English.
Roberts rightly deplores the use of hyperbole in describing atrocities committed by English-speaking peoples. I must say I agree with him about the too-easy flinging about of terms like "Holocaust" and "genocide" for events that are nothing of the kind, and that the over-use of such terms diminishes the seriousness of the events that such terms were coined to describe. But Roberts spoils his argument by his own exculpatory descriptions, when he says (on page 312f), "However bad the late-Victorians might have been it is a gross error of judgment to compare anything they might have inadvertently done to the deliberate Holocaust against European Jewry in the 1940s." It's the "might... inadvertently" that gives the game away. The message is clear: they couldn't have done it, because they were English, of course, and even if they did do it, they did it in a fit of absence of mind.
Roberts describes in considerable detail the horrific injuries caused by the poison gas Saddam Hussein used against Kurdish insurgents, but glosses over the injuries caused by the atomic bombs dropped by the English-speaking people on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (justified, of course, since they were English-speaking). And not a word about the response of the English-speaking peoples to insurgents in Fallujah.
Towards the end of the book (p. 636) he posts a disclaimer: "It is emphatically not that the English-speaking people are inherently better or superior people that accounts for their success, therefore, but that they have perfected better systems of government, ones that have tended to increase representation and accountability, while minimising jobbery, nepotism and corruption." Unfortunately, however, in the other 647 pages he seems to be trying to create the impression that it is precisely because of their innate superiority that the English-speaking peoples have done what they have done.
One of the other curious things about the book is that when dealing with Commonwealth participation in the two world wars, South Africa has been almost entirely written out of the story. There is mention of Australia, and New Zealand, and the place Gallipoli in WW I holds for them. There is mention of Canada and Vimy Ridge. There is mention of the West Indies and Eire. But not a word about South African troops, of Delville Wood or the sinking of the Mendi. This omission is so consistent that it sticks out like a sore thumb.
All history is selective, and historians select and emphasise the points that seem most important to them, and give less emphasis to other points. But this is not merely a matter of less emphasis; it seems to be a conscious and deliberate exclusion, and one wonders why.
The book is hardly a history, in the sense of a coherent narrative. There are occasional illuminating stories about particular historical incidents, but little to connect these with others. Huge chunks of history are skipped over, and anyone reading this to get a view of an era is likely to get a very distorted picture.
Throughout the book the author seems to be wanting to have his cake and eat it. He argues that realpolitik is more important than occupying the moral high ground, but then says that realpolitikIS the high moral ground, if its practitioners are English-speaking, of course. So, for example, he says of the detente policies in the Cold War in the 1970s:
Detente had anyhow meant very different things in the East and the West. The West saw it as a way of lowering tension, 'in the hope that it might disengage from the dreadful and even apocalyptic tests of strength it was inflicting on the rest of the world'. By contrast, in 1976 Leonid Brezhnev stated, 'Detente does not in any way rescind, nor can it rescind or alter, the laws of class struggle. We do not conceal the fact that we see in detente a path towards the creation of more favourable conditions for the peaceful construction of socialism and communism.'
But where is the contrast? It is clear that both sides saw it as a breathing space that might create the possibility of getting what they wanted relatively peacefully without Mutually Assured Destruction. Brezhnev's words could be paraphrased to precisely express the attitude of the West: 'Detente does not in any way rescind, nor can it rescind or alter, the laws of the free market. We do not conceal the fact that we see in detente a path towards the creation of more favourable conditions for the peaceful construction of capitalism and the market.'
And in the 1980s it was the West, under Reagan and Thatcher, that resumed the arms race -- something that Roberts clearly approves of, since they were English-speaking and Brezhnev was not.
Towards the end, the "history" label wears very thin indeed. It is an undisguised political rant. The author says very little about what happened, and a great deal about why it was right that it should have happened the way it did (if the English-speaking people were responsible). The contradictions multiply. It is a good and noble thing to speak the truth to power, unless that power happens to be American, Then it becomes anti-Americanism, which is, in the author's view, a Bad Thing.
So reading the book gives me the queer anachronistic feeling that a contemporary of my grandfather (who served on the British side in the Anglo-Boer War in an irregular unit called Loxton's Horse) had fallen asleep on 31 December 1900 and, like Rip van Winkle, woken up a century later with his Victorian-Edwardian jingoism intact, and decided to write about the previous century from that point of view.
It's like a parody of a parody. There are several books that parody the simplistic history of school history trextbooks. There was an English one called 1066 and all that and a South African one called Blame it on van Riebeeck. The latter noted that in the 19th century in the Eastern Cape there were nine Kaffir Wars, and that tyhese wars had Causes and Results. And it tabulated the wars with their causes and results:
1st Kaffir War - Cause: the Kaffirs 2nd Kaffir War - Cause: the Kaffirs and so on for all nine.
And yes, there were school history books in the 1940s and 1950s that took that approach.
But Roberts is writing a book for adults, yet adopts the same kind of simplistic approach. In any war that the English-speaking peoples were involved in, there are no nuances, there is no ambiguity, there are Causes -- the non-English-speaking people (the Boers, the Germans etc), and there are Results: the English-speaking people won, and saved the world for democracy, capitalism, and realpolitik....more
I generally enjoy reading biographies, but Michael Cardo's biography of Peter Brown is the the first one I have read that is about someone I knew fairI generally enjoy reading biographies, but Michael Cardo's biography of Peter Brown is the the first one I have read that is about someone I knew fairly well, so I read it with more than usual interest, and perhaps more critically than usual. I read it to discover more about someone I had known, but also to discover whether the person described in the biography was the same as the person that I knew. And on the whole, I have to say yes -- the character of Peter Brown that Michael Cardo captures is indeed the Peter Brown that I knew.
Peter Brown was one of the founders and leaders of the Liberal Party of South Africa, which, in the 1950s and 1960s, stood for the principle of a non-racial democracy in South Africa, and Peter Brown was one of its most principled and consistent exponents.
His background made it seem unlikely that he would be such a thing. He came from a fairly wealthy and privileged white farming and merchant family, and white farmers in South Africa were not generally known for their liberal political ideas. The Liberal Party did manage to attract a few, some of whom, like Roy Coventry in northern Natal and Jean van Riet in the Free State, are mentioned by Cardo.
It was largely due to Peter Brown, though, that the Liberal Party was not merely non-racial in its aims and ideals, but also in its membership. Cardo (2010:89) notes that in 1953 Brown was elected Natal Provincial Secretary of the party, though not yet 30 years old, and that he "traversed the province from the Midlands to the northern parts of Zululand, south towards the Transkei, and along the coastal regions and communicated the Party's message to voters."
He communicated the party's message to non-voters as well, to blacks, coloureds and Indians, so that "by 1956 Natal had the largest membership, the highest proportion of black members and a significant sway over the national leadership".
Randolph Vigne wrote a history of the Liberal Party, published in 1997, Liberals against apartheid, but Vigne was in the Western Cape, and his history is rather skimpy on Natal. Unfortunately, this is also a weakness in Cardo's book.
One thing that struck me was that Cardo gives an extraordinary smount of detail in the section on Church Agricultural Projects (CAP) and Neil Alcock, and very scanty detail on the Liberal Party in the 1960-65 period. While Brown was involved in CAP, most of the initiative and the actual work was done by Neil Alcock, with Peter Brown as an onlooker and adviser. But Brown was far more closely involved with the Liberal Party, and much of the initiative, planning and action was his. Even after he was banned in 1964, he continued to take a close interest in the rural branches of the party, and at one point complained that the Midlands branches that he had founded were being neglected, while those established by Enock Mnguni were getting more attention (especially before Mnguni himself was banned). Yet virtually nothing is said about these branches.
After Peter Brown was banned, those from Pietermaritzburg who attended rural branch meetings on Saturday afternoons would usually call on the Browns on the Saturday evening or the Sunday to let Peter know what had happened, as a kind of debriefing. He would often ask questions that we were unable to answer, about the people who were at the meeting, and what had happened to them. He would ask whether such and such a person was there, and then would tell us something about the person and their family.
Some 10-15 years later, when I was involved in rural ministry in the Anglican Church in Zululand, I was struck by the similarity between rural church congregations and the rural branches of the Liberal Party. And then in retrospect Peter Brown seemed like a kind of secular pastor or a bishop. He knew his sheep, he shepherded his flock and they heard his voice -- not in a paternalistic way, but rather in a caring way. He knew the people and cared for them, and they knew him and cared for him. And indeed, the Zulu name for the Liberal Party -- IBandla leNkululeko -- could be translated back into English as "Church of Redemption".
The Liberal Party was not the first non-racial political party in South Africa; that honour belongs to the Communist Party. But the Communist Party was not always non-racial, and at one time was associated with the slogan "workers of the world unite and fight for a white South Africa". It was when the party line from Moscow changed that the Communist Party became non-racial. And perhaps the fact that the Communist Party was the first to become non-racial was what led the Nationalist government to identify non-racialism with communism, and to regard liberalism and communism as the same thing.
After the Communist Party was banned in 1950 white communists and leftists formed the Congress of Democrats, and formed part of the Congress Alliance. And though the ANC was willing to cooperate with the Liberals, and quite a number of Liberals, like Selby Msimang, were dual members of both the Liberal Party and the ANC, the Congress of Democrats wanted nothing to do with the Liberal Party, and their hostility persists to this day. Only last August Rica Hodgson (formerly of the COD) repeated in a radio interview the tired old communist canard that the Liberal Party did not allow blacks to join.
So Michael Cardo's biography of Peter Brown does a great deal to set the record straight, and he covers the relations between the Liberals and the Congress of Democrats fairly well. It's just a pity that it wasn't about 10-15 pages longer, giving more detail about the Liberal Party in Natal between about 1962 and 1965. If that would have made the book too long, then something could have been cut from the story of Church Agricultural Projects, which, though it deserves to be recorded in its own right, was less central to Peter Brown's concerns.
On 13 May 1963 I opened my post, and there was a thin tabloid newspaper called the Catholic Worker. That evening I read it all, and the following dayOn 13 May 1963 I opened my post, and there was a thin tabloid newspaper called the Catholic Worker. That evening I read it all, and the following day wrote to the editor, one Dorothy Day, and sent off a subscription to it. It impressed me greatly as a publication produced by people who seemed to take the Christian faith seriously. It was clearly not a Sundays-only hobby for them, but something for every day and every hour.
I was then a student at the University of Natal, and it had been sent to me by Brother Roger, of the Anglican religious order, the Community of the Resurrection, who had recently returned to the mother house at Mirfield in England after serving in South Africa for several years. I had met Brother Roger four years previously, and had got to know him fairly well. He encouraged me to publish a series of tracts to try to stir up people in the church, and one of the tracts, which he himself wrote, can be read here, as well as more about him.
He sent me the Catholic Worker with a note saying that they were doing the kind of thing that we had been trying to with our tracts, only it seemed that they had succeeded in actually doing things that we were only talking about.
It had articles about poor and exploited workers in the USA. It had articles by and about radical bishops in South America, like Helder Camara of Brazil, who saw it as part of his ministry ot conscientizar the matters, a word that was explained in the Catholic Worker, and later Anglicissed as "conscientise".
One article described a young man, dressed like many youth gang members who was picked up by the New York police, who questioned him about the rather large crucifix he was wearing, and asked him why he was wearing it, and his reply was a long the lines of "I wear it because I kind of like identify with |Jesus." Back then there were no laws against the wearing and disoplaying of religious symbols in most Western countries, though many are now beginning to introduce such laws.
And behind the newspaper was a community that fed the hungry, and lived in community on farms and in the cities. Nowadays there is much talk of new monasticism or urban monasticism, but the people at the Catholic Worker were already doing it in the 1930s.
Eventually my subscription to the Catholic Worker and I did not renew it because I was moving around too much, but I always remembered it, and wished I could have met the editor Dorothy Day, who was also the inspiration of the whole movement.
It was finally Glenn Beck who prompted me to read Dorothy Day's biography. He provoked a response from Jim Forest, who wrote the biography, and I discovered a copy in our university library, and hastened to read it.
I've known Jim as a cyberfriend for some years. We've never met in the flesh, but we've corresponded for some time, and I read Jim's blog. He coordinates the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, and is webmaster of their web page In Communion. I wish I could get to know him better too. His biography of Dorothy Day helped me to join the dots, and see how her vision developed, and it still continues today.
Dorothy Day was born in 1897, and grew up in New York, San Francisco (where her family lost most of their possessions in the 1906 earthquake) and Chicago. Her father was a journalist, and she became one too, working for left-wing papers, and becoming a radical anarcho-pacifist.
She did not have much of a Christian background, though she had been sent to an Episcopalian Sunday School when she was younger, and had learnt something about prayer. Eventually her praying led her to the Roman Catholic Church, and she was baptised, and turned to producing a radical Christian newspaper. She was helped by Peter Maurin, whose more theoretical vision was for a simplification of life, and going back to the land, and he would have preferred the Catholic Worker to be filled with theoretical essays, rather than with actual news that was of interest to the working-class poor.
The Catholic Worker gave me a vision of a new monasticism and community living, but when we actually tried it, in Windhoek 1969-1971, it did not seem to work so well. So the Catholic Worker communities seemed to me to be a kind of unattainable ideal, until I read the biography, and found that they had similar difficulties to the ones we had.
Community life at Mary Farm, as it was named, proved often difficult and sometimes grim, "Eat what you raise and raise what you eat," said Peter Maurin, who came to live at Mary Farm. Unfortunately there were always more people interested in eating food than in raising it, who preferred a discussion of theology or politics to care of the fields or repair of a hinge (p. 68).
It was somehow both disappointing and reassuring to learn that something I had looked on an idea and often dreamed of emulating turned out to have the same weaknesses as our own real-life attempts. It was the death of many a hippie commune that dreamed of a "back to the land" movement: the cows need to be milked twice a day, whether you are grooving on that or not.
Another thing that I found interesting was to read more about Dorothy Day's own faith. The Catholicism to which she was converted was pre-Vatican II, and in many ways she preferred older form s of devotion and prayer, yet she welcomed the increased concern with social justice after Vatican II, even though they were often compromises that did not go far enough.
That was something one could not learn from reading the Catholic Worker and confirmed a theory of mine -- that liberal theology often goes hand in hand with conservative politics and vice versa.
Dorothy Day believed in obeying bishops, even when she thought they made wrong decisions, and there were sometimes agonising discussions about what they would do if the Archbishop of New York banned the Catholic Worker, which at some points seemed a real possibility. Fortunately he never did, though he was strongly anti-communist, and did not really approve of Dorothy Day and other Catholic Worker people continuing to associate with communists and other radical leftists right through the McCarthy era. Her way of peace and non-violence and love of enemies was very different from that of Cardinal Spellman, who told American soldiers in Vietnam that they were fighting a war for civilisation.
Going by the example of America and the pietistic basis of the 'gospel of wealth' that took shape there, one might venture to make a further assertion. The whole of mankind lives today in the trap of a lethal threat created by the polarization of two provenly immoral moralistic systems, and the constant expectation of a confrontation between them in war, perhaps nuclear war. On the one side is the pietistic individualism of the capitalist camp, and on the other the moralistic collectivism of the marxist dreams of 'universal happiness.' At least the latter refuses to cloak its aims under the forged title of Christian, while the name of Christianity continues to be blackened in the sloganizing of even the foulest dictatorships which support the workings of the capitalist system, upholding the pietistic ideal of individual 'merit'.
Two modes of life can be seen nowadays, 'individualism', in which the individual holds a central position, and in this case there is no real communion, and 'collectivism', in which man becomes a part of a mass and loses his freedom. In the first mode, individualism, the person is abolished in the name of freedom. In the second, collectivism, man becomes part of a mass in the name of the unity of society, and so the freedom of the person is abolished... St Gregory the Theologian makes some excellent observations on the subject. Man, being in the image and likeness of God, can neither be considered a numeric unit nor can become part of a mass. Thus, in the Orthodox Church, as preserved in parishes and monasteries that securely move within the Orthodox framework, both the person and communion among men is vouchsafed, in which case man can neither be enclosed in a barren individualism nor be transformed into part of a mass.
Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement built their philosophy of communitarianism on the basis of this Christian anthropology, a view that is summed up in the Zulu proverb "umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu" (a person is a person because of people). As the web site of the Dorothy Day Center notes:
The Nazis, the Fascists, and the Bolshevists are Totalitarians. The Catholic Worker is Communitarian. The principles of Communitarianism are expounded every month in the French magazine Esprit (The Spirit).
So I'm grateful to Jim Forest for writing this biography, which helped me to see Dorothy Day in her setting. Jim also tells me that he is planning a revised version, as new material has become available since he wrote this one. So there is more to look forward to. But don't wait for the new edition -- learn about this marvellous Christian woman now.
I read the first edition of this book by John de Gruchy, a Congregational minister and academic, about 25 years ago, soon after it was first publishedI read the first edition of this book by John de Gruchy, a Congregational minister and academic, about 25 years ago, soon after it was first published. It deals with the struggle of the Christian Churches against apartheid in South Africa, and so to a certain extent it is the story of my life, and that of many Christians who lived through that period in South African history.
The new edition brings the story up to date, and also has a couple of chapters and a postscript by John's son Steve de Gruchy, whose tragic death last month in an accident leaves a huge gap in South African theological studies.
Perhaps the postscripts to the second and third editions can serve to summarise to book and its significance. One of the criticisms of the first edition was the gaps in the story, for example that it omitted much of the effects of Bantu Education, the Freedom Charter and the Treason Trial. Another criticism was that it focused on race rather than on class, and so focused on the church struggle against racism and apartheid rather than against colonialism and capitalism. So, as Steve de Gruchy says
Precisely because the way we understand our history is shaped by that very history, and because we choose to tell certain things in certain ways and not other things in other ways, the writing of history is as shot through with politics, passion and prejudice as the subject matter itself.
He goes on to point out that the book in its original form was not intended as a complete church history, but primarily as a theological reflection on the social and political issues confronting the church in South Africa. This explains some of the gaps. But the book also did fill a gap in historical knowledge, and stimulated a great deal of other writing, so it should not be undervalued as a work of history.
Steve de Grushy also notes that it is so preoccupied with the grand narrative that it omits the micro-narratives, and this is certainly something I was aware of when reading the book. It is the story of synods and statements of church leaders and ecumenical gatherings. It hints at, but does not follow up, the struggles of ordinary Christians in their everyday lives. The history of the gatherings is important -- the Cottesloe Consultation in 1960, which led to the Dutch Reformed Churches leaving the World Council of Churches. Statements like the Message to the People of South Africa, the Belhar Confession and the Kairos Document, significant as they are, are, in a sense are just punctuation marks in the story of the struggle.
Even the Christian Institute, which was formed in the wake of the Cottesloe Consultation to provide an opportunity for individual Christians to meet with others ecumenically when their denominations (especially the Dutch Reformed Churches) had withdrawn from official top-level ecumenical contact, tended to become an ecumenical bureaucracy. At one point in the early 1970s some friends and I contemplated publishing a cartoon strip showing showing an overseas visitor (from the headquarters of the International Christian Conspiracy in Geneva) visiting South Africa to see the South African Church at first hand. And so he undertook a safari. But this safari did not need a 4x4 vehicle, much less foot-slogging over rough terrain. It could all be accomplished travelling by lift from floor to floor in a building in Braamfontein in Johannesburg, and feeling, when he left the building on the ground floor, that he had seen all that there was to be seen of the church in South Africa.
And there is a sense in which this book is like that. It's a tour of the headquarters building, but shows little of what was going on on the ground. Yet the tour of the headquarters does form part of the history, as do the statements that were produced by synods and conferences and consultations. And it is good to have that part of the history recorded, and the theological reflection of that part of the story. The very fact that this book has had to be reprinted and updated shows what an important contribution it makes, and there is nothing quite like it.
But a lot of the rest of the story has yet to be written.
As for the issue of race versus class, I am always reminded of a friend of mine, the wife of an Anglican priest working in South Africa, who had grown up in a working-class housing estate in the north of England. And she always used to say, "When South Africa has finally sorted out the problem of the blacks and the whites, the real problem will emerge: the haves and the have-nots."
I was reminded of this when I attended one of those consultations, which merits a paragraph in the book:
The extent of this white backlash was one of the reasons why the SACC (South African Council of Churches) convened a Consultation on Racism at Hammanskraal in February 1978 (actually February 1980). Born out of the frustration and anger felt by black theologians who saw little evidence of change a call was made on 'all white Christians to demonstrate their willingness to purge the church of racism'. This was followed by an ultimatim that: 'if after a period of twelve months there is no evidence of repentance shown in concrete action, the black Christians will have no alternative but to witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ by becoming a confessing church.'
One of the things that struck me most about the Consultation was that most of those who attended were male, they were clergy, and they were above all middle class. It was a consultation of the haves, comfortable middle-class clergy, meeting in a comfortable conference centre, eating plentiful quantities of well-prepared food. And when, at the end, the question came up of how to payfor it, it was proposed that it should come from a fund for the poor, because it was, after all, for their benefit.
One of the interesting things, to me at any rate, that came out of the conference was that at least some people seemed to take it seriously. One of the instances of racism identified at the conference was racism in church names, and within a couple of years the Bantu Presbyterian Church and the Tsonga Presbyterian Church had changed their names.
Another thing that struck me at the Consultation was that the biggest barriers to communication did not arise from race or class but from denomination, or, more precisely, ecclesiology. Everyone present had a different picture of the church in their minds, which did not necessarily correspond to the picture in the minds of others. For Methodists, the "church" was a huge impersonal centralised authority known as "conference". It was connexional. For Anglicans, it was the diocese, with a bishop you could talk to, and each diocese differing from all the others. For Lutherans it was still dominated, at that stage, by the missionary/pastor divide -- ie colonialism. And for the Reformed it was still dominated by the idea of "own" (eie -- own people, own church, own affairs, defined by race), even among those who rebelled against it. And it was in the Reformed context that the notion of the black confessing church was born and proposed.
So the book is a snapshot, a bit like a series of pictures of icebergs drifting with the current. But the bits you can see are only a small fraction of the whole....more