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Part 1:Youth

Part 1b:Army
Part 2:University
Part 3:Africa
Part 4:Teacher
Part 5:Fieldwork
Part 6: Retiremnt


Part 3

pic1951–1956: TANGANYIKA

I spent nearly five years in the Colonial Service in Tanganyika, serving in seven different districts. Government policy was not to leave officials for long in any one district: usually the longest period one could hope for was one ‘tour’, which averaged two and a half years. The rationale behind this policy was that a long stay would lessen objectivity, the officer becoming too closely identified with the local people. The result was that few officers learnt any local vernacular language: we all became proficient in Swahili, which sufficed for most occasions, but it was by no means the lingua franca then that it is today. My being both junior and a single man, when most of my colleagues were married, meant that I was transferred even more frequently than the average. Relatively short postings meant that I had few opportunities to make anthropological enquiries; these would have needed both longer postings, and more ‘free’ time.

Tanganyika had been ruled as German East Africa for nearly thirty years, until the end of World War 1 when it became a protectorate of the League of Nations, with Britain being the administrative body. After World War 2 it became a United Nations Trusteeship Territory, still administered by Britain. This UN status differed only a little from the ‘regular’ British colonies: Tanganyika was under the Colonial Office, and periodic inspections by UN teams were meant to ensure that the rights of the local people were upheld.


Unlike in neighbouring Kenya, with its more fertile land, there was only a handful of white settlers, concentrated in two or three of the higher parts of the country. A few Germans had remained, and there were a small number of Afrikaners from South Africa, as well as Greeks, Indians and Lebanese, the last three being mainly in trade.

In preparation for coming out to Tanganyika I was advised to visit a colonial outfitter in London, where I was given mostly inappropriate advice. I bought a sun helmet and a red flannel ‘spine pad’ (supposed to protect one’s spine from the harmful effects of the tropical sun), neither of which I used. I also bought a portable hip-bath with a wicker basket inside, which proved useful for packing small, fragile items on safari; a small canvas washbasin was, however, invaluable. My maroon cummerbund, when bound around a white shirt, was adequate for formal evening wear. I also bought, on the advice of well-meaning friends, a .22 rifle (‘you can shoot guinea-fowl’) and a recorder (‘you should have a musical instrument to play’), neither of which lasted long. I declined to buy a white tropical uniform with a white helmet; in the event I never really needed one. I was thankful though that the colonial outfitters persuaded me to buy an elegant pair of boots, made of light leather and covering the legs up to the calves, providing excellent protection against the abundant evening mosquitoes.

I set out for Tanganyika in July 1951, routing myself via South Africa so that I could see my father in Durban. Ouma and I had a good voyage out to South Africa, arranging to travel on the same Union-Castle mail ship as the Evans-Pritchard family: E-P, Ioma and their six children. I taught the twin five-year-old boys to swim, and I had long conversations in the late evenings with E-P, walking on the deck while he told me about his days in Cairo, in the Sudan, and later in North Africa among the Sanusi. Another memorable passenger was my Durban High School English teacher, Neville Nuttall, so I was able to introduce two of my three most important mentors to each other (the third was Monica Wilson). I served daily mass, in the dining room, for the Provincial of the Jesuits in Southern Africa. And I became friendly with one of my first gay couples, returning from a holiday in Morocco, which they had chosen because they wanted to visit a country with a predominantly dark population where being white had no particular advantage.

We arrived in Cape Town in September 1951, three years after the National Party had taken power, and had begun implementing apartheid. On disembarking, I wanted to telephone a college friend, and I noticed that the telephone booths at the docks were all marked Europeans Only or Non-Europeans Only. Wishing to make a protest, I used one for ‘non-Europeans’; when I emerged, I realised that I had been using the only telephone for non-Europeans, and that my futile protest had merely served to inconvenience an old coloured man, patiently waiting for me to finish, and not daring to use the ‘whites only’ telephone.

E-P with Zande boys in the Southern Sudan, 1927-1930 photo: Pitt Rivers' Museum

We disembarked in Durban, and Ouma settled herself in a flat there. I had a good reunion with my father; then boarded an intermediate Union-Castle liner, bound for England via the East Coast. We made one stop, at Isla do Mozambique, a charming old Portuguese colonial city, where my fellow colonial cadet Bill Tulloch and I had a happy day, having to be summoned by sirens to catch the last ferry to our boat. I disembarked at Dar es Salaam, the capital city of Tanganyika, staying a few days at the New Africa Hotel, enjoying the new tropical sights, and practising my Swahili. I presented my visiting card (‘Mr. D. W. Brokensha, Provincial Administration’) at the Governor’s residence and also at the Office of the Chief Secretary, who warned me not to be too hard on white settlers or prospectors, telling me that South African officials tended to compensate for their country’s discriminatory policies by being unduly harsh with the white settlers and traders, who, as he pointed out, also had rights.

After a few days in Dar es Salaam I boarded the train for the two day journey to Tabora, the headquarters of the Western Province. The journey on the slow, wood-burning train was my real, exciting introduction to rural tropical Africa. In the 1950s communications, including railways and postal services, were slow, but reliable.

During my short stay in Tabora, the District Commissioner (DC) invited me to join the hunt for a lion, which had been killing the pigs of a white farmer. Being no hunter, I was not thrilled at this assignment, but I thought it best to comply. Another cadet (as newly-arrived district officers were called) and I spent most of the night crouching in long grass, with our borrowed rifles, waiting for the lion, which, I am happy to say, did not appear.

I was only once again involved in a hunt, when I was visiting Kigoma, on Lake Tanganyika, and local people had asked the DC to kill a hippo that had been destroying their crops. I joined a small party of hunters, including the Belgian consul, an avid hunter, who fired at the hippo, but, to my relief, he missed. I appreciated that it was our duty to see that the crops were not damaged, but I thought that there must be other ways than by slaughtering this great animal.


There were fifty-six districts in Tanganyika, and in October 1951 I was posted to Kahama, north of Tabora, where the local people were Nyamwezi. Cadets were not eligible for a loan for a personal vehicle during their probationary period, so I travelled on an administration truck. I spent three months in Kahama, becoming familiar with the duties of a district officer.

I lived in a tumbledown house where I slept on the verandah, supposedly protected against insects by netting which was broken in many places. At night I was often disturbed by strange noises, and I looked them up, using my torch, in R Lydekker’s The Game Animals of Africa. This fine 1908 volume enabled me to identify my nocturnal visitors, including civet cats and genets, porcupine, hyena and once a magnificent leopard. When I had identified my visitor, I would return to sleep, despite the flimsy protection of the netting. I soon learnt, too, that in the mornings, before putting on shoes, I needed to tip them up and shake them, to dislodge any lurking scorpions. It was an adventure for me, I expected to be in strange and exotic locations, and I was prepared to put up with what was offered: it was all part of the romance.

My colonial homes varied greatly, most being better than this first one. Few of my early stations had electricity: we depended on Tilley or Aladdin paraffin lamps for illumination, and we had paraffin refrigerators. Hot water was provided, quite satisfactorily, by a boiler consisting of two 44-gallon drums, the lower one for firewood, the top one for water.

During my five years in Tanganyika, the period of my short stay in Kahama was my only unhappy experience because the DC and I did not get on. Almost as soon as I arrived, I was told, as a ‘thirdclass magistrate’, with limited powers, to take a court case in which a man was accused of cutting down a mninga tree (Pterocarpus bussei), a valuable hardwood tree and a protected species. I asked the DC what sentence I should give, and he replied, pompously, ‘Oh, I could not possibly discuss this case with you, it would be most unprofessional.’ At all my other stations, the DC and DO cheerfully discussed cases and appropriate sentences.

This case was my first personal experience of the vast gulf between ruler and ruled, of the myriad cultural misunderstandings. Forestry laws protecting certain species had been passed, but the accused had almost certainly not heard about the new regulations. He lived in a remote area, and his people had for generations been accustomed to using the mninga hardwood for furniture and for building. He readily admitted that he had cut down the tree, to make a chair; the prosecuting police officer (with whom I was friendly, we played tennis together) suggested a fine of twenty shillings or ten days in jail. I worried about the stoical young man, and I visited him in prison every day, to make sure that he was alright – which he was. Both he, and the sergeant in charge of the small prison, thought that my behaviour was odd.

A more serious conflict arose when I was invited to dinner at the DC’s house. Seven of us had dinner on the veranda, others including the senior District Officer (the DO1), and his wife, together with three bachelor officials – the police officer, the agricultural officer and myself. All were ‘Europeans’ and all were dressed formally, the men in jackets and ties, even in that tropical heat and humidity. It was the time of the 1951 general election in Britain when the Tories (the Conservative Party, under Winston Churchill) defeated the Labour Party and regained power. When we heard the news on the radio, the DC stood up and proposed a toast to the new government. I declined to stand, saying that as colonial administrators we should not be involved in British politics. I was correct, but the pompous DC never forgave me and after that we were barely on speaking terms. Probably most of my colleagues voted for the Conservative Party, but I never felt obliged to hide my own views – I have always voted for the Labour Party in Britain, even today when I have many reservations about Labour policy. I managed, with the help of the DO1, to minimise contact with the DC and I found congenial company with others.

I soon got used to dealing with court cases, which concerned minor offences, when the accused, as often as not, admitted guilt. I had been told that one of my duties might be to witness a hanging, if an accused person had been sentenced to death. To my great relief I was never called on to do this fearsome duty: I am not sure whether in conscience I could have done so. (My father, a judge in the Natal Native High Court in South Africa, had pronounced the death sentence many times; he and I never talked about this.) In one of my court cases a twelve-year-old boy was accused of stealing from a storeroom. With some reluctance, I sentenced him to three strokes. I had to witness the punishment, which was administered by a sergeant of the police, who carefully placed a cloth soaked in antiseptic over the boy’s buttocks. I had been tempted to ask the sergeant not to make the strokes too hard, but that proved unnecessary.

On Saturdays I made my regular round, inspecting the small clinic, the market, the shops and the prison, to make sure that all was in order. Prisons in the stations where I was posted were small and well run. I saw no brutality in these prisons, which had no resemblance to the terrible overcrowded prisons in many countries today. Besides inspecting trading licences, and ensuring that litter was cleared away, the important part of the walkabout was chatting with the shopkeepers (mostly Indian) and to the Native Authority officials.

In Kahama I made my first acquaintance with missions, which played an important role in Tanganyika, providing many of the schools, hospitals and clinics. The missions varied in their effectiveness; most of my contemporaries would agree that generally the Roman Catholic and the UMCA (the Anglican ‘Universities Mission to Central Africa’) were the most effective, partly because the staff remained at the same mission for many years – sometimes as long as forty years. They spoke the vernacular language fluently, and knew much more about local history and society than we could ever hope to learn, in our short stays. However, we had to be careful not to rely too much on the missionaries’ interpretation of people and events, which, understandably, tended to give prominence and sympathy to their own adherents. Although relations between missionaries and colonial administrators were generally cordial, sporadic quarrels did occur – for example concerning the use of child labour by the missions. It was common practice at mission schools for the pupils to help with cleaning the classrooms and the school compound. But some enthusiastic missionaries ordered schoolchildren to do an increasing range of tasks, such as helping with building, or the upkeep of roads – until officials felt bound to step in.

I had to take care not to allow being a Catholic to influence any of my official decisions. Protestants and Catholics competed over permission to open schools, the rule being that different denominations could not have schools within five miles of each other. One Catholic missionary told me that he preferred to deal with Protestant officials, because Catholics like me tended to be hard on Catholic applications, just to show that we were not biased.

The nearest Catholic church – a mission church – was eight miles away, and I had no motor car, but the Senior District Officer, Major Mitchell, was a Catholic and took me to mass with his family. We were the only white people in a congregation of several hundred Nyamwezi, and the French-Canadian priest would give his sermon in kiNyamwezi. Sitting immediately below the pulpit, the Major would impatiently and ostentatiously tap his watch if the sermon went on too long, and the priest would hurriedly wind up. Although embarrassed by this, I never remonstrated with my colleague because I had had a problem with this priest. I used to play tennis with his junior priest, Jean-Michel, also French-Canadian, and like me new to the country. We enjoyed this as a welcome Saturday afternoon break, but the senior priest decided that Jean-Michel and I were becoming too friendly, and told him to stop seeing me. So I put up with the Major’s peremptory curtailing of the Sunday sermons.

Tanganyika, like most of the British colonies in Africa, had adopted the policy of ‘indirect rule’. We really had little choice, because the few hundred British administrators could not possibly have used any form of direct rule. We confirmed the appointment of chiefs, whom we paid, and in return they were obliged to undertake many duties, the main one being the collection of taxes. Many African societies (including those in Handeni, where I later spent over a year) had never had traditional chieftaincy, so there were initially serious problems in getting the people to accept the authority of the government-appointed ‘chiefs’.

While I was at Kahama, I had my first thrilling experience of safari, a term that could mean any journey, but usually referred to an overnight stay. The Governor, Sir Edward Twining, decreed that all rural administrative officials should spend at least ten nights per month out in the district. He maintained, validly, that we could not understand the people if we spent all our time in the boma (the administrative headquarters). By making regular safaris to all parts of the district, we came to know the people better. This suited me very well, although some of the married officials missed their families. When on safari I sometimes slept in the open, but usually in one of the small mud and thatch rest houses available at each of the Native Authority locations. I had neither a weapon, nor an armed escort, and I never felt any fear when I was in the bush.

Once I put up my camp bed under a tree, on the outskirts of a collection of huts. I was awakened in the middle of night by a stinging sensation in my legs, accompanied by distressed squawks from the village chickens. On shining my torch, I discovered that we had been invaded by a column of safari ants, and soon all the villagers were stamping, swatting and cursing as we all tried to get rid of these tenacious and fierce insects.

On one of my first safaris, I was approached at night by a clearly frightened man who said that his name was Omari, and that the game ranger, who employed him as a cook, and who was camped nearby, had beaten him. In the morning I had an unpleasant interview with the ranger, who angrily told me that he wanted to charge Omari with desertion. I told him that there would be a counter-charge of assault causing grievous bodily harm. He then withdrew his charge and said that he would not employ Omari again. At the time I had no cook, so I employed Omari, who was a sweet man but a hopeless cook, and I was relieved when I was transferred a little later to Kasulu, because this gave me an excuse to leave Omari behind. I felt bad, but not for long.

I met a few other Natural Resource officials who had little sympathy with Africans, being concerned only with the resource (game, forests, or water) they were charged to protect. However, most of them eventually came to recognise that local people did have rights, and that compromises were in order.

During my first months in Kahama I tried to play my recorder, but after struggling, excruciatingly, with Bobby Shaftoe’s gone to sea … he’ll come back and marry me, and getting nowhere, I gave up.

Tennis was a favourite occupation, tennis courts being found at most stations. I recall one Saturday afternoon when several visitors were present, a young African girl, about fifteen years old, walked behind the tennis court, on her way home from fetching water at the river. She was not self-conscious, singing sweetly and softly, water from the pot on her head having spilled on to her kanga, so that her beautiful young figure was clearly silhouetted. Both players and spectators turned to watch her, the men gazing spellbound, while the wives sadly watched their men.

I took my .22 rifle on a few late afternoon walks, seeing many guinea-fowl but not managing to shoot any. My heart was not in it, so I disposed of both recorder and rifle, and set about living my own life, not one imposed on me by the expectations of others. I reminded myself of my POW resolve not to be ‘pushed around’. I slowly got used to alternating periods of elation and excitement, with fewer times of loneliness and doubts. Whatever my mood, I was never bored: there was always so much to do, so many new experiences.


After three months at Kahama I felt discouraged, largely because of the hostile and unhelpful attitude of the DC. By one of the many happy coincidences of life, John Beattie, my friend from Oxford, came to see me on his way to do anthropological fieldwork among the Bunyoro of Uganda. John had spent eight years in the Tanganyika administrative service, and (without my knowledge) communicated my doubts and misgivings to the Provincial Commissioner (PC). The PC apparently decided that I was worth saving, and sent his administrative assistant to see me. The result was that I was transferred to Kasulu, another district in the Western Province, which bordered with the then Belgian-administered territory, Urundi, now Burundi. As far as I was concerned, the PC could not have made a better decision.

My new DC, John Leslie, was experienced, kind, and humorous. He and his wife Elizabeth immediately made me feel welcome and useful; I could not have wished for a better guide in my new career. The DC’s home was an old German fort, dating from 1906 – very romantic in a Beau Geste way – where I was entertained hospitably on many occasions. Although it was certainly romantic, with grand views over the countryside, the house was not very practical: when the Leslies went on leave, the new DC, who had a family, opted to live in a new bungalow: his wife was afraid for the safety of their children, with the fort’s unprotected stairs, terraces without railings and a generally inconvenient design. Because the DC did not live in the fort, I was able to move in and enjoy it in solitary splendour for a few months.

It was at this time that a colleague discovered the new 33 rpm ‘long-playing’ gramophone records, and sold me a hundred of his old 78s. The forestry officer, who also liked classical music, and I had some happy evenings, sitting on the terrace, a glass of Tusker beer in hand, taking it in turn to wind the gramophone, and gazing out at a grand expanse of Africa.

John Leslie and I alternated going out for a week’s safari, so that we saw each other only at weekends. John knew the district well (its population was then about 200 000) and encouraged me to see as much of it as I could. As a DO, I was known as Bwana Shauri, which meant that I looked after the shauris or problems of local people. John encouraged me to settle as many of the complaints as I could. When I asked him what I should do if a man wished to see the DC personally, but had nowhere nearby to stay, John told me that I could accommodate people like that in the prison for a few days. One man complained that the chief had fined him unjustly, and he wished to appeal to the DC, whom he insisted on seeing personally. He had no relatives with whom he could stay, so I took him to the prison – and I forgot all about him. When John was inspecting the prison, later, he asked the man (who by then had served two weeks, without hard labour) what he was doing there he was told, ‘Bwana Shauri said I should wait here until you came.’ John laughed when he told me this, but advised me to keep a note in my diary in future.

The alternate weeks, spent at the boma (administrative headquarters), were occupied by attending to the many people, mainly men, who came with complaints or questions. We set aside a stipulated time for these petitioners; each one took a long time to settle. By the time I arrived at the boma, at 7 a.m., there would be a line of men, and occasionally a few women, waiting for me. The clerk would already have done a preliminary sorting, deciding which people I needed to see. The role of clerks, like that of the chiefs, was difficult, demanding exquisite tact if they were not to become unpopular, and even risk being bewitched. They acted as gatekeepers or brokers, a difficult balancing act.

Part of the week was set aside for hearing court cases. I had authority to try minor criminal and civil cases, with a maximum sentence of three months’ imprisonment. During this probationary period all my court reports were reviewed by a High Court judge. I was glad that my father did not see some of the judge’s scathing comments: none of my sentences was altered, but I was often reproved for my sloppy court procedure. For example, I might neglect to write (court records were hand-written) and sign, at the appropriate section, ‘ROFC’, indicating that I had ‘Read Over (to the witness) and Found Correct’ a witness’ statement. John Leslie, always kind and helpful, encouraged me to master such details, and I gained confidence.

The week at the boma also involved dealing with correspondence, the most important being that with the PC, who was usually understanding about our problems, having invariably been a ‘bush’ DC himself. There was also contact with Departments (Prisons, Public Works, Police, Tsetse Fly, Water, Game, Forestry, Health, Education) at Dar es Salaam, where many officials had no idea of the constraints under which we worked, often making unrealistic demands on us. This ‘periphery/centre’ conflict is a universal one, and we – like soldiers at the front – were convinced that we knew what was best to do, and what was possible. The office clerk, in those days always an African man, typed the correspondence, and looked after the yellowing files. My relationship with the clerks was always close, particularly during my first year, when I relied heavily on their experience and advice. Even experienced officers, when arriving in a new district, were careful to listen to the clerk, who might well have been in that job for many years, and who would know certain details, especially about the local people, and their relationships and past histories, that would not appear in the ‘ Handing Over Notes’, which the outgoing DC would have written for his successor.

I had a happy time at Kasulu, improving my Swahili and learning more about the district. I was intrigued by Teresa, Paramount Chieftainess of the Buha, the main group in the district. Mwami Teresa belonged to the minority Watusi cattle owners, who lorded it over nearly 300 000 WaHa, (spread over both Kasulu and Kibondo Districts) in a situation similar to that of the Tutsis and Hutus in Belgian-administered Ruanda-Urundi. Fortunately, Tanganyika’s independence was not followed by the tragic conflicts that occurred in the neighbouring territories though both Kasulu and Kibondo now have large concentrations of refugees. Mwami Teresa was an educated, confident and forceful young woman, who handled her elders – and us, the colonial officials – with great skill. Anthropologists have examined the difficult ‘interstitial’ or broker role of African chiefs: difficulties would arise because of the chiefs having to balance two often-conflicting demands and expectations, those of their own people, and those of the Administration. Another important player – or ‘stakeholder’ in today’s parlance – was the local White Fathers’ Catholic Mission; one of the old Dutch priests had known Teresa’s father, and had taught Teresa at school. Teresa was superb in maintaining an appropriate balance between the conflicting demands.

I loved the safaris, usually travelling in a GT (Government Transport) three ton lorry. When I accompanied Richard, the Agricultural Officer, who had a Land Rover, we were glad of each other’s company. We would go about our respective business at each chieftaincy, then meet in the evenings, learning from each other’s experiences. Of all the other departmental officials, I invariably found the agricultural officers the most congenial; they knew the most about the local people, and did not seek blindly to impose their views.

Once, Richard and I were dropped off in the western section of the district, and walked for two days, near the Gombe Chimpanzee Reserve (later made famous by Jane Goodall’s pioneering long-term research among the chimpanzees), to Lake Tanganyika, where we had arranged to be collected by the official launch, Imara. We felt grand, enjoying a gin and tonic under the awning, with the Union Jack fluttering in the breeze, while the Imara headed for its home port of Kigoma. We justified this marvellous safari to our superiors by pointing out that the admittedly small lakeside population had seldom been visited, and indeed we were able to recommend some much needed improvements.

A remarkable German lady, with an extensive knowledge and love of English literature, ran the Dar es Salaam Bookshop, which dispatched parcels of books all over Tanganyika. She soon got used to my tastes, so I could leave the selection to her; each month she posted a batch of six to eight eagerly-awaited books. They arrived regularly, coming by train from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma, then by railway bus to Kasulu.

One day, when I was at the boma, I heard excited voices outside; a young man had brought in an adolescent female chimpanzee who clung to him nervously. The man told me that he had found the animal in the forest; possibly her mother had been shot, or captured by poachers, in the Gombe Chimpanzee Reserve. The elders had told him that he should bring it to the boma. I was unable to look after it – I was looking after a colleague’s dog and also I was away on safari for much of the time. I remembered John Leslie’s advice about using the prison as a temporary home for strangers, so I walked with the young man and the chimpanzee to the prison. The gates were open, with about thirty prisoners waiting for their lunch. The chimpanzee dashed off and threw her arms around one of the older prisoners, Kilungu, who was waiting trial for murder. He accepted his new companion as though he had been expecting her.

Kilungu had walked from his home to the boma two months earlier and told me his story. He had a young wife, and when he was at the market, drinking beer, he heard the young men joking about how the wives of elderly husbands always had young lovers. He realised that this was directed at him and he walked home, flung open the door of his hut, and found his wife in a young man’s arms. ‘I killed him with one blow and then I walked here. I know what the penalty is and you should hang me. I had to do this and I have no more to say.’ Kilungu was astonished at what seemed to him a very cumbersome procedure. First he had to make a voluntary statement before me, and then I told him there would be a Preliminary Inquiry (PI) when witnesses would be called and a judge would review the record and decide if he had to go to trial at the High Court. Kilungu said, slowly and distinctly, ‘I killed that man. I told you why I did it. Now you must hang me.’ The PI lasted several days, because we had to call many witnesses – the men present at the beer drink; the dresser who testified about the wound made by the spear; the chief, the clerk, the messenger, the policeman – everybody who knew anything about the case had to come to court to give evidence. After hearing each witness’s testimony, Kilungu was asked whether he wished to cross-examine any of the witnesses, or ask any questions. He bore all this with dignity and patience but also with scarcely concealed disdain.

Kilungu’s meeting with the chimpanzee changed his life; he ceased being impatient and bored and took a great interest in his new companion, making sure that she had bananas and fresh maize, and the chimpanzee slept at his feet at night. Knowing that Kilungu would not attempt to escape, we allowed him out for an evening’s walk, when he and the chimpanzee would take a gentle stroll, hand in hand, a poignant pair, but I knew that their happiness could not last for long.

A game warden who was fond of orphaned animals agreed to take the chimpanzee. I arranged that Kilungu and she should travel together to Tabora, the provincial capital, he to face his trial, she to be met by my friend. The last I saw of them was Kilungu, composed and grave, sitting at the back of the GT three ton truck, with his companion sitting close to him and firmly clasping his hand for reassurance, while looking out eagerly from her solemn brown face. The chimpanzee settled down with the game warden, and the judge found extenuating circumstances at Kilungu’s trial, sentencing him to two years’ imprisonment.

Once a year, all the District equipment, which was meticulously inventoried, would be inspected by a ‘Board’ of three colonial officers, two of whom came from other departments – not from the Administration. At a large station, a Revenue Officer would come from provincial headquarters, specially for this important annual check. A rigorous physical inspection of each item ensued, to ensure that the inventory was correct. The Board was empowered to ‘write off’ any items that were clearly beyond repair. If nothing else, our administration was frugal: it was only the thinnest hoe blade, the leakiest karai – a metal bowl used for many purposes – the most threadbare tunic, or the wobbliest chair, that was ever written off. Visiting Kenya and Tanzania after independence, Bernard and I were shocked by the profligate waste – Land Rovers would be left by the roadside after they had been damaged in a minor accident; typewriters abandoned when there was a malfunction. When I remarked on this, a clerk at the University of Dar es Salaam told me, ‘Oh it is alright, the Swedes will give us a new typewriter.’

I was awoken one night, before I had moved into the fort, by a violent shaking of my bed, with pieces of the ceiling tumbling down around me – fortunately the mosquito net draped over the bed protected me. At first I thought that some of my colleagues had had a jolly evening, and were shaking my bed, then I realised that it was an earthquake. Slipping on a dressing gown, I peeped outside, not being sure what the drill was: I did not wish to appear nervous. However, my neighbour, the DO1 and his wife, with her young baby, were outside and clearly alarmed, so I joined them, waiting until the aftershocks subsided. In the light of day, I could see that our houses had not suffered serious damage, but I had to move out, to the rest house (for visiting officials) for a few weeks, while repairs were being done. I shared the rest house with an American missionary and his wife, whose house had been destroyed in the earthquake. Seeing me practising my Swahili one morning (I did this to escape boring conversation with him), he told me that he did not need to learn Swahili, because he ‘spoke in tongues’. He could not have been very proficient, because when his house had been rebuilt, he moved back and a short time later his congregation burnt it down. It was difficult for me not to feel some schadenfreude.

At this time I was confused about my sexual identity, although that phrase was not then in use. I had had a few sexual encounters with other young men at university, but I was also attracted to women, and on the voyage out I had met, and been attracted to, a young woman, M, whom I invited to Tanganyika, where she stayed with my District Commissioner and his wife. (In those days, it was unthinkable that she could have stayed with me.) I had asked her to marry me, and been accepted, and ironically it was my religion that doomed the affair. M came from a devout Anglican family (she later married an Anglican priest) and she could not accept the ruling of the Church that any children would have to be brought up in my faith. At that time (1952) the Church did not encourage ‘mixed marriages’. Looking back, I regard the breaking off of our relationship as providential: I now know that I am basically and irrevocably homosexual; I would not have made a good husband, and it would have been terribly unfair on M. Ironically, she would have made an outstanding District Commissioner’s wife, being competent at almost everything, with a sunny temperament, socially easy with all whom she met, enjoying the simple safaris, calm in herself, and brave, patient, resourceful and resilient.


What did I do when I went on safari? The main purpose was to check on the Native Authority (the chief and other staff) and the Native Treasury, which was responsible for collecting tax (a major source of revenue) and for paying employees. Other routine checks were made on schools, clinics, building works, roads, markets and shops. We often stayed at mission stations; sometimes it was difficult to get away from the hospitable missionaries; they saw few people from the outside world and were reluctant to let us go on our way.

Here, based on a surviving letter to Ouma, are some of my other tasks:

  • Attesting contract labourers for the coastal sisal estates – labour recruiters were allowed to enlist young men prepared to make the long journey to the coast and to do the arduous work of cutting sisal, in order to earn money. Many of them were illiterate, so it was my responsibility to read the contracts, and to make sure that the labourers understood what lay ahead for them.
  • Authorising tax exemption for older men, and enrolling young men who were old enough (18 years old) to be on the tax register.
  • Arranging for porters to be supplied to carry sleeping sickness patients to the clinic.
  • Discussing any personal problems of the staff – who included game scouts, forest guards, school teachers, road foremen and ‘dressers’. These men (or, occasionally, women) often had queries or complaints about pay, allowances or housing, requests for transfers, for new uniforms or bicycles.
  • Finding two men to look after a roadblock to serve as a tsetse fly picket – they would search all vehicles for tsetse flies, which had to be captured with a net and destroyed.
  • Asking the chief to find a beekeeper, prepared to go to provincial headquarters for a month-long course.
  • Checking up on equipment, including bicycles, and road-building tools.
  • Calling on Asian traders and also on missionaries – the former would offer a welcome cup of tea, made with sugar and condensed milk and tea leaves, all boiled up together.
Malagarasi safari

The Malagarasi River rises seven miles from Lake Tanganyika and runs in an enormous loop for five hundred miles, passing through both Kasulu and Kibondo Districts, then entering Lake Tanganyika. I was intrigued by the course of this great river, particularly after reading two articles in Tanganyika Notes and Records (TN&R). This journal was published twice a year by the Tanganyika Society, founded in 1936 ‘to promote the study of ethnology, history, geography, natural history and kindred sciences in relation to Tanganyika’. The journal included a marvellous Victorian miscellany, with articles on seashells, seaweed, salt, iron, canoes, bark, ships, Arabs, Germans, churches, Indians, Islam, witchcraft, music, vegetation, tsetse flies, snakes, railways, volcanoes, rock paintings, and famine. Many administrative officers contributed accounts of their safaris, two concerning the Malagarasi. TN&R also carried ethnographic articles, mostly written by colonial officials, with a few by professional anthropologists, including Philip Gulliver and Hans Cory. (My first ‘publication’ – a footnote to an article, Mwariye: a Sacred Mountain of Tanganyika – was written when I was stationed at Kibondo, and was published in TN&R No 36, in January 1954).

In August 1942, JP Moffett, then District Commissioner at Kibondo, set out to determine whether the Malagarasi was navigable between the ferry on the Kasulu–Kibondo road and the railway line. In his TN&R article, A Raft on the Malagarasi, he described the large herds of game, and the hippos which were a ‘constant menace’ on his trips on his home-made raft. Although he wrote ‘I am far from being a good shot’, he did regularly shoot game with his ‘heavy .425 rifle’. He concluded that the river was not navigable, but he clearly enjoyed his safari, writing that ‘the best moments of the day are the start in the early morning, and in the evening, when bathed and refreshed, one emerges from one’s tent and sees all round the friendly flickering fires of the porters, a cosy little island of security in this wilderness of bush … [and] one forgets the maddening tsetse.’ Moffett also had to ‘arrange for the removal of the last 350 families to sleeping sickness concentrations’. He was delighted to encounter some of the little-known and shy people, the Wakiko wa Wanyahoza, whom he named ‘the Water Gypsies’.

In 1947 Captain CHD Grant wrote, also in TN&R, The Valley and Swamps of the Malagarasi river, Western Tanganyika Territory. He noted ‘numerous water birds, sitatunga [marshbuck], hippo, crocs, zebra, topi [tsessebe], buffalo, roan antelope and reedbuck’. Grant also mentioned that the river was eighty feet wide when it reached the railway at Malagarasi Station.

As well as reading these articles in TN&R, I spoke to many people who had been moved from this area because of sleeping sickness, which had taken a heavy toll. Sleeping sickness, or trypanosomiasis, is caused by the bite of a tsetse fly. Its incubation period is two weeks, and, if untreated, most cases end in death. Early treatment, involving a painful lumbar puncture, is effective. Because of the rising death toll, the government decided to relocate all the people living in the area. The move, though unpopular, was reluctantly agreed to, largely through the efforts of the patient Sleeping Sickness Officer, the only American citizen in government service in Tanganyika. The tsetse fly was believed to depend on its main host, game animals, so the only other way to tackle sleeping sickness (which affects both domestic livestock and people) was thought to be the devastating slaughtering of all game in the affected area. This approach was adopted in the 1920s in the Umfolozi area in South Africa, culminating in the killing of 100 000 animals in 1947. After this doubts set in and the process was halted.

I was eager to see this wilderness for myself and I proposed that I do a three week safari to investigate the feasibility of a road through this area, going to some lengths to show the potential benefits of such a road. The Provincial Commissioner, to my joy, agreed to my making the trip, although he later told my DC that he knew that the road was impracticable, but that because I was doing a good job, he had been prepared to humour me.

The logistics of such a safari require two porters to carry food for everyone carrying other loads. I had no difficulty enlisting porters, because the men who had been resettled, both young and old, were keen to see their ancestral homes. Not wishing to appear arrogant, I wanted to keep to a minimum the loads being carried for me, foregoing a tent (it was dry season), and proposing to leave Kayanda, my old cook, behind. But he told me that I could not manage on my own, and insisted on coming with me. As a veteran of many foot safaris, including some with pre-WW1 German administrators, Kayanda also insisted, to my eventual relief, that I take a folding chair, and a canvas wash-basin. Kayanda himself, not about to give up any luxury, ended up with more porters than I did.

Many of the African officials also wanted to join the safari, and I was happy to allow the game scout and a dispenser to accompany us, even though each additional person meant engaging more porters. We set out with a total of thirty-seven men, who, in their eagerness to see their old homes, set off singing happily, with me feeling very ‘Sanders of the River-ish’. I am glad to have had the privilege of seeing this part of ‘the old Africa’ with all its wildlife; I tried to reconstruct in my mind the lives of the local people, and what their interactions with the game had been.

Before World War 2, foot safaris were common: good roads were rare and walking was accepted as the best way to see one’s district. But by the time that I arrived in Tanganyika in 1951, a long foot safari was quite unusual and I count myself extremely fortunate to have been allowed to do this – it was an unforgettable experience. The game scout shot ‘for the pot’, ensuring a good supply of meat. But the porters could not understand why I, a white official, who was permitted to shoot almost everything in sight, not only had no rifle, but restrained the game scout from killing more game than we needed. The porters started telling me early on ‘this is where Bwana Moffett shot his first buffalo … this is where Bwana Moffett shot his first roan antelope …’ If their stories were true, Bwana Moffett must have done a great deal of killing. However, I suspect they were exaggerating, hoping to goad me into allowing more shooting.

We soon got into a routine, breaking camp at dawn and walking in the cool of the day, stopping in the early afternoon when it was hot and the porters were getting tired. Guided by the older men, who knew the area well, we always camped at well-wooded and well-watered locations. We saw huge herds of buffalo as well as elephant and almost all the antelopes, including the water-loving sitatunga antelope, and at night we would hear lion and hyena. At no time did I feel in danger – I was in the company of such knowledgeable men, and I had the game scout as protection. In camp there was also the comfort of the ‘flickering fires’. Looking back, I am mortified that I had no special interest in birds, for the bird life was prolific.

As Moffett wrote, the early morning and the evenings were the best time of the day. We saw the remains of small villages, which the older men would excitedly point out to their younger relatives, explaining who had lived there. Eventually we reached the Malagarasi River, where we had arranged to meet our lorry at Malagarasi Station – a few miles away, on the other bank of the river. The river was certainly more than 80 feet wide and I asked the men whether Bwana Moffett had swam across. Bwana, haiwezikani, ni hatari sana … (‘No sir, it is too dangerous, there are crocodiles and hippopotamus’). With boyish bravado I stripped, told them to tell the next traveller that this is where Bwana Brokensha swam across, and I plunged in. I was relieved to see that a canoe had set out from the other bank to accompany me, but I was not prepared for my welcome: as I climbed out, naked, on the other bank, I was greeted by a group of ululating women. I clutched a bunch of leaves as covering and greeted them as solemnly as I could.

The rest of the group was ferried across the river in canoes, the lorry was indeed waiting, and after many dusty hours, we reached home, the men keeping their spirits up until the end. What made this safari so special was partly that the mood of the porters was so cheerful, they were delighted to have the opportunity to visit their old homes again – normally this was a closed area, because of the real danger of sleeping sickness. I had to do no dragooning, nor persuading; it was more a matter of selecting the strongest men, but ensuring that I included some older men, because of their experience of the area. Afterwards the dispenser urged the men to report to the clinic if they noticed any threatening symptoms, such as headaches, fever or joint pains: we had all been bitten, many times, by the tsetse flies. We told the men that Dr Taylor, a specialist in the treatment of sleeping sickness, who worked at the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital, could cure them if they reported in time. I also checked myself, a little anxiously, but fortunately none of our party became infected with sleeping sickness. As far as the projected road was concerned, it was clear – to no-one’s surprise – that it would have been far too costly.

Soon after this epic safari, a new cadet came out from Britain and, on one of his first walks near the boma, was unfortunately infected with sleeping sickness. He was cured, however, after some painful injections. Since there was no permanent doctor in Kasulu, Dr Taylor supervised our Native Authority dispensaries; he was a most impressive man. I accompanied him on safari once, watching him treat yaws, ulcers and leprosy, as well as seeing the patients whom the ‘sleeping sickness scouts’ had brought in, with suspected sleeping sickness. At one of our stops, at a market, a madman emerged from the small crowd, brandishing a panga (machete) and threatening Dr Taylor, who remained composed, talking quietly to his assailant in kiHa, the local vernacular. While Dr Taylor kept the conversation going, his assistant crept behind the man, deftly throwing a blanket over his head, and restraining him. Dr Taylor paused only to make sure that the madman was taken to hospital, and not harmed by the now angry crowd. He seemed surprised when I congratulated him on his bravery. (Fifty years later, I was delighted to meet his son, Bill Taylor, a dentist and writer, in Bulawayo.)


After spending nearly a year in Kasulu and beginning to understand the district and its problems, I was disappointed to be told that I was to be transferred a hundred miles to the north to neighbouring Kibondo, a district similar both physically and socially to Kasulu.

There was again a Catholic Mission five miles away, but no Catholic colleague to drive me, so I used to walk to mass. It was a rewarding experience. As I walked, I joined an ever-growing throng of men, women and children, all happily talking to each other, and to me – although the older people spoke no Swahili, only kiHa.

Some of the faces of the older women, especially, were radiant with joy, and I thought how beautiful they were, wrinkles and all. These times gave me some idea of how the early Christians must have felt. After mass, the Dutch sisters would invite me to breakfast. They were memorable Sunday mornings.

When I arrived at Kibondo, there was a shortage of housing because of the recent earthquake, and I was allocated a large bell tent which had a small annex as a bathroom. Shortly after my arrival, my Cambridge friend Julius Lister stayed with me for three weeks.

Julius’ arrival coincided with a visit to Kibondo by a seventy-yearold hunter coming to have his hunting licence endorsed, allowing him to shoot one elephant in the district. He invited Julius and me to accompany him. First, to ensure that Julius and I knew how to handle a rifle, the hunter set up small targets (the bases from tins originally containing fifty cigarettes) and carefully watched our shooting: we passed the test. I think the old hunter wanted us to cover his back. Both Julius and I were glad to have had this brief experience of a hunting safari, which included two days tracking the elephants in thick bush, before the hunter found and shot his elephant. I was saddened by the death of the elephant, but we had had requests for ‘something to be done’, because the elephants were raiding and destroying the crops.

While Julius was staying with me, I took local leave, so that we could go on the hunting safari, and also to allow us to visit neighbouring Urundi. We had a hair-raising journey with an Indian trader, who drove furiously on the rough winding mountain roads, but were rewarded with a few days at Bukavu, then a calm and beautiful small town on Lake Kivu, which in recent years has witnessed many bloody killings and conflicts. We stayed with an Indian businessman who had the most complete collection of classical records I had seen. ‘What shall I play?’ he would ask, and he was delighted when he could meet most of our requests.

Julius had arranged to board a lake steamer at Mwanza, a port on Lake Victoria, two hundred miles to the north, from where he would cross the lake, and go by train from Kisumu to Nairobi, to board an aircraft for Britain. Public transport on the road to Mwanza was scarce, and I was still relying on government transport, which I could not use for personal trips. (Later, in independent East African states, Bernard and I were shocked to see how both government officials and development aid workers blithely used ‘official’ vehicles for personal trips to night-clubs, game parks or beaches. It was a different culture, when the rules were ‘internalised’, and one did not dream of breaking them.) One chief, with whom I was friendly, and who had liked Julius, insisted that I borrow his 1938 Chevrolet car, one of the very few private vehicles in the district, so that I could drive Julius to Mwanza.

After Julius left, I suffered my first bout of malaria. While lying on my bed in my tent, I had a visit from the medical officer, who was making one of his infrequent visits. When the doctor bent over me to examine me, I commented that his tie – even in the bush some officials, including this doctor, wore a tie – seemed familiar, and I was told that it was a Wadham College tie. I told the doctor that I had also been at Wadham, and he later said to the DC, ‘Brokensha must be in a bad way; why, he didn’t even recognise his old college tie.’


Soon after I had settled in at Kibondo, I was told to report to Handeni, in Tanga Province, in the north-east of Tanganyika. Handeni was about six hundred miles as the crow flies from Kibondo but more than a thousand miles on the circuitous route that I had to take. From Tabora I went by train to Dar es Salaam and then by road to Handeni. A domino effect had come into play, affecting transfers: if one officer (or his wife) became ill, and needed to be replaced, this often resulted in several men being moved around. As I explained, I was especially vulnerable to transfers being both junior and single.

My disappointment at leaving the Western Province soon changed when I met my new colleagues, Randal Sadleir, the ebullient Irish DC, and John Ainley, the effective Agricultural Officer. Both men later wrote books about their time in Tanganyika, each writing at some length about Handeni. I am still in touch with these two good friends, Randal in London, and John in Yorkshire. As I have indicated above, the personality, knowledge and competence of the DC, and of other colleagues, made all the difference in my various postings. Another favourable factor was that I could now take out a loan to buy a short wheel-base Land Rover – £600 at Gailey and Roberts in Tanga, the provincial headquarters, a hundred miles away. This sum represented my entire year’s salary but was well worth it for the flexibility it gave me. Most up-country stations had an inspection pit, so that we could do our own regular vehicle maintenance. This was necessary when garages were often distant, and sometimes inaccessible in the rainy season. It was also good for the non-mechanically-minded such as me to learn, under the patient instruction of the African fundi, the simple tasks that needed to be done.

In another stroke of good fortune, I met and employed a young local man, named Timotheo, to help me in the house. Timo soon became a good companion as much as a servant, and he remained with me until I left Tanganyika. He was relaxed, even laconic: once, I asked him, probably a little testily, why he had not performed some particular task. Sijui, he answered, labda nimesahau (‘I don’t know … perhaps I forgot’), a useful tension-reducing phrase that Bernard and I frequently used. On another occasion, Timo and I discovered a snake on the veranda. I thought it was a boomslang, a venomous reptile, and asked Timo to dispatch it, saying, ‘You are the African, this is an African snake.’ With an impish smile, and a hint of mockery, he replied, ‘No, you are the bwana, this is your job.’ While we were arguing, the snake slithered away.

I was allocated a spacious, pleasant house and immediately tackled the garden. I had remarked, early on, that I saw little point in gardening if I was likely to be moved fairly soon. An older colleague rebuked me, ‘In Tanganyika you do not garden for yourself but for your successors … we all hope to find a pleasant garden at our new station.’ Even with my meagre gardening skills, I could coax a few of the old stand-bys to grow – zinnias, petunias, and African marigolds.

Although there were basic similarities in the pattern of work (the alternating of safari and desk, and the types of problems encountered), there were also great physical and social differences in the seven districts where I worked. Handeni was occupied by the Zigua in the south and by the Nguu in the more mountainous north. There were also a few nomadic WaKwavi, similar to the better-known Maasai, who wandered in with their herds of cattle, to the alarm of the Nguu farmers. Although the people, many of whom were Muslims, had had longer contact with the outside world than had those in the Western Province, much of that contact had been of an unfriendly nature, including slaving raids. At first I found them reserved and suspicious, but we soon got used to each other. As had happened at Kasulu, the advice and guidance of my DC was invaluable, saving me from many difficult situations. Like Kasulu, Handeni had also been a German boma, with some of the original buildings still standing. Near the boma was a poignant, trim cemetery, maintained by a caretaker paid by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It contained about thirty graves of soldiers who had died during World War 1 – both German and British.

Handeni boma (District Headquarters), 1955. Photo: John Ainley

Shortly before my arrival, Randal had supervised Tanganyika’s first secret-ballot election, which had been a great success. Handeni had a council consisting of nine chiefs, nine elected members and nine nominated members. Such councils were by no means ‘rubber stamps’, and it was essential for the smooth running of the district that the administrative officers and the council had cordial relations.

A mile away from the boma was the market, a much larger one than I had previously known. The most prominent Indian trader was Kheraj Bhimji, a genial person who carried an amazing range of goods in his small shop, and from whom we bought nearly all our basic supplies. Once I was settled in Handeni, I invited Ouma to stay with me for her first visit to tropical Africa. She was then aged seventy-five, but stood up well to the journey and soon adjusted to the community, getting on well with both the small European community and also with the Africans and Indians whom she met. I was proud of her easy manners and her adaptability, and pleased to see how readily she was accepted.

Ouma once let out a scream from the bathroom, when she found a strange creature in the bath. She was a little impatient when I insisted on identifying the animal (it was an elephant shrew, which I had not seen before) in my invaluable Lydekker. Once the animal had been identified and released, Ouma continued with her bath. (I saw the beautiful elephant shrew on only one other occasion, when Bernard and I were at Diani beach, in Kenya, twenty years later.)

Soon after Ouma’s arrival I returned unexpectedly to our home to find an embarrassed Kheraj Bhimji on our veranda, with an African assistant carrying a case of Scotch whisky. When I shook my head, he said, ‘Oh no, this is not a present for you, it is just to welcome Mama.’ He was not surprised when I told him to take it back, the rules being strict and clear: we were allowed to accept one bottle of whisky at Christmas from our local trader and that was that.

The Universities Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) had a thriving mission, with a school and a hospital, five miles away. There I met the saintly Father Neil Russell, and the devoted Mission sisters, who included a doctor. I have said before that there was great variety in the missions; this UMCA Mission was one of the most effective and it was appreciated by the surrounding populace – who were mostly Muslims.

Randal encouraged me to tour the district and to meet the nine chiefs, and Zumbe (chief) Hemedi Sonyo – whose chieftaincy, Magamba, was only nine miles away – soon became a close friend. I learnt much from him, including a lesson in courtesy: I once drove through Magamba without stopping to greet him, because I was in a hurry to reach a further destination. A few days later he cycled to the boma, on his regular visit. On meeting me, he said, ‘People told me that you drove by without stopping to greet me the other day but I said this was not possible, you would not do that.’ Duly rebuked, I apologised and I made certain that from then on I always made time to stop for a cup of tea, usually accompanied by Marie biscuits and hard-boiled eggs, and a good chat.

Zumbe Hemedi Sonjo and my DC, Randal Sadleir. Handeni, 1954

Like countless other junior colonial officials, I benefited greatly from the wisdom and experience of older men such as Zumbe Hemedi, always ready to dispense tactfully conveyed advice. Ouma met Zumbe Hemedi, and became friendly with his senior wife. As a farewell present, Ouma gave a brightly coloured teapot and teacups to the family. When I visited them fourteen years later, the tea set was still in use, as was proudly demonstrated. David Nickol, who had been DC Handeni after I left, visited Handeni in 2005, when he was in his mid-eighties. He wrote to Randal:

Then at Magamba we were taken to see the grave of the late Hemedi Sonyo, the chief whom we all liked so well. I touched the headstone three times, and thought of you all, almost in tears. A crowd of about 80 soon collected, and I told his grand-daughter, our hostess, how Zumbe Hemedi Sonyo once honoured me by inviting me to an all night ngoma, which culminated at dawn with a rain-making … and I imitated the way he jogged and jigged down that slope with a club in his hand, shoulders bent, surrounded by his elders and family … I think they recognised the scene.

Having seen Zumbe Hemedi in this posture, I could easily visualise it too.

Handeni has always been susceptible to drought and famine, and in 1953, after a serious drought, we experienced a grim famine. With forethought, Randal had obtained funds to build grain stores, where we kept maize as a famine reserve. I soon became familiar with terms such as moisture content – a vital factor in storing maize if it was not to rot. For some months Randal and I, as well as John Ainley the Agricultural Officer, were fully occupied in checking the availability of food in our nine chieftaincies, supervising the distribution of grain, and arranging road work as part of a famine relief programme. The Native Authorities co-operated, with the exception of one chief who blocked our efforts and failed to distribute the famine relief food.

There was no telephone then in Handeni, and one Saturday afternoon, when we were playing tennis, a small aircraft – an unusual sight, which stopped play – circled overhead, dropping a metal container which held an urgent message: a Central African Airways Viking aircraft, on its regular trip from Nairobi to Johannesburg, via Salisbury (now Harare in Zimbabwe) was late in its schedule, and would we search for it? Randal and I set out in my Land Rover, the only four-wheel-drive vehicle in the district, while John Ainley searched another route. We drove to the chieftaincy of Kwamsisi in the south of the district, one of the most rugged and least developed. With the help of the chief we located the aircraft, which had crashed in the most remote corner of our district, killing all five crew and eight passengers. Leaving the chief to look after the site, Randal and I drove to the coast, where we were able to send a message, by telephone, confirming our grisly find. This was at Sadani, a small fishing village where we had a most welcome cleansing swim in the Indian Ocean; we felt we were washing away the horrors we had seen. (Forty-five years later, at the University of Cape Town, I supervised a Tanzanian student, Rose Mwaipopo, writing her doctoral dissertation about environmental problems in a coastal village. When I asked her the name of the village she said, ‘Oh, you would not know it, it is called Sadani.’ Rose was amazed when I told her the circumstances of our visit to Sadani, many years before she was born.)

Soon after our return to the crash site, two accident investigators from Britain arrived.

Rose Mwaipopo, a Tanzanian postgraduate student in Social Anthropology at UCT at our home,

They were accommodated in a luxury camp, the like of which I had not seen, complete with generator, refrigerator and all manner of luxuries – which we too were able to enjoy. One investigator, who had had twenty years’ experience of such accidents, told me that in all his investigations, which had taken him all over the world, he had never met such honesty: the local people brought in everything they found – watches, jewellery, other valuable items, clothing, even money. According to the investigator, at other accident sites local people usually stole such items, either to sell or to keep as gruesome souvenirs. We were proud of ‘our people’.

The main witness of the disaster, a local farmer called Musa, had been sheltering under a tree during a thunderstorm, when he heard the aircraft flying overhead. He recognised it as the regular weekly flight, the only one to fly over his farm. He then described, graphically and onomatopoeically, how he heard three loud bangs, reproducing each one with uncanny accuracy; his reproduction was so realistic that, combined with the ground evidence, the investigator conjectured that the three bangs represented one wing falling off, the fuselage cracking, then the other wing breaking away. Months later, Randal, and Musa, who had never seen an aircraft at close quarters, flew to Dar es Salaam for the official enquiry, Randal reporting that Musa was ‘cool as a cucumber and greatly enjoyed the flight … He gave his evidence calmly, clearly and with the utmost conviction … his brilliant mimicking of the sound of the Viking breaking up proved decisive in the court’s finding that metal fatigue was responsible for the disaster.’ (Vickers, the manufacturers of the doomed aircraft, had alleged that the cause was faulty maintenance by Central African Airways.)

I often went on safari with John Ainley. One of his main tasks was to persuade the local farmers of the value of planting the mandatory one acre of cassava as a famine reserve. Even though everybody knew that Handeni was famine-prone, there was some resistance by farmers to being told by a colonial official what to do on their own farms. John and his team of twenty-two agricultural instructors had to exercise tact, seeking to persuade rather than to order. The instructors, all local men, were vulnerable to being assaulted, or bewitched, if they were too severe, or overbearing.

When we were on safari in the southern areas, we tried to finish at the end of the week at Kwamsisi (where the aircraft had crashed), so that we could drive the extra few miles to Mkwaja, a fishing village on the coast, where we stayed the weekend at the simple rest house. (Forty years later, John sent me a brochure, advertising a luxury hotel at Mkwaja, ‘a beautiful area with pure white sandy beaches, offshore islands and coral reefs’. We considered ourselves fortunate, having enjoyed Mkwaja when it was merely a remote fishing hamlet.) Mkwaja was actually in the neighbouring district of Pangani,

John Aimley, reading the Times, Mkwaja beach, 1953

Mkwaja beach, 1954

whose friendly DC had given us permission to stay there whenever we wished: as neither of us at the time had families to rush back to, we made the most of this opportunity. I subscribed to the airmail edition of The Times, and we appreciated the luxury of having no demands made on us for a day or two, giving us time to read the papers from cover to cover.

One morning I was awakened at 3 a.m. by a messenger on a motorcycle, He had come from Zumbe Musa, a young man who had recently been elected chief of Mgera, two hours’ drive to the north. Musa requested that I come immediately because the nomadic pastoralist WaKwavi were threatening the Nguu people. I hastily collected our veteran, impressive and unflappable police sergeant Timothy, and two askaris (policemen), and set out in my Land Rover, arriving soon after dawn. An anxious Zumbe Musa explained that a local farmer had been guarding his crops the previous evening, when he heard a rustling noise, and, thinking it was an animal, shot an arrow. But the noise had been made by a young Mkwavi lad, who had been wounded by the arrow. Fortunately, the wound was not too serious and the local dresser had dealt ably with it. But the WaKwavi men, about fifty of whom were gathered outside the courthouse, with their red cloaks and long spears, were furious. Backed by a very prominent Sgt Timothy and his men, I persuaded the WaKwavi to enter the court, leaving their spears outside. Ranged opposite them were Musa’s elders, leaving Musa and me seated at the bench on the platform.

Then followed several hours of discussion. When the WaKwavi started murmuring, like an angry swarm of bees, Sgt Timothy ostentatiously breeched his rifle, to me a most comforting sound. Eventually a compromise was reached: the farmer would pay a goat in compensation to the father of the boy whom he had wounded, and the same father would pay a fine for allowing his son to trespass in the fields at night. Before this incident, Musa and I had been wary of each other, I forget why, but afterwards we became good friends, and trusted each other.

Around this time, Hugh Lamprey, a young game biologist, arrived at Handeni to study baboon behaviour. He was particularly interested in the extent of crop damage by baboons: locals told us that baboons regularly ate one third, or even more, of their maize. We had seen the results of a troop of baboons raiding a field of maize, and this estimate seemed credible; indeed, it was widely accepted. Hugh set up camp in various fields, and meticulously observed what happened. After some months of intensive and careful study, Hugh concluded that baboons destroyed no more than two per cent of the crop. (Hugh later became internationally renowned as director of a training centre for game scouts and game rangers, and our paths crossed again fifteen years later when he visited the University of California, Berkeley.)

When Hugh was leaving, he asked me to look after an orphaned baby baboon, until he could arrange for the Game Department to collect it. But the frightened creature escaped, running up a big tree at the boma, and getting its rope tangled around branches high up in the tree. I looked at the crowd of government employees and bystanders that had gathered; they looked at me, making it clear that this was my business, not theirs, so – watched by the expectant crowd – I climbed the tree, with the baboon piteously shrieking and spraying me with urine, until I disentangled it and put it in a safe place.

The Mau Mau war in Kenya was at its height in 1953, the result of the bitter grievances of Africans, especially the main ethnic group, the Kikuyu. After more than fifty years of colonial rule, land dispossession and discrimination, the Kikuyu had started an armed revolt, which was eventually repressed in 1956, with much brutality on both sides. I was told that I was one of six District Officers in Tanganyika to have been chosen for temporary secondment to Kenya. The ‘invitation’ was couched in terms designed to make this seem like an honour, but I declined, as delicately as I could, and, fortunately, no pressure was put on me. I could not have faced that scene. (Two years later, when I was at Njombe, I received a telegram: AM INSTRUCTED TO INQUIRE IF YOU WISH TO BE CONSIDERED FOR IMMEDIATE SECONDMENT TO CYPRUS FOR TWO YEARS. I wanted to stay in Africa, and Cyprus was, at that time in the middle of a civil war, so again, I had no hesitation in politely declining.)

Towards the end of my stay at Handeni, a telephone service, that worked intermittently, was installed. By this time Randal had collapsed from nervous exhaustion, leaving me as acting DC. After the trauma of the famine, and of the air crash, I decided to take two weeks’ local leave, intending to try to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. While I was finalising arrangements, I had an invitation that I could not resist, from Bill Tulloch, my contemporary on the colonial course at Oxford, who had been transferred to the island of Mafia, south of Zanzibar. Bill, a bluff and larger than life figure, easily persuaded me that I would find a visit to Mafia fascinating, as indeed I did. I was accommodated in the spacious, cool, old German boma, where Bill was DC, and sole administrator.

Bill drove me round the small island in his Citroën, introducing me to the dignified Arab and African notables. I was intrigued by reports in the district archives of early trade with China, and organised an informal archaeological expedition. Waiting for the extra low spring tide, Bill and I set out in the government launch, with a party of twelve prisoners who were happy to have a day out. We visited two beaches, which from the records had good potential, and I supervised the prisoners in searching for pottery on the beaches. At the end of our outing, we had collected nearly a bucketful of promising-looking fragments, which, when I later deposited them at the Museum of Dar es Salaam, were enthusiastically received and identified as Chinese and Persian, some going back to the twelfth century.

Another highlight of my visit to Mafia was my introduction to the excitement of underwater snorkelling, and I managed to view a remarkable variety of colourful tropical fish. Bill and I went in the launch to promising reefs, being wary of the schools of menacing barracuda that sometimes followed us – we asked the boat crew to warn us when they came too close. Bill was an effective and respected administrator, but he saw no point in sitting in his office if there was no work for him (Mafia had a small, and mostly law-abiding, population) when he could have been enjoying himself with me.


After one year at Handeni, I was transferred to Tanga, the provincial headquarters of north-eastern Tanga province. Tanga was a pleasant coastal town, with a good natural harbour, and I was lucky in being allocated a fine bungalow in Ras Kazoni, opposite the entrance to the harbour. The colourful garden had tropical flowering bushes and shrubs, including Pride of Barbados, frangipani, masses of bougainvillea and the ubiquitous Cassia siamea. Ouma was still with me, and I was pleased that the faithful Timo could join us from Handeni.

My first DC was a rather formal, reserved man who, nevertheless, taught me an important lesson in administrative manners. I had on several occasions had long conversations with a man who was both obsessed and confused. He wrote a series of rambling complaints and eventually, irritated, I wrote a terse reply. The DC, who read through all correspondence emanating from the boma, told me to write another letter, apologising for the curt tone, inviting the complainant in to discuss the matter. He told me that I should remember that we were servants of the public, whatever the circumstances were. I duly wrote my letter as directed, ending with the customary ‘I am, Sir, your obedient servant’, leaving it for the DC to review. When I went to collect the letter, I found that the DC had signed it himself, providing a useful lesson; one that I did not forget.

I continued my duties as a magistrate, soon finding that litigation on the coast was immensely more complex than anything I had hitherto experienced. Worst of all were complicated disputes over palm trees, sometimes involving large plantations, on other occasions just a few trees. There was never agreement about ownership, both Arab and African witnesses wove intricate webs of stories in which I soon got lost; witnesses could often be bribed, and the whole proceedings were usually observed by a large crowd of critical spectators, who did not hesitate to give their opinions.

Just when I was beginning to despair of ever making sense of these acrimonious disputes, a saviour, in the form of one Shabaan Robert, appeared on the scene. An imposing, gracious Muslim, he was one of the first African administrative officers to be appointed. His official title was ‘Township Officer’ but he soon unobtrusively took me under his wing, improving my confidence and proving an excellent mentor. Even then he was a published poet, and he later became famous for his classic Swahili poetry. Shabaan Robert has been called Tanzania’s national poet, and Randal Sadleir referred to him as ‘the great and uncrowned Poet Laureate’.

In addition to guiding me through the labyrinth of coastal litigation, Shabaan Robert constantly and gently corrected my Swahili, insisting that I speak the correct coastal Swahili. On a visit to Tanzania, more than thirty years after my lessons with Shabaan, I was congratulated on my spoken Swahili when I visited Dar es Salaam; one man told me that I spoke an archaic Swahili, which I took as a compliment and I felt that Shabaan would have been pleased. My admiration and respect for Shabaan Robert have coloured my views of Muslims ever since. When I hear some of the hysterical post 9/11 generalisations about evil Muslim fundamentalists, I remind myself of my two wise and kind Muslim friends, Zumbe Hemedi and Shabaan Robert.

I have written above on the influence on me of my DCs, John Leslie and Randal Sadleir. Once again I was in luck, in meeting John Allen, who was the next DC in Tanga. John, who was older than the other DCs, was a man of immense rectitude. Pressure had been put on him to approve a large-scale beach development, including a luxury hotel, which would have necessitated the removal of some fishermen, who would then have been denied the use of the beach, on which their livelihood depended. John, like Randal an accomplished Swahili speaker, knew the fishermen well. He resolutely refused to endorse the development, earning the displeasure of some senior officials (though not the Governor) at the Secretariat in Dar es Salaam. His stubborn refusal to yield probably had negative results on his career, but he later made a second distinguished career as a specialist in Swahili at a British university.

Many years later, in the course of a consultancy on the Kenya coast, I heard of a move by a consortium of developers to build a huge luxury complex at the lovely Diani beach, south of Mombasa. Once more the local fishermen were threatened with removal and losing their access to the beach. I was in no position to make a formal protest, but I did write a letter to the PC. I set out, as fully as I could, the case for the fishermen, pointing out the probable and adverse publicity that the proposed development would have. Although I received no reply to my letter, I was delighted, a few months later, to read a speech which the PC had given to his Provincial Council. He declined to approve of the development, quoting gratifyingly large sections of my letter – without any acknowledgement.

Randal had been involved in a similar conflict in Handeni, where ancestral graves were located in the middle of a large sisal plantation. The managers of the plantation wished to plough across the burial site to make tractor access easier. Once again pressure came from the Secretariat because sisal was one of the mainstays of the economy of Tanganyika, the so-called ‘sisal barons’ wielding a baleful influence. Randal, like John, stood firm, until eventually the Governor intervened and upheld the rights of the local people. Randal had even invoked the United Nations Charter, which supported the rights of indigenous people in such conflicts.


I now come to the most momentous part of my stay in Tanga, indeed of my entire time in Tanganyika: meeting Bernard Riley in July 1954.

Despite my liking the variety and challenges of my administrative duties, and generally enjoying the daily round, I was concerned about my future, and about the direction of my life. Here was I, thirty-one years old and what would become of me? I was still troubled by my white liberal South African guilt and very concerned about the state of South Africa, as a result of the many drastic and cruel apartheid policies.

I had been regularly attending mass at the local Catholic Church, where I was friendly with the priests. By 1954, the National Party had been in power in South Africa for six years, and the horrors of apartheid were already quite clear. I thought that it was time for me to ‘do something’, but no form of political action in South Africa appealed to me. I wrote to Archbishop Hurley in Durban (a fearless and outspoken opponent of apartheid for many years – he died in February 2004) and was accepted for admission to St John Vianney Seminary in Pretoria. I was to start my training for the priesthood early in 1955.

I resigned from the Colonial Service, giving the reason, and was surprised and flattered to be invited to the capital, Dar es Salaam, where a senior official, both a Catholic and a keen sailor, took me sailing in the harbour and tried to persuade me that I could have a valid vocation in the world by staying on in the Colonial Service. But I had made up my mind, I wished to be a priest in Zululand, learning Zulu and using my anthropological background to become

Bernard. Tanga, 1954 Tanga Yacht Club

involved in social action in Natal, where I had grown up, as a form of reparation. (I was ahead of my time: as I write this there are occasional debates about whether white South Africans should make reparations, and in what form.)

Then, in the middle of 1954, everything changed: I met Bernard one Sunday evening, on the verandah of the Tanga Yacht Club. There was an immediate and powerful attraction on both sides. A few years ago, Bernard was recounting the story of how we had met, and Elisabeth, our German visitor, asked, ‘When you met, was it Kaboom?’ We had not then heard that term, but I assured her that it had indeed been Kaboom – and it remained so for ever. We confirmed the validity of what Marlowe wrote (and Shakespeare borrowed): Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?

Our memories of our first meeting differ slightly, with Bernard insisting that we met when swimming at the Tanga Yacht Club, while my recollection is of Bernard joining me and two friends on the Yacht Club terrace one Sunday evening. Whatever the exact circumstances were, we each immediately believed that we had met our destiny.

Not long after our initial meeting, Bernard suggested that we spend our lives together, an idea which at first struck me as preposterous, impossible. Bernard told me that he had been searching for years for ‘the other’, someone who would be his life-long partner. It took me a while to get used to this idea as a real possibility. I vividly recall long conversations – one on the beach near the Yacht Club, after a swim by full moon; another one alongside a remote lagoon, near Tanga. I can still see the bare branches of the trees, hear the birds, and recall my own confusion, joy and despair. What was I going to do?

I was as divided then as I have ever been, and I became seriously ill, for the only time in my life. It was, I am convinced, the result of my inner struggles, trying to choose between the Church and Bernard. I was in hospital for a week, with what was diagnosed as ‘ enteric fever’ (a form of typhoid), being delirious for four days. There had been an outbreak of typhoid in the district, and I had helped a nurse to distribute medicines at Korogwe hospital, where I may have become infected. But I am sure that my mental struggles weakened me and encouraged the illness. Bernard was desperate, later telling me, ‘I searched all my life for you and found you, and then I feared that I had lost you.’ During the delirium, I remember three visitors, all anxious for my welfare – Bernard bringing me every day a blossom from the ‘Tree of Heaven’ (bottlebrush or Callistemon), Ouma, and Harry Gill, the Provincial Commissioner.

OnRandal Sadleir’s recommendation, the Governor had suspended an African zumbe (chief) at Handeni, for corruption, and the chief had sworn that he would take revenge, threatening that anyone who opposed him would go mad, or become ill. People were afraid, because the chief was reputed to have strong supernatural powers, and witchcraft beliefs were widespread in this district. Shortly after this threat, Randal suffered a nervous breakdown, then his successor collapsed with an internal haemorrhage, and then came my illness. Harry Gill, the PC, urged me to recover and go back to show the flag, which I was keen to do. So when I returned to Handeni, one of my first acts was to drive around in a boyish show of authority, accompanied by one of the Irish priests, and by Sergeant Timothy and some of his policemen. We drove in two Land Rovers to the deposed chief’s village, on the outskirts of which three policemen were engaged in rifle practice, running about and shooting into an anthill, to impress the local people. It seems childish now, but I was pleased by my own show of supernatural and secular power.

When I had recovered from my illness, I withdrew my resignation from the Colonial Service. And on 17 July 1954 Bernard and I committed ourselves to each other.

We had to be discreet in our meetings; homosexuality was both illegal and socially frowned on, especially when – as with Bernard and me – the relationship was between two equal partners. Ironically, several colonial officials lived with young Africans, either women or men, which was tolerated as long as the relationship was not flaunted.

Tall and handsome, and at 28 three years younger than I, Bernard had served four years (1944–1948) in British Army Intelligence, in what was then termed ‘the Far East’. He had gained a double honours degree (in geography and geology) at Manchester University, his home being in Manchester. He taught Geography at Tanga High School, the only secondary school in Tanganyika preparing African boys for university. Opposite the school was a small Indian café which was not frequented by Europeans. If I was free, I would meet Bernard there at 11 in the morning, when he had a short break from his teaching. I recall, with joy, my excitement at seeing him striding across from the school in his neat white shirt, white shorts and long white stockings, his face shining with eagerness and love. We always had the same order – fresh lime juice and newly-made bhajias (small fried vegetable cakes). Other ‘safe houses’ included a Greek-owned hotel on the outskirts of town, where we often saw another illicit couple: she was the daughter of the manager of Barclays Bank (probably, after the sisal barons, the most prestigious commercial figure in the province), he was a good-looking Greek

Tanga High School staff, 1953. Bernard second from left in front row.

motor mechanic. We would greet each other shyly, each couple buoyed by realising that they were not alone in circumventing social disapproval of their relationships. Rather than watch movies at the gossipy Tanga Club, we would go to the Indian outdoor cinema, where we were the only Europeans. We saw several Bollywood movies, including the great musical Aan which we watched several times, sitting on the top of the stands.

The Tanga Club was the quintessential colonial club, with a mixture of commercial people (from sisal estates, banks, garages, engineering works) and colonial officials. All members were white (with an exception made if the doctor were Asian); it had a very proper and memsahib-ish air, which we found stifling. By contrast the Tanga Yacht Club attracted a younger and less formal set, all keen sailors, for whom the large bay offered grand opportunities. It was a congenial place, where – as had happened at the Point Yacht Club in Durban – the few motor-boat owners were much looked down on by the true yachtsmen. My friend Daphne, a nursing sister (who later married John Ainley) had the use of a trim yacht named Dainty, which I sailed when Daphne was on duty, with Bernard crewing for me. We even had the thrill of winning one of the major races.

We both loved sailing in Tanga harbour, but have seldom sailed since, finding it too demanding a pastime in our other locations. Twenty years later, Bernard and I revisited Tanga, and found the yacht club little changed, and, I noticed, with still exclusively white membership. Sailing apparently does not appeal to Africans or Asians.

As at my other stations, retail trade in Tanga was dominated by Asians, with Popat Kassam owning the leading grocery. Shopping there with Bernard, I spotted some bottles of nondescript wine, and asked Mr Kassam what the vintage was.

‘Yes, please?’ he asked. ‘When was the wine made?’ ‘Oh, very new, please, all our stock is very new.’

I balance this tale with one from Rhodesia, where we moved a few years later. Early one morning our friend Maire O’Farrell rushed in to tell us that Haddon and Sly, the main departmental store, was having a great sale. The new (white) manager had told all departments that they must get rid of old stock. In vain did the wine manager plead to be able to keep his choice vintage wines – ‘No. Everything must go.’ This sale introduced us to Pouilly Fumé, one of the first cases of wine that we had ever bought, because we could afford the sale prices – sixpence a bottle. So Popat Kassam was not alone in his ignorance.

As part of my duties in Tanga, I made an official visit to the eccentric Colonel Boscawen who owned a sisal estate, at Moa, near the coast, where he had built a house, described by John Allen as ‘a cross between an English country house and the Wallace Collection’. There was an extraordinary collection of paintings and jewels and objets in the Boscawen home. Unlike other sisal estates, where the crop usually came right up to the front door, the house at Moa was enclosed in a small island of shrubs and flowering trees, with vistas carefully cut to give glimpses of the ocean.

Colonel Boscawen, a bachelor, encouraged me to visit and to bring Bernard. We would dress for dinner, wearing shukas (saronglike garments) and long-sleeved shirts and sandals. We got up before dawn to fish, introducing our host to the excitement of snorkelling.

DWB, fishing at Moa. 1954 Col Boscawen’s boat, Lorraine

Bakari, the old boatman, tried to dissuade Col Boscawen from this dangerous sport, telling him, Je, wewe ni Mzee, usiendelea (I say, you are an old man, do not continue). At that time the coral reefs abounded in marine life, but since then excessive poaching, including the use of dynamite, has resulted in a drastic loss.

Tanga District included a long stretch along the coast as well as large areas inland, parts of which were in the Usambara mountains, which were cool and attractive. There was a lovely old rest house in the hill station of Amani, where we spent several happy weekends. In 1954, the mountain road passed through thick forests and we used to stop halfway for a skinny dip in a clear mountain stream. When Bernard and I revisited the area twenty years later the stream had disappeared, and the grand indigenous Chloraphora excelsa ( African teak) had all been cut down and replaced by stark stands of exotic trees. Amani had magical associations for us, both because of our stolen weekends at the hill station, and also because it means peace in Swahili. We used the name AMANI on our personalised number plates on our VWs in California, and even now my Audi bears the name, a constant reminder to me of those happy days.

Once I had abandoned the idea of trying my vocation, and Bernard and I had established our relationship, I stopped receiving communion, although I did attend mass fairly regularly. When I met Bernard he was not a church-goer, although he had enjoyed his Anglo-Catholic boyhood in Manchester. He did not join the Catholic church until 1992, but he never criticised my faith, and always encouraged me to go to mass.

Although Bernard and I were engrossed in each other, we each had our demanding duties to do and had to snatch whatever moments together we could manage. Bernard was not happy in the hierarchical structure of the colonial education service and he had an unfair imposition thrust on him, when he was told to mark 1700 examination papers in geography, many of them written in Swahili. Although he had a good basic vocabulary in Swahili, Bernard could not manage this task alone, so he and I spent many evenings poring over the papers. By this time I had passed my Higher Standard Swahili examinations, not a difficult task for me because so much of my working day was conducted in that language. Bernard maintained his Swahili, and, right up to his death, our conversation would be peppered with Swahili expressions. Beginning with his first note to me, Bernard called me pen (his invention, based on the verb penda, to love) and always ended his letters with daima wako (‘yours forever’). Twelve years later, Bernard was the first doctoral student in the USA to be allowed to take Swahili as his second language; he was examined by a Catholic priest, fluent in Swahili, who set Bernard the task, successfully completed, of translating a short speech of President Nyerere.

I was due for five months’ long leave, and in early December 1954 I went to England, and leased a London flat near Marble Arch, where Ouma soon joined me. Bernard resigned from the Colonial Service but had to stay on an extra month to finish his tour. We were re-united in London early in 1955.


Bernard and I spent several months in England, based at our flat in London but making many trips out to the country – Bernard eagerly showing me his boyhood haunts, in Manchester, Shropshire and Anglesey in Wales. Having sold my Land Rover before leaving Tanganyika, I bought a new vehicle, a Standard Vanguard van. Although I had been in London for short visits, I did not know the city well and Bernard was happy to show me around. He had spent a year at the University of London, doing his teaching degree and sharing a flat just behind Harrods. During this time he had walked and cycled all over London, and he knew the city well and loved showing me hidden corners.

This was our first experience of what became a lifetime pattern of enthusiastic attendance at concerts, opera, dance, plays and art exhibitions. In those days we queued for the cheapest seats: five shillings to sit in the ‘gods’ at Covent Garden, and were rewarded by seeing Margot Fonteyn dance, or Joan Sutherland sing. We saw John Gielgud and Lawrence Olivier on the stage and we heard the St Matthew Passion at Southwark Cathedral. We were fortunate in sharing many of the same tastes, not identical, but close enough.

Bernard and I both hoped to stay in Africa, and we considered relocating to Rhodesia, partly because each of us had family connections there. My brother Paul and his family were living in Fort Victoria (now Masvingo) and Bernard’s sister, Eileen, and her family, together with his mother, lived in Gwanda. Both our families encouraged us to come, and reports from the new Central African Federation were favourable. Bernard accepted a teaching post at Founders High School in Bulawayo, the only advanced secondary school for coloureds and Asians in the Federation. We decided that he would test the waters and inquire about possibilities of a job for me but I would return to Tanganyika, where I still had a commitment,

DWB at Blenheim Palace, April 1955 DWB with his niece Deirdre. London, 1955

until the picture was clearer. We had a good voyage to Cape Town, from where we drove in our Standard Vanguard to Durban, giving Bernard his first glimpse of South Africa. He was enthralled by the landscape, and horrified by apartheid.

While we were in Durban, Bernard received an urgent telegram telling him to go immediately to Founders High School. So he flew to Bulawayo, and I drove up in the van. I had only two days with Bernard in Bulawayo, before continuing my journey to Tanganyika. At that time (June 1955) the roads were good and there were many comfortable small hotels on the way. It was much easier then to make this two thousand mile road journey than it would be today; border posts did not involve the agonisingly long waits and the brusque, corrupt officials that they so often do today.


Back in Tanganyika, I had been posted to the Southern Highlands province, with its headquarters at Mbeya. I reported to Geoffrey Hucks, the PC (also a South African), who invited me to stay the night at his home, asking me whether I minded sharing the guest room. My room-mate proved to be Chief David Makwaia, whom I had met briefly when we were both studying at Oxford University.

A few years later David became one of the first four African members of the Tanganyika Legislative Council.My new station, Njombe, was considered a desirable posting because it was at a high altitude, malaria-free, cool, even offering trout-fishing in the high areas. I lived in a pleasant stone house situated near the river, half a mile from the township with the usual line of Asian-owned shops. Timotheo joined me, although it involved a harrowing week-long journey, from Handeni, in different forms of transport. I was delighted to see him again, and we soon organised a happy and comfortable household. I thoroughly enjoyed my short – nine months – stay there.

DWB, on board SS Umtali. 1955

At Njombe I encountered a new phenomenon. This was a period when the Colonial Office was embarking on a series of development projects, many of them, notably the notorious ‘Groundnut Scheme’ in southern Tanganyika, being complete disasters because they were so ill-conceived. The Colonial Development Corporation (CDC) had acquired forty thousand acres in Njombe for the planting of wattle trees. It was intended to be a co-operative venture, with local people contributing their labour and eventually receiving some benefits. Like so many of these projects, the main weakness was that the local people had not been adequately consulted and they were, with justification, suspicious, and reluctant to participate. One of my duties was to liaise between the CDC and the local Bena people; I was relieved when a full-time official was later appointed to do this job.

Njombe had the usual up-country colonial club which, by the time I arrived, was dominated by CDC officials and their wives and was far too ‘colonial’ for my tastes. Going on safari as usual provided a welcome relief and I often travelled with Robert, the bright young Agricultural Officer. Several times we stayed overnight at a Benedictine mission where we were welcomed by the two Dutch priests, who persuaded us to play bridge with them after supper. They were puzzled when we told them that we did not take advantage of our opportunities to play bridge every evening.

Going to the western part of the district involved a long downhill drive at the foot of which was a large Benedictine mission complete with school and clinic. When the Sisters saw our vehicle in the distance, they would start preparing our welcome, and when Robert and I reached the mission to greet them, they would offer us a hearty and welcome breakfast. As good Benedictines, they followed the rule that all guests are to be ‘treated as Christ’.

My new DC was fair and efficient but also aloof and remote from the people. He was more interested in the local birds than in the problems of the local people, writing two articles about the birds of Njombe for TN&R. I was glad when he was transferred and I was appointed as acting DC, which gave me a new perspective. After my appointment the Provincial Commissioner wrote to me, in his copperplate handwriting:

I know you will be kind to the deserving. I depend on you to be hard hearted to the undeserving and impervious to cajolery or threat – both of which are often tried on the new D.C.

One of my main duties was to promote the local council, chairing its annual meeting, which determined the budget. We had to work within strict guidelines: a maximum of forty-five per cent could be spent on ‘personnel emoluments’, and there was, of course, a limit to expenditure. I spent three challenging but ultimately rewarding days considering a variety of proposals – for expenditure on schools,

DWB. Njombe, 1956

clinics, cattle dips, water supply, housing, offices and bicycles. We listed all proposals together with estimates of their cost and then had to decide which ones we would select within our defined budget. Discussions were lively but amiable and, as DC and chairman, I was never able to push through my own pet projects if they were not popular with the council. This is another area where I noticed a great contrast after independence, when the central government became much more authoritarian with little participation from local councils. This seems, sadly, to be almost a universal trend, certainly prevailing in South Africa today.

When I was acting DC, a new cadet, Roger Clifford, arrived. He was very different from the usual rather buttoned-up young Englishman: having no car, he walked (about two miles) to the Njombe Club, itself unusual, but – even stranger – he was accompanied by an African friend. Consternation. No-one dared to say that Africans were not welcome, but I was asked to ‘speak to Roger’. Instead, I wrote a letter of disapproval to the Club committee, and resigned from the Club. What a relief. The Committee made a formal complaint about my action to the Provincial Commissioner, who ignored it. Roger was a great companion to me in those lonely days, when I was missing Bernard. I enjoyed his mocking and critical eye, and he teased me unmercifully. Yet, when tasks needed to be done, Roger was quick, bright and effective.

Ouma came from South Africa to join me in Njombe in November 1955, and shortly after her arrival a delegation from the newly-formed Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) visited the district, led by its charismatic and then little-known leader, Julius Nyerere. I hosted a reception for them, the most unusual and exhilarating party I had ever given. I invited my colleagues, and Nyerere arrived with an entourage of about fifteen people, young and old, Muslim and Christian, educated and illiterate. When I introduced Nyerere to Ouma, he sat next to her and conversed courteously with her for several minutes, following the general African custom of honouring older people, and not minding that Ouma had come from South Africa. While most of the older TANU members sipped their Coca-Cola, some of the young men much enjoyed my whisky. It was a lively party, which included any number of serious conversations. As a result of this party, a general circular was sent from the Secretariat, telling administrative officers that they should not entertain any politicians from the new parties. This was a mistake: none of the officials imagined that Nyerere would lead his country to independence only six years after our meeting, and there would have been fewer misunderstandings if we had had more contact with each other.

The Governor of Tanganyika, Sir Edward Twining, visited Njombe twice while I was there. Shortly after my arrival, the DC told me to go to a remote corner of the district and supervise the construction of a ‘corduroy’ so that His Excellency (HE) could drive over to the next district. I had heard of corduroys but I had never seen one; they are strips of branches and logs which are laid over a swampy area to enable motor vehicles to drive across. Fortunately our experienced African road foreman soon rounded up some young men to cut the branches and lay them in the correct fashion. A few minutes after

Njombe District Council. 1956

the corduroy was complete, the Governor arrived in his Armstrong Siddeley. Out sprang the driver and the ADC, and in no time they were efficiently offering HE and me large gin and tonics, complete with ice. I was most impressed by this routine, and even more impressed by HE’s enthusiastic interest in, and considerable knowledge of, developments in our district. To my relief the corduroy served its purpose, the gubernatorial car proceeding safely to the next district.

Soon after I had been appointed acting DC, His Excellency visited Njombe again, the main purpose being to open the annual meeting of the newly-formed District Council. As was customary, I vacated my home to allow HE and Lady Twining to stay there. I held a reception for him, inviting leading members of the council, prominent Indian traders and my colleagues. One of these colleagues had an African mistress, Maria, who was very eager to attend the reception. I could not invite her in her own right, but ever-resourceful Timo found the solution, and lent Maria one of his kanzus, the voluminous white robe, commonly worn by servants. Maria borrowed a red fez and passed as an auxiliary waiter, happily handing round drinks and snacks. Only one of my guests realised who she was: Father Russell, whom I had known and admired in Handeni, happened to be visiting Njombe, and smilingly said to me, ‘What an attractive new waiter you have, David.’

Before addressing the council on the next day, HE asked me whether I would like to interpret his speech into Swahili or if I would prefer to leave that task to his ADC. As a matter of pride I insisted on doing the interpretation, hoping that I would be able to cope. After preliminary courtesies, HE grinned at me and said to the council, ‘Now I am going to put the cat among the pigeons.’ While I was beginning, Sasa Mheshimiwa, Bw Gavna, akasema … (Now HE says that …) I was desperately searching in my mind for the appropriate Swahili translation of this idiom. I must have found it, because there were no perplexed faces. The gist of the governor’s speech was that the council must assume greater responsibility for looking after local affairs.

I had hoped to spend more time in the mountainous area in the north of the district but I was able to visit it only once. Monica Wilson, my anthropology professor at Rhodes, had done extensive fieldwork among the Nyakyusa of south-west Tanganyika; she had asked me to check on details about the Kinga people and their caves, which they built half underground as a protection against the cold. I was not there long enough to make systematic inquiries but I did call on the fish guard whose job it was to look after the trout in the rivers. He had a lonely life and was glad to see me, insisting that I set up camp by the river and that I do some fishing. When I protested that I had never done any trout-fishing he was delighted and said, ‘Now is your chance; I will teach you.’ He was a good instructor and I caught a few trout for our supper. Some of my colleagues, who were stationed at dusty lowland districts, could not believe that I did not go fishing every weekend.

At the boma the meticulous Goan cashier, Mr Gomez, took care of the accounts, making my duties much easier. Mr Gomez, a model of honesty, frequently complained about the laxity and corruption among the Native Authority cashiers. Some years later I read an insightful analysis by a Nigerian political scientist who was examining the prevalence of corruption in Africa. According to his analysis – and this made sense to me – most Africans viewed the state as a colonial creation and even after independence it was seen as something alien to them. Most of them regarded their responsibilities to their own families as paramount over any duties to the state. Whatever the explanation, many bright Standard 10 boys who were brought into government service were, sadly, in prison, having been convicted of stealing government funds.

Left: DWB writing a report on safari. Njombe, 1956 Above: DC's house.note DWB's Land Rrover,Njombe 1955a


I was too junior to be left for long in charge of such an important district as Njombe, and in December 1955 I was transferred to Tunduru, a small district three hundred miles to the south. The roads were rough so we – Ouma, Timo and I – stopped the night halfway at Songea, where the DC was expecting us. While we appreciated his hospitality, we did not find it a comfortable evening: first, when the DC came out to greet us he ushered Ouma and me into the house, ignoring Timo. When I asked what Timotheo should do, he said airily, ‘Oh, my boys will take care of him.’ Leading us into our rooms, he said, ‘Because you are travelling, you need not bother to dress for dinner’ – which had Ouma and me giggling later. When I asked Timo, the next morning, how he had fared, he grimaced and said it was not too bad. Coming from a distant ethnic group he would have found the local servants inhospitable. In the intervening years, the hundred and twenty different Tanzanian ethnic groups have become much more fused, in large part through the systematic promotion of Swahili as the national language, and there is less ethnic tension in Tanzania than in any of the neighbouring countries.

I was in Tunduru, my last station, for only five months; it was the most remote and least developed of all my postings. On one of my early safaris I visited, on foot, a Yao village near the border with Nyasaland (Malawi), my purpose being to encourage the formation of a local council. After listening patiently to my explanation and urging, one of the elders told me that they were doing very well as they were and they did not need any of this council business. I had to leave that to my successor to sort out. Safaris were exciting in Tunduru because there was always the real likelihood of spotting a lion or a leopard in the early morning or late evening.

One afternoon I had a visit from the liwali (headman) of the village, asking humbly if I would permit them to play the drums that evening, to celebrate the festival of Id ul-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan. I agreed readily but asked him why he had asked my permission. I was embarrassed to be told that the wife of my predecessor had forbidden any drumming because it gave her a headache – even though the village was a good half-mile away. I asked the liwali if I could join the celebration and he welcomed me; we had a joyful evening.

After heavy tropical rains, our local river, the Muhuwesi, was flooded. On one occasion our three ton GT truck was carrying prisoners, guarded by a policeman with a .303 rifle. When the lorry drove over the bridge on the river, it lurched, causing the rifle to slip out of the policeman’s grasp and fall in the turbulent waters. That was the version told me by the policeman, whom I believed. What a fuss that caused. Because of the fear of firearms falling into the wrong hands (the Mau Mau insurrection was still going on in neighbouring Kenya) there was strict gun control. After sending a full report to the Police Commissioner in Dar es Salaam, I was asked whether I had searched the river for the missing rifle. I wish now that I could have emailed a digital photograph of the Muhuwezi river in full flood: there was absolutely no chance of recovering the rifle which had probably been shattered into small pieces. Eventually both the policeman and I were reprimanded, his explanation was reluctantly accepted, and I was able to ‘write off’ the missing rifle.

While I was at Tunduru, the Secretariat in Dar es Salaam decreed that all stations must observe new office hours: 8 a.m. to noon, and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Because it was a busy time in the agricultural cycle, the staff asked if we could revert to the old office hours, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., which would allow them to do work on their farms in the afternoon. I readily agreed, seeing no need to inform Dar es Salaam of my decision. We were so isolated that we had few visitors, and none who would object – if they noticed – to the unorthodox office hours.

In February 1956 I received favourable news from Bernard about employment prospects in Bulawayo and, being eager to join him, I decided to resign from the Colonial Service, this time with finality. I was offered a post at the Department of African Affairs in Bulawayo which I very happily accepted. In April, I travelled to Dar es Salaam, spending a few days with Randal Sadleir, who had made a complete recovery and who was then working in the Secretariat.

This was the end of my colonial period, a formative and memorable one for me, not least because it had led to my meeting my destiny, Bernard.


I have made several unfavourable contrasts with contemporary conditions, especially in regard to official attitudes. I do not wish to be too judgmental though: we were working in a different era; in many ways our tasks were easier. The ‘Pax Britannica’ did prevail, within, and between, the artificially constructed colonial states. Populations, both human and livestock, were much smaller; expectations were lower; societies were very much more local than global; media attention was almost non-existent. (I do not mention this last thinking of atrocities that were hidden, but rather to point out that the media spotlight has many and diverse effects.) In short, ours was a simpler world. From what I have written, it will be obvious that, while not trying to justify or excuse colonial rule, I think that, given the circumstances, we did not do a bad job.

I was later gratified when five of my former students, who had all obtained their doctorates in Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and were all engaged in fieldwork in Tanzania or Kenya, contributed to a Special Section, ‘Historical Consciousness in Development Planning’, in the journal World Development. All of them had started their fieldwork with some degree of the prevalent anti-colonial bias, and all had concluded that a study of the colonial period offered rich lessons for present development planners. They realised that many development problems had already been encountered in colonial times, and that there was a need for studies which should include colonial development as an important part of African History. As Miriam Chaiken wrote: ‘we should not throw out the good with the bad in our rejection of the colonial legacy’.

I left Handeni in 1954, seven years before Tanzanian independence, and was able to revisit the district in 1968 – seven years after Independence. I was received graciously, and my path made easier because two men, whom I had helped when they were schoolboys, were now in senior positions. One was an Mbunge (Member of Parliament). The other, the Area Commissioner, whose duties were much the same as the old DC, told me, ‘Make yourself at home. You know this place, go anywhere, talk to anyone, and then see me and let us talk.’

I had a happy reunion in 1968 with my old friend Zumbe Hemedi Sonyo, no longer a chief – chieftaincy was abolished in 1963 – but performing many of his old tasks as Development Executive Officer. I saw many changes, many developments, increased staff, twenty Land Rovers instead of just my vehicle, but I also noticed many similarities. The ecological imperative – uncertain rainfall, recurrent droughts and famines, hilly country – still determined much of the development, and many local social institutions were flourishing. I treasure a remark made to me by a policeman, when I told him I had been a DO in Handeni: Haya, ni nchi yako. Nyinyi mmetangulia, sisi tumefuata. ‘This is your country, then. You people led the way. We followed.’


1956–1959: RHODESIA

On the eve of my departure from Tanganyika, I received a letter from my Oxford mentor, Professor Evans-Pritchard (E-P), who wrote, presciently, ‘I hope you won’t be too optimistic about Rhodesia. All these countries are variants of a pattern, and in my experience, they are all bloody, not equally bloody, but bloody all the same.’ E-P also told me, ‘The chap you are going to work with is, Schapera tells me, most delightful. Schapera knows him well.’ Rhodesia did indeed prove, eventually, to be ‘bloody’, and Bernard and I became friendly with Professor Isaac Schapera, a distinguished social anthropologist, during his annual visits to the Ashtons, and again later when we lived in London in the 1990s.

Some brief history: Rhodesia had been occupied for nearly two thousand years by the Shona peoples, who form eighty per cent of the population. The south-western areas are home to the Ndebele, who had fled from the Zulu warrior-king Shaka, arriving in their new territory in about 1840. In 1890, ‘pioneers’ from Cecil Rhodes’ British South African Company arrived, their primary aim being a search for gold. They were followed by white settlers, who, by 1901, numbered 11 000. A rebellion, later known as ‘The First Chimurenga’ or ‘war of liberation’, was harshly suppressed. In 1923 Southern Rhodesia became a self-governing British colony, with Britain having rarely- used veto powers, and local whites effectively ruling the country.


In September 1953, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was formed, consisting of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (Malawi), with a population of 6.5 million Africans and 200 000 whites. Despite the valiant efforts of a few liberal leaders, notably the New Zealand-born missionary Garfield Todd, who was Prime Minister from 1953 to 1958, the Federation increasingly fell under the rule of hardliners. When we arrived in Bulawayo (Bernard in 1955, and I the following year) there was still an atmosphere of cautious optimism, which had dissipated towards the end of our stay.

I worked in the African Administration in Bulawayo, where Hugh Ashton was Director. He was an inspirational man to work with, an outstanding administrator who had created the best housing and amenities for Africans in southern Africa. He had been an Assistant District Commissioner in Bechuanaland Protectorate ( Botswana) and was also an anthropologist. He had made a study of the ‘Basuto’ of Basutoland (Lesotho), and I am sure that he applied his anthropological insights to his administrative duties, in diverse ways.

Bulawayo at this time had a population of about 230 000, with 200 000 of them being Africans, the rest mostly whites, with small numbers of coloureds and Indians. It was a pleasant, sleepy city, always overshadowed by the capital, Salisbury (Harare), three hundred miles to the north-east. Salisbury was referred to as Bamba zonke (takes everything), because the government put significantly more resources into the capital city than into the second city, Bulawayo – and this has also been true of post-independence Zimbabwe.

I was assigned to the new, innovative home-ownership township of Mpopoma, where I worked under the cheerful and efficient Superintendent, Derek Cleary. The word ‘township’ refers, in southern Africa, to low-cost housing for ‘non-whites’, usually

Bernard and Hugh Ashton in Hugh’s garden in Bulawayo, 1998

Africans; such places are often situated many miles away from places of employment, and public transport is usually rudimentary. Hugh Ashton had persuaded the (all-white) Bulawayo City Council to undertake widespread improvements in housing, transport and recreation for the large African population. Bulawayo was unusual in that it recognised – what should have been glaringly obvious to all – that a large proportion of urban Africans regarded the towns as their permanent homes. In most southern African towns there was an implicit assumption, made devastatingly explicit in apartheid South Africa, that Africans were migrant workers who would eventually return to their rural homes.

The houses at Mpopoma consisted of a kitchen and bathroom, and three rooms, one of which was designed to be used by a lodger, who could gain entrance to his room from the outside of the house. Home owners and lodgers had to be in regular employment, and both the lodger’s rent and the monthly repayments of the house owner were deducted each month from their respective wages and paid directly to the City Council. This minimised rent arrears, a major problem

in other southern African cities. I was proud to show visitors around Mpopoma. They were usually impressed, and would comment on the scale (over two thousand homes), the quality of living, the well-kept interiors and gardens of the houses, and the happy pride of the owners.

In 2005, having last visited Mpopoma Township in 1981, I was curious to learn what changes had occurred. I found the invaluable Google had hundreds of entries on Mpopoma, many of them, to my delight,


DWB. Bulawayo, 1958


picDWB’s 1956 Rhodesian Residence Permit

dealing with what is obviously still a lively arts scene: a dance ensemble is flourishing, as are various arts and music groups. Other entries are grim, telling of frequent random attacks by soldiers, police, or ‘war vets’. Bulawayo is the heart of Matabeleland, which has always been the focus of President Mugabe’s hate, both because of ancient Ndebele– Shona rivalry, and also because of the support that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has in this area. The Ndebele suffered terribly in 1982–1984 when, soon after independence, Mugabe let loose his notorious North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade: the official death count of ‘dissidents’ – the opponents of Mugabe and his ZANU-PF Party – was between 10 000 and 20 000. Mugabe called these massacres of Ndebele gukuruhundu (‘the rain that washes away the chaff before the spring rains’).

Visitors to Mpopoma when we were there in the 1950s included two well-known writers, James Morris (later better known as Jan Morris) and Doris Lessing, whom Bernard and I had so much looked forward to meeting, having read her earlier books, including This was the Old Chief’s Country (1951), and The Grass is Singing (1956). I took each of them on a tour of our African housing and amenities, and afterwards I invited each to our flat for tea. While James Morris was appreciative and charming, Doris Lessing refused to be impressed. She later wrote a short dismissive account of her tour, in Going Home (1957) where she was highly critical of all that she had been shown, including ‘my’ model Mpopoma township. (Her criticisms led to her being banned from Rhodesia.) Bernard was so irritated by Lessing’s blindness that he later said, ‘I could cheerfully have thrown her over the [ninth floor] balcony’. I admit that her attitude prejudiced me regarding her much-acclaimed later literary output, but her account (African Laughter, 1992) of four visits that she made to Zimbabwe was investigative journalism at its best.

For transport I was given a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, having last ridden one of these wonderful machines during WW2. My ‘Harley’ was a convenient form of transportation except in the rains: Bulawayo has wide streets crossed at each block by broad dips, to carry away the rainwater, and I would get drenched by the spray from passing vehicles. This was a minor discomfort and a motorcycle was ideal for my frequent tours of the townships.

The city council, as was customary in southern African cities, had a monopoly of the brewing of African beer, chibuku, with large beer halls situated in each township. There is a rich culture around chibuku and beer halls in southern Africa (see Colson & Scudder, 1988, for an analysis of the beer culture). Here again Hugh Ashton made major changes, transforming what had been dreary beer halls where fights were commonplace, into attractive beer gardens. The beer, brewed by an expert German brewer, from maize, millet or sorghum, was served in plastic containers in order to minimise injuries if fighting broke out. Beer brewing was a highly profitable business and the profits were allocated for African welfare and recreation – primarily for the promotion and maintenance of football teams, as well as a number of other activities. Under Hugh Ashton’s enlightened leadership, an Olympic-sized swimming-pool was built, and pottery and other classes were set up.

The chairman of the influential African Affairs Committee on the City Council was JM MacDonald, a fiscally and socially conservative builder, who later became mayor of Bulawayo. Hugh Ashton persuaded MacDonald to give his support to establishing, in Mzilikazi township, a JM MacDonald Hall and Guild (the proposed names being an effective form of flattery) for the promotion of arts in the widest sense. I was secretary of the Bulawayo Arts Council at this time and I could use my two affiliations to promote a number of activities at the new JM MacDonald Hall. Merle Park and Gary Byrne, both from Rhodesia and leading dancers with the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, were in Rhodesia on holiday, so we arranged for them to dance both in the Bulawayo City Hall, for a predominantly white audience, and then at the MacDonald Hall, where the audience was nearly all African. They gave a brilliant performance of the pas de deux from Don Quixote, before rapturous audiences at both places. Before the second performance I received a bitter telephone call, from a relation of one of the dancers, complaining about the propriety of Merle and Gary dancing for Africans. In the event the dancers said that this had been one of their most appreciative audiences ever.

After some persuasion and complicated transport arrangements, we arranged for the Bulawayo Symphony Orchestra to give a concert at the MacDonald Hall. Although most of the all-white orchestra members had lived in Rhodesia for many years, or even for all their lives, few had ever visited an African township, and certainly not at night. Despite some anxieties, they all eventually felt reassured about their safety and all made the journey, dressed in evening suits and dresses – the distance from the City Hall to the JM McDonald Hall was only three linear miles, but a thousand miles socially. Again, classical music was new for most of the audience, so the conductor made helpful introductory remarks, and the audience loved it. Another thrilling occasion was the visit of the Westminster Choir from the USA, which also sang at our two venues. The young Americans told us that the concert for the Africans, who were mostly schoolchildren, was the highlight of their tour.

We also arranged art exhibitions, the most successful of which was organised by Pierre Romain-Desfosses, who had established a workshop at Elisabethville, in the then Belgian Congo, in 1944. This school produced romantic, decorative stick figures, which became very popular. What struck Bernard and me at all these cultural events was the readiness of our African friends to consider new forms of art, in contrast to a distressingly familiar dismissal of African art, and indeed of most things African, by the white population.


Carving in stone is rare in Africa, the usual medium being wood. However Shona sculptures from Zimbabwe are now found in many major museums, and are recognised as one of the most significant forms of contemporary sculpture. While Bernard and I were living in Rhodesia we started our art collection, which centres around thirty pieces of Shona sculpture. Although they led to my spending an uncomfortable four hours in the Santa Barbara county jail in 1975 – as I describe in Chapter 12 – I regard them as old friends whose company has given us much pleasure over the years.

In August 1958, we attended the first Annual Federal Art Exhibition at the newly-opened National Gallery in Salisbury. There we met the new director, Frank McEwen, who became a good friend and a significant presence in our lives. Frank encouraged African sculptors and painters, but the selection committee at the gallery preferred classical European works, and had rejected all but six of the African sculpture submissions. One of the sculptors who was accepted, Thomas Mukarobgwa, then working as a cleaner at the National Gallery, later had a long and distinguished career as a sculptor. Frank wrote, in an art newsletter, ‘Talking to Thomas, little by little he taught me about the Shona people, about their religion,

Frank McEwen with his African Bateleur (eagle), called ‘Chapungu’ after its Shona name

about their dance … that man was a tower of strength to me in my whole life in Rhodesia.’ We could not afford to buy any sculpture, so instead we made what were our first joint acquisitions, consisting of a group of small ceramic oxen done by Tubayi Dube, a domestic worker for ‘a white madam’, herself an artist, who encouraged him.

My father died in July 1967, leaving me a legacy, which at first I intended to use to decrease the mortgage on our newly-acquired home in Santa Barbara. However, a wise friend expressed her dismay at my prosaic proposal, and suggested that I do something more imaginative as a memorial to my dad. My UCSB colleague Charles Erasmus and I went to West Africa in the summer of 1968, on a joint research project, so I decided, with Bernard’s encouragement, to include a buying trip to Nigeria and Rhodesia, two countries where the most exciting contemporary African art was being produced. I hoped to build a good small collection of African art, as a perennial memorial to my dad, Joseph Rae Brokensha (1889–1967), and thanks to the help of my friends on the spot, I succeeded.

S Ziya: Hyena on skull Douglas Sande: Spirit animal
Photo: John Senser Photo: John Senser

When I arrived in Salisbury, Frank McEwen guided me round the National Gallery, helping me to select thirty-two sculptures, most of which are still in my possession (we gave away a few to special friends and also later exchanged some with a fellow collector who preferred more abstract figures, whereas we liked the more realistic ones). I was able to buy a good representative set of sculptures, including works by John Takawira, Bernard Takawira, Douglas Sande, Bernard Matemere, Joyce Manyandure, Boira Mteki and Paul Gwichiri. We met these sculptors, in fact we have always tried, where possible, to meet the artists whose work we have acquired, so that when we look at it, we have in our mind’s eye a picture of its creator. As Bernard Takawira said, ‘… if someone likes my work and they take it with them, it is like a token of saying that they like me too. And

when McEwen accepted that piece of sculpture, I feel that I was accepted by him. I was very happy to hear that he took this one piece (Baboon Man) with him on his sailing trips, after he left us.’

These sculptors told us that they would look at the stone for a long time before beginning their carving. Sometimes they prayed to the ancestors, asking what the rock contained, then they would ‘liberate the image’, which is exactly what Michelangelo is supposed to have said.


Fidelis Nyahangre: Antbear photo: Cliff Abrams

In considering contemporary African art, a significant factor is often the role of the ‘patron’, the person, usually white, who strongly believes in the value of the art, encourages the artists – often by supplying materials, and helping with marketing, exhibitions and sales. Frank McEwen was the prime mover for theculptors of Rhodesia, effectively aided by Tom Blomefield on his farm at Tengenenge, by Roy Guthrie at Chapungu in Harare, and by John Povey, editor for many years of the influential African Arts journal. Frank maintained that he did not try in any way to influence the sculptors, and they later wrote eloquently about him and his influence in the 1994 Frank McEwen Commemorative issue of Chapungu Newsletter:

He had an African feeling, he had an African culture … he was not like the other white people … he was such a good person, he talked, gently and explained nicely, when he talked to us about our work … even though he was a white man, to me I would say that he was the grandfather, he was the one who made all this … Frank told me to look at my own religion … he was the first white person whom I saw as a human being. He was a person like no-one else. You could communicate with him – he had no problem going into huts, he would sit where men sat, you could talk to him about the simple things of life. Whereas, with a lot of white people at that time, they gave you the impression that they were in another sphere or in another world. He was a man who understood a lot, about life and about the things we don’t see around us. He could see much, much deeper than most of us … he taught me about the presence of energies around us, the unknown, which is there … He did reject work, but if he rejected work, I always agreed. There was a good specific reason why it was rejected. He was considerate in his criticism … Now when McEwen came here, he recognised the talent and he provided the atmosphere. I take an example of a seed … McEwen was the only man who was able to recognise the seed lying there, he saw and provided the conditions and off we started. People were sceptical at first, but Frank McEwen was willing to stake his reputation, which he had built up over many years, to make the point that ‘here is something’. And that something was us, I am very happy to say … He is an inspiration to me for what a life is … he is a man who knows what art is. He is a man who knows an artist. He is a man who knows what truth is.

These comments, by sculptors whom McEwen had encouraged, are a beautiful tribute to his qualities as a human being, to his artistic judgement and to his mystical feelings. In another Newsletter he wrote, ‘This art has meaning. This art is imbued with extraordinary, intense spirituality. It will get in you. You can’t avoid it. It will get in you and work on you forever.’ We certainly became more aware of, and more respectful of, this spiritual dimension of our own sculptures. The quotations also shed a sad light on the state of ‘race relations’ in Rhodesia at that time.

In a similar way, Ulli Beier, Suzanne Wenger and Michael Crowder in Western Nigeria had, by their enthusiasm, writings and moral support, encouraged a group of young Yoruba artists. An interesting question is to what extent these artists simply painted from within, mining their own rich traditions, and to what extent their patron’s opinions influenced their work.


Frank McEwen eventually tired of the hostility and misunderstanding which he met with in Rhodesia, and in 1973 he resigned. He spent the next ten years on his boat in the Bahamas, in what he called a ‘spiritual recovery’. He and his wife Ann later lived in a coastal cottage in Devon, not far from his childhood home. We visited them in Devon, and were again impressed by his tremendous physical and spiritual energy: Frank was always the most engaging and rewarding companion.

In 1988 we arranged to meet Frank at the opening of an exhibition of Zimbabwean sculpture at the Barbican Centre in London. After a knowledgeable and perceptive opening address by the Prince of Wales, himself an enthusiastic and well-informed collector, the Zimbabwean High Commissioner launched into a political diatribe against colonialism, describing how the sculptors had struggled against white oppression – but with nary a word on the role of Frank McEwen, who was standing a few feet away. Frank merely shrugged, but brightened considerably when he was greeted, in a warm embrace, by Thomas Mukarobgwa, one of the first sculptors to have worked in the National Gallery. It was touching to see these two old men greet each other so lovingly, with tears of joy in their eyes. Frank said, ‘I did not want to come from Devon to London to see this exhibition, but I just felt that I had to come.’ Thomas later wrote that he suddenly saw Frank, whom he had last seen in Salisbury in 1973. ‘I just rushed to him, and I grabbed him – he couldn’t talk. Then he looked at my hands and he said, “I am sure that these are the hands of Thomas.” Ah … just in the middle of the gallery. We still enjoyed a lot at that time. That was the last time I saw him.’

Frank McEwen died in 1994, and two months after his death a moving commemorative ceremony was held on the night of the full moon, at Vukutu. Two hundred and fifty people, including many sculptors, attended the all-night vigil, celebrating Frank’s life with speeches and songs.

When we were living in England in the 1990s, Bernard and I went to two exhibitions of Shona sculpture. Bernard, with his background in geology, was always interested in the stone, as well as in the aesthetics, and we bought some fine pieces in verdite, including an imposing Spirit Medium by Henry Munyaradzi, also known as ‘Henry of Tengenenge’. Henry was present at the exhibition, so we were able to talk to him about his sculpture. He embarrassed us by insisting that he carry the sculpture, which was quite heavy, to our car. I told him that he was the important artist, and that I should be ‘the boy’, carrying the piece, but he just smiled.

Shortly after we had placed this sculpture in our London flat, we had a visit from my Australian cousins, Peter and Elizabeth Brokensha, whom we were meeting for the first time. On entering our living room, Elizabeth exclaimed, ‘Why! That is by Henry of Tengenenge.’ We were amazed and delighted that Henry’s renown had spread to South Australia, but we soon appreciated that Elizabeth had a wide knowledge of ethnic art, and that she was familiar with the work of the leading Zimbabwean sculptors. We also found a lovely chapungu (Bateleur eagle) by Cosmos Kamhiriri, in golden verdite. We adopted this eagle as our ‘totem’. And we bought another Bernard Takawira, Calling for a missing partner. After my Bernard’s death, this piece has had a poignant resonance for me.

One of our other Zimbabwe sculptures also has a particular significance for me, though it is unsigned, and not really of museum quality. My brother Paul presented Bernard and me with The Cobbler, when he and Lizzie visited us from Rhodesia in 1978. This is a heavy piece, and it required dedication to carry it, as hand baggage, halfway round the world. We liked it because it is a touching and realistic image of an elderly African cobbler, as he goes about his shoe-making business with a quiet dignity.

The Cobbler, a present from Paul

On our 1991 visit to Harare we met Joram Mariga, ‘the father of Shona sculpture’, and bought, at Roy Guthrie’s famous Chapungu workshop, Joram Mariga’s Gondo Gwarikari (martial eagle), in the rare and beautiful mauve lepidolite stone.

We asked Joram three questions. Firstly, was it a beneficial spirit? Many of the sculptures represent spirit animals or birds, and Joram assured us, ‘This is a good spirit, it will bless your home’ – which it did appear to. The second question was ‘Would it be alright to leave this quite big piece outside in our garden in Dorset?’ Joram, who had had experience of an English winter, assured us that it would not mind the cold.

Over the years, we had had many discussions with other collectors, each of us favouring our own particular solution for regular application to the stone – Bernard and I swore by a complicated mixture based on linseed oil and turpentine. Our last question was, what did Joram recommend for keeping the piece in good condition? He merely said, ‘Cobra is the best.’ (Cobra is a superior wax polish, in common use in southern African homes.)

We moved to Cape Town in 1999, where the National Botanic Gardens at Kirstenbosch, not far from our home, has a revolving open-air exhibition of Zimbabwean sculptures, including some impressive large pieces by several of the leading contemporary sculptors such as Agnes Nyanhongo, Nicholas Mukomberanwa, Sylvester Mubayi, Bernard Matemera and Colleen Madamombe. I often took Bernard, in his wheelchair, to see the sculptures, which we both admired greatly. We bought only one small piece, Daniel Mariga’s frog, also – like his father’s martial eagle – in the lovely lepidolite.

We were relieved and pleased when Marilyn Martin, Director of the South African National Gallery, and her colleague Carol Kaufmann inspected our collection, readily agreeing to accept our Zimbabwe sculptures, and any other pieces they would like, when I leave this vale of tears. I say that we were ‘relieved’ because museums and galleries are swamped with suggested donations, with much of the offered material being of questionable value.


During a research trip to West Africa in July 1968, I visited my friend the historian Michael Crowder. He was teaching at the University of Ife in Western Nigeria, near the new Arts Centre of Ori Olokun, and my arrival coincided with an exhibition there of contemporary Nigerian art. So, with the balance of my father’s legacy, I bought paintings by Twins Seven Seven, Adebisi Fabunmi and Jimoh Braimoh, all young men in their early twenties. They had moved to Ife from Oshogbo, an art centre which had been promoted by Ulli Beier and Suzanne Wenger. These young Nigerians, all Yoruba, were producing remarkable work which had already attracted international attention. The exhibition created an excuse for a three-day party, including a reception at the opening of the exhibition, with dancers, a Yoruba play and general merriment.

The main painting (which cost ten guineas) was Spiritual Mother a gouache and crayon done on brown paper by Twins Seven Seven. (His name derives

Twins Seven Seven, Ori Olokun, Nigeria, 1968 from his being the sole survivor of seven sets of twins born to his mother.) The title of the painting refers to the Yoruba belief that when a child dies in its first week, it is a ‘spirit child’, not a human child, and that that it will be born again. The painting shows the Spiritual Mother calling back her ghost children. Twins explained it to us: ‘She says “Come back,” and they say, “We want to stay and play with our friends,” but she tells them, “No, you must come back and you can be born again.”’ This theme, connected to the high rate of infant mortality, is frequently expressed in Nigerian literature, for example in novels by Chinua Achebe and Ben Okri. The latter’s The Famished Road opens with a statement by one of the ‘spirit children’: ‘We disliked the rigours of existence, the unfulfilled longings, the enshrined injustices of the world, the labyrinths of love, the ignorance of parents, the fact of dying, and the amazing indifference of the Living in the midst of the simple beauties of the universe. We feared the heartlessness of human beings, all of whom are born blind, few of whom ever learn to see … We are the strange ones, with half our beings always in the spirit world.’


The ebullient ‘Prince Chief Twins Seven Seven’ now lives in Philadelphia, his highly personal cosmology and mythology having made him one of Nigeria’s most successful artists. He wrote an autobiography, A Dreaming Life, edited by his friend Ulli Beier, who was the first to recognise his talent.

Of the Ori Olokun group of artists who exhibited that day in 1968, only one, art lecturer Femi Ojo, had had any formal art training; we bought his Arid Landscape and became very fond of it. We also bought Jimoh Braimoh’s bead-andoil painting, Oshogbo and its Founders. Jimoh had designed, but never seen, a huge mural on the then newly-completed Federal Palace Hotel in Lagos. I persuaded him to accompany me (on a hair-raising drive in a communal taxi) to Lagos, to see his mural. I invited him for lunch at this luxury hotel, but we were turned away by the arrogant (Nigerian) doorman, because we were wearing open-necked shirts, no ties, and Jimoh was wearing shorts. I had what Bernard called ‘a controlled tantrum’, demanding to see the manager, and explaining indignantly that Jimoh, although he looked like what Nigerians would contemptuously call ‘a small boy’, was one of Nigeria’s most distinguished artists, and had designed the impressive mural on the hotel wall. We were reluctantly given a table at the back, near the kitchens, but at least Jimoh saw, and approved of, his mural.

Jimoh Braimoh: Oshogbo


When Bernard and I were teaching at the University of Ghana in 1961 and ’62, Bala, an itinerant and persuasive Hausa trader, often called on a Saturday morning, when we were likely to be in. He would tell his servant to spread out the wares, which consisted of a variety of rugs, carvings and miscellaneous crafts. Despite Bala’s

Anon, Uganda: banana leaf figure of a woman carrying firewood

fervent insistence that these carvings were ‘very old’, most of them were modern copies, skilfully executed. On some days, he would be desperate for a sale so that he could have money to go to the Saturday afternoon horse races. We bought some pleasing pieces from him, though nothing of museum quality.

My friend Dr Oku Ampofo, who was also a well-known sculptor in wood, gave us two of his wooden sculptures of heads, which accompanied us on our travels. Alex Kyerematen, who, like me, was completing his doctoral dissertation in Anthropology at Oxford University, was Director of the Kumasi Museum, the main repository for Ashanti art. He allowed me to buy a small collection of gold weights (small bronze representational and symbolic figures, originally used for the weighing of gold) which were superfluous to the needs of the museum. We donated these to the South African National Gallery, which is currently building up its holdings of African art.

Despite our often having said to each other that we really must stop buying art, because we were running out of wall space – particularly in our Cape Town home – Bernard and I were frequently tempted by pieces crying ‘Take me! Take me!’ So we have some pleasant English landscapes, as well as work by artists from Kenya (Samuel Wanjau, Thelma Sanders), Uganda (Jak Katarikawe), South Africa (Selina Makwama, Lucy Wiles), Israel (Moshe Sokal), and Australia (Mary Dixon Nungurrayi). These works moved around the world with us, to our different homes, providing a sense of stability and continuity.


I had to do some serious adjusting to my new administrative role, which contrasted in many ways with what I had been doing in Tanganyika. First, this was very much ‘Direct Rule’, and not ‘Indirect Rule’. While Advisory Boards did exist, they had no real powers, and only limited influence, although Hugh Ashton did all he could to encourage them.

In Bulawayo I no longer had any magisterial duties, which was a relief. Nor did I have to represent several other departments because Health, Education, Water, Prisons, Police and all the other departments had their own staff. I did still have some of my old duties as Bwana Shauri, listening to people’s problems and complaints, and trying to sort them out, or sending petitioners to the appropriate office. Perhaps the biggest challenge for me was that I was working in a large hierarchy: I had to get used to working in an organisation where all major decisions had to be referred up several layers of bureaucracy.

Bernard and I enjoyed many outings to theMatopos, a game park (now known as Matobo National Park) about thirty miles from Bulawayo. The area is rich in wildlife and also has remarkable rock formations. We encouraged middle-class Africans such as schoolteachers, nurses and municipal workers to join the JM MacDonald Guild, which was a largely informal organisation, set up to encourage African participation in our artistic, cultural and recreational activities. Schoolteachers were particularly important as they could bring the children to our concerts and exhibitions. We were surprised to learn that most of our friends in the Guild had never visited the Matopos – being excluded by custom more than by legislation. This was ironic, since it was an important site for the local Ndebele people. So we arranged to take the Guild there for a picnic, which was a great success. Arranging lunch and transport for forty people was well worth the logistic trouble for the satisfaction it gave. While our group was happily enjoying our picnic near the roadside, passing cars of white people gave us puzzled glances, but we never met with any explicit disapproval, or insults: at this time (late 1950s) a similar outing in the southern United States would have been likely to have attracted an actively hostile reaction from whites.

Bernard and DWB. Matopos, 1957

Football was – and still is, all over Africa – the major sport and recreational activity, attracting huge crowds and passionate arguments and accusations. African football was financed (from beer hall receipts) by the African Administration, and was managed by a committee, whose chairman was appointed by the City Council, on the advice of the (African) Bulawayo Football Association. A senior official in African Administration whom I will refer to as HH, had a rather academic interest in football, but fully expected to be invited to become chairman of this important committee. He was hurt when the Association requested that Jimmy Woods, a junior official in charge of various sporting activities, be appointed. HH complained to the selectors, pointing out that Woods was abusive and foul-mouthed. ‘Yes,’ they said, ‘but Jimmy comes to our practices every weekend. Do you? Jimmy also brings his children to play with our children. We have not seen your children. We do not mind his bad language, we know that he has a good heart.’ This ability, found in many Africans, to recognise true human qualities, and to ignore trappings, has puzzled many Europeans.

My colleagues at African Administration included an eccentric and enthusiastic English woman who taught pottery, and an expert photographer who gave photography classes, both of them at the MacDonald Hall. Some of the more radical Rhodesians, both white and black, dismissed our efforts as ‘band-aids’, saying that all energy should be spent in gaining the vote for Africans and in improving economic opportunities. But Bernard and I preferred to do what we could in our small ways rather than waiting for a major revolution.

Bernard meanwhile was teaching geography at Founders High School, where all the pupils, and nearly all the teachers, were either Indian or coloured. (I use ‘coloured’ in the sense that it is used in southern Africa, referring to people of mixed African and European descent.) The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland had adopted a policy declaring racial discrimination illegal. But discrimination and segregation patterns persisted: for example the few local cinemas were restricted to white audiences. The play for the matriculation class of 1957 was Shakespeare’s Henry V, the brilliant film version of which, starring Laurence Olivier, was on locally. Bernard was determined that his twenty-five matriculation students should see the play, so he simply bought twenty-five matinee tickets – ‘for my class’ – knowing that the cinema manager would assume that the pupils would be white. Realising that there might be the common tiresome complaint of ‘what about the toilets?’, Bernard and his colleagues ferried the students to our flat, a few blocks away from the cinema, so that they could use the toilet before seeing the movie. (Many whites raised the bogey-man of toilets, terrified that whites and blacks might have to use the same toilet! At the crazy height of apartheid in South Africa, railway stations and other government institutions would all have at least four separate sets of toilets, according to ‘race’ and gender.) When the group arrived at the cinema for the matinee performance, the manager, faced with a fait accompli, reluctantly said the group might come in, as long as they sat in the – unoccupied – balcony. Bernard said it made no difference where they sat as long as they could see the movie. He repeated this procedure for other movies, including Carmen Jones, the film starring Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge. As this movie had an all coloured cast it would have been both cruel and deeply ironic if the coloured students had been denied access to it. It was a minor victory, but a worthwhile one.

Founders High School at that time had no swimming-pool, although one was built later. The municipal Borrow Street swimming baths had excellent facilities that were, again by custom, restricted to white swimmers. Bernard, himself a keen swimmer, negotiated with the Superintendent to allow his students to use the pool at certain hours. These may seem like small achievements, but they were appreciated; it was certainly better for us to do something than to sit by and do nothing.

Soon after I arrived in Bulawayo, our joint salaries allowed Bernard and me to move to a superior apartment on the ninth floor of James Court, a new block of flats. The architect, Manfred Berlowitz, made alterations for us in our penthouse apartment with sweeping views towards the south, where we had a happy stay for three years. Bernard’s artistic flair resulted in a dramatically decorated and comfortable home. We began a pattern that persisted for many years: Bernard did the cooking, and most other domestic duties, including things electrical, and I looked after ‘the cellar’, the accounts, our car (or cars), and this and that. We started entertaining, and after Bernard’s death a dear friend wrote from Australia, fondly recalling ‘Bernard’s gourmet dinners’, and our hospitality. We often drove on Sunday evenings to have dinner with a colleague and his wife, who did not like to drive at night. When we asked Fred and Margaret how we could return their hospitality, they gently rebuked us, pointing out that hospitality was a circular process, and that we should entertain others (without concern for reciprocity), when our circumstances permitted – advice which we followed, and passed on.

James Court had two lifts, the one at the front marked Europeans Only, and one unmarked lift at the back, intended for tradesmen and service people, i.e. for Africans. This lift was often out of order. Bernard and I invited African and coloured friends, ignoring the insulting – and indeed illegal – sign. One of our African friends, Mike Hove, later a Member of Parliament, said he would not mind climbing nine floors to see us, but said, ‘My wife is a large lady, and I cannot ask her to climb all those stairs.’ The flats were owned by a Jewish family, with Mrs T having her apartment on our floor and managing the block. I wrote to her, pointing out that I had been very distressed to see signs, Juden und Hunden Verboten, in a Dresden park, when I had been a prisoner of war in Germany. I told her of my concern for our African and coloured guests; I received no acknowledgement, but the offending sign was removed the next day.

Our flat was one block away from St Mary’s church, where I attended mass. I was upset when the German parish priest was reported, in the Bulawayo Chronicle, as having defended corporal punishment, claiming that Africans were ‘like children’, and that they could ‘only respond to physical punishment’. I asked Fr Norbert if he had been misreported, and when he strongly repeated his views, I told him that I could no longer worship at his church. He was quite unconcerned. I started attending the large modern Catholic church in Mzilikazi, the African township nearest to us, where I would be one of the very few whites in a sea of smiling Africans, who always made me feel welcome. The service was jollier, and the singing infinitely superior. St Mary’s, now a cathedral, is the seat of the brave Archbishop Pius Ncube, one of the few in the Zimbabwe Catholic hierarchy to voice any criticism of President Mugabe.

After I had been working at Mpopoma for two years, Hugh Ashton asked me to take the office of ‘Registrar of Natives’, the previous holder of this post having fortuitously resigned to become a Member of Parliament in Ian Smith’s ultra-conservative Rhodesian Front party. At first I protested about the title, ‘ Registrar of Natives’, but Hugh told me not to worry about that, pointing out that I would have considerable powers under the prevailing legislation and that he and I together could make major changes. The main change was persuading the City Council to fully accept that they had a permanent African population for whom they should make adequate provision, and that it would not be necessary to continue a formal ‘influx control’. For nearly sixty years the Registrar of Natives had been charged with keeping control of Africans in Bulawayo and of monitoring the migration of Africans from rural areas into the city. Hugh Ashton’s dynamism, energy and influence ensured that we were able to make the changes.

My duties included the regular inspection of factories and all large (and some small) employers, for which I had a staff of inspectors to help me. One inspector asked me to call on a troublesome employer, a manufacturing jeweller, whose staff had complained about being paid less than the stipulated minimum wage, and not receiving benefits that were due to them. When I met the employer, I was shocked to see that his wrist bore the grim tattooed number of a former concentration camp prisoner. ‘How could you?’ I blurted out, then applied the full force of the law on him, ensuring that he complied with all the regulations.

I need to make two points about this episode: first, I was naive in thinking, as I did then, that suffering ennobles its victim, who then becomes more sympathetic towards the poor and the downtrodden. Second, in Rhodesia, as in South Africa, there is a distinguished roll of Jews who were prominent in ‘radical’ activities, many of which are commemorated in the Jewish Museum in Cape Town. But I nevertheless remain puzzled by the hard-hearted concentration camp survivor; how could he have reacted in that way?

A very different employer was Zalie, who owned a shirt factory. He invited me to make suggestions for improving the lot of his African workers, but his was a model factory, and I had nothing to criticise. Zalie was unhappy on one point: noticing that his workers bought white bread and Coca-Cola for lunch, he had arranged for them to be served a nutritious lunch (soup and brown bread) at minimal cost, but the workers protested, asking that Zalie give them the money instead, so that they could revert to their old diet. Yet another instance of the necessity of first asking the intended beneficiaries what their views are, and not assuming that what you think is ‘best’ for them will be acceptable.

My main assistant at the Office of the Registrar of Natives was Francis Ndhlovu, an experienced man, reliable and cheerful, who did much of his work in the townships, and on whom I relied greatly. I was distressed when I learnt that he had been assaulted and was seriously ill in hospital. When I visited him there, Francis told me that unknown men had attacked him when he was returning home at night on his bicycle, leaving him with severe injuries. I imagined that this must have been politically motivated, because Francis was a prominent worker for the white-controlled administration, and as such was bound to have enemies – some Africans would have regarded him as a traitor, a sell-out.

Some time later, after Francis had fortunately made a good recovery, and had returned to work, I discovered that he had been attacked because he had been having an affair with another man’s wife. I did not let Francis know that I knew, and we continued to work well together. It is so easy to jump to false conclusions, it took me a long time to appreciate that most events, especially in a cross-cultural setting, are much more complicated than they might appear at first glance. My subsequent anthropological enquiries, in different cultures, have confirmed this.

Ouma made several visits to Rhodesia, staying for a few weeks with Bernard and me and then with Paul and Jil in Fort Victoria. She was quickly accepted by our friends, and was an easy presence in our household.

Mrs Rebecca Malane, our charwoman, had a key to our flat. She would come in every day after we had gone to work and she had sent her children to school, and would leave in the early afternoon, in time to be home in Mzilikazi when the children returned. We saw Rebecca only on Saturday mornings, when we paid her. The Office of the Registrar of Natives dealt with the many complaints from employers about their employees, and vice versa. These of course included domestic workers, and, with the example of Rebecca, and the enthusiastic help of my colleague Mary Quick, we set up a ‘ College of Charwomen’. We took over a small house on the border of the townships and set it up as a typical ‘white’ home, in which African women could be trained as chars. We advertised, and spread the message by word of mouth, and soon had a steady stream of women hoping to get a certificate confirming that they had completed the course and were now qualified charwomen. Mary did a splendid job as principal of the ‘college’; she supervised the women, who did the standard domestic tasks of cleaning, preparing food, cooking, washing, ironing, setting tables and making beds. Some women, already accomplished, would receive their certificate in a day, others needed a week’s training, and there were a few whom Mary reluctantly advised to seek other employment, because they just could not master the strange domestic customs of white people.


Ouma, aged 81. Bulawayo, 1959

Our ‘college’ received good publicity in the Bulawayo Chronicle, which led to many inquiries from employers seeking to hire our charwomen. We set a daily wage, the equivalent of a full-time servant, and although a few would-be employers – some quite wealthy – protested, most were happy, and many later told us that it was a very satisfactory arrangement, both for them and for our ‘graduates’.

On one occasion, Hugh Ashton asked me to go to Pelendaba, a home-ownership settlement a few miles outside Bulawayo, to see Joshua Nkomo, who was already a prominent political figure, and a leading trade unionist. He was also seriously behind in his mortgage repayments, which was the reason for my visit. Hugh had stressed the need for tact, and I was so tactful that the only result of my visit was a pleasant chat over a cup of tea, but no immediate payments.

Nkomo later became leader of ZAPU, a rival political party to Mugabe’s ZANU, but after independence he joined ZANU, becoming Vice-President of Zimbabwe. (ZANU, the Zimbabwe African National Union, became ZANU-PF, the ruling party of Robert Mugabe.)

Shortly after independence in 1980, Bernard and I were in Zimbabwe, ending our stay with a few days at Wankie ( Hwange) National Park. As we were checking out at the lodge desk, we saw Nkomo and his entourage checking in. I re-introduced myself to Mr Nkomo, then grown huge. He greeted me warmly: ‘Yes, Brokensha, you must come back and help us build our new nation.’ He obviously did not remember, or had not minded, my gently chiding him about his rent arrears.

Hugh Ashton was instrumental in helping Jairos Jiri establish the first centre for disabled Africans in Central Africa. Jairos, an Ndebele man who was not himself disabled, was impressive. Dedicated and competent, he was also modest, sharp, and smiling, with a quiet dignity and an unmistakable authority. I always came away from our meetings feeling uplifted. Today there are Jairos Jiri centres and craft shops in all the major urban centres in Zimbabwe, helping thousands of people. When Jiri died he was given only an obscure burial. President Mugabe had been criticised for allowing insignificant cronies to be buried as ‘national heroes’ and politician Edgar Tekere said, ‘If Jairos Jiri is not fit to be buried in the National Heroes’ Cemetery, then nobody is.’

Bulawayo was our introduction to the ‘gay scene’: we soon met a small group of young gay men, and a few older ones, whom we found convivial. As many times confirmed in our later experiences, three basic questions are asked when gay men meet: When did you realise that you were gay? What was the reaction of your parents, family, friends, colleagues? Where did you meet? (applied to couples).

Our new friends were mostly in their twenties and early thirties, as were Bernard and I. Homosexuality was illegal, and homosexual acts could be punished severely, so we had to be discreet. Fortunately the professional and social circles in which we moved were more tolerant than the colonial scene had been, and our friends and colleagues were accepting and non-judgmental. I am still in touch with three of this small gay circle, Graham Dickason in Cape Town, David Brodie in California, and John Burton in New South Wales. It was not only that we found each other congenial companions, but we were all insecure enough to need, and to value, the reassurance: ‘I am not alone, then!’

During this period we eagerly bought, and passed on, the few gay novels that had been published. Bernard introduced me to Mary Renault’s The Charioteer (1954), then we discovered James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (1956), and Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar. I do not claim that any of these is great literature, but all were important and reassuring to us at this stage of our lives.

We did not live in a gay ghetto; we were both involved in a wider social world, which included the lively and innovative Theatre Guild, where Bernard played the lead in several plays, including TS Eliot’s The Cocktail Party, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and Terence Rattigan’s The Browning Affair. By the time I arrived in Bulawayo, Bernard had been living there for nine months, during which time he had met many like-minded people, and formed enduring friendships.

Bernard and I made periodic visits, usually travelling together, to our respective families in Rhodesia. Bernard’s sister, Eileen, and his mother lived in Gwanda, south of Bulawayo, where Eileen’s husband was headmaster of the ‘European’ primary school. My brother Paul and his wife Jil lived in Fort Victoria (Masvingo), where Paul had a garage and tyre business. Unless it was rainy season (usually from November on) the trips took about one and a half and four hours,

Paul’s daughter Robin. Bulawayo, 1952 Paul’s daughter Judy. Bulawayo, 1952

respectively, in our old 1939 Chevrolet. We later bought a second car, a grand 1953 Rover saloon, much more reliable. Many of the roads were ‘strip roads’, consisting of two tarmac strips; when overtaking, or when meeting an approaching vehicle, each car would keep one set of wheels on the strip, the other on the shoulder of the road. Shattered windscreens, caused by flying pebbles, were common.

Paul and I, after our shared war years, never had any serious disagreements, despite our often very different political views. Some of Paul’s pals in Fort Victoria were, however, unreconstructed backwoodsmen, given to referring to Africans by the pejorative term, munts, derived from muntu, meaning ‘a person’. I told Paul that we had many African friends. and we found this term offensive. Paul told his friends not to use the term, and they did refrain, even though they thought that I was being absurd. One would say, ‘… and then I saw this mu – sorry – I saw this African gentleman’, which was regarded as very funny. I did not mind, and in return Bernard and I vetted our guest list when Paul visited us in Bulawayo, excluding a few of our extremely radical friends, who would only have provoked Paul. Harmony prevailed, at a small price.

We often combined a visit to Fort Vic with a drive to the Zimbabwe Ruins (Great Zimbabwe), seventeen miles to the south, where the huge stone complex never ceased to fascinate us. In the 1930s, the noted British archaeologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson had declared that Great Zimbabwe was ‘undoubtedly medieval in date, and Bantu in origin’. Later excavations, after World War 2, fully confirmed her conclusion yet many white Rhodesians refused to concede that these impressive stone buildings had been built by Africans, citing as their evidence the pole, thatch and mud huts of modern Africans. Various dotty theories about the builders were propounded – that they had been Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese or Portuguese. Buttressing their refusal to credit Africans with this achievement was a deep-felt belief in the inferiority of all black people, which provided a justification for white rule and for all the privileges which whites enjoyed.






Bernard’s sister Eileen with her husband, Ken Gomm, and their daughters Felicity and Christine. Gwanda, c. 1957


We loved these drives to the bundu (the bush) and we became very fond of the landscapes, especially when the msasa trees (Brachystegia spiciformis) were in full colour in October. We became friendly with two missionary schoolteachers, one a German Catholic and the other a Swedish Lutheran, and, inevitably, ended up sponsoring some of their brighter students; for little expenditure, this was a rewarding action. We received regular reports on our students’ progress, and knew that at least a few young men and women had a chance of a better life.

Several times we drove for a weekend to Salisbury, which offered more varied attractions, including the newly opened Rhodes National Gallery. Even further afield lay the Eastern Districts, where we liked to go over a long weekend: friends of ours had a cottage in the hills beyond Umtali (Mutare), where we took long walks in the cool mountains, ending with a skinny dip in the chilly waters of the Pungwe River.

During our stay in Rhodesia, an Italian company started construction of the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River, the second-largest (after Lake Nasser on the Nile) of Africa’s large dams. Although I did not visit the site at that time, we followed developments. My main interest was in the involuntary resettlement of 57 000 Gwembe Tonga people. Resettlement, and its associated problems, became one of my main professional interests when I moved to Ghana. The press, both in Rhodesia and in Britain, devoted much more attention to the plight of the animals which had to be relocated. ‘Operation Noah’, which preceded the building of Kariba, involved capturing, sometimes tranquillising, and moving thousands of animals, including elephants. Photographs of this process were of more interest to readers than images of wretched villagers, bewildered and traumatised by their forced relocation. The anthropologists Elizabeth Colson and Ted Scudder have documented this sad resettlement process over nearly fifty years. When I visited Kariba in 2004, I attended Palm Sunday mass at the lovely Santa Barbara church, which commemorates the lives of those workers – twenty-one Italians and seventy-five Africans – who lost their lives during the dam’s construction. The Italian names are recorded in full, but each African is remembered by only a single name: Mafuse, Tendao, Petro, Johanna …

Among my few surviving documents from this period is a formal invitation, from the President of the Bulawayo Branch of the African Nganga (Doctors) Association, ‘humbly requesting [my] presence at the Herbalists exhibition and ceremonial dances on Saturday 22nd August 1959’. This was one of the last township events that we attended. The programme included ‘Welcome to guests; Practice of Rootology; An Izangoma Ceremonial Dance; Sangoma Drum Dance; Address by Dr Parerenyatwa, if he is present; Dance Drums’. Sangoma is a term widely used throughout southern Africa for a herbalist/diviner. We enjoyed many such affairs, the drumming and dancing being much more exciting and more authentic than most of what occurs today. The laconic ‘if he is present’ is a nice acceptance f the unpredictability of such ‘big men’. One of the friends we made in Bulawayo was Willard Rhodes,Professor of Ethno-musicology at Columbia University in New York, and his wife Lillie. picWe offered them the use of our James Court flat, as we were about to drive south to Durban for a holiday and to see my parents. Willard, who was studying the political implications of African music, particularly protest songs, became a familiar and accepted figure, with his recording equipment, in the township markets and beer gardens. He encouraged us to make more frequent visits to the African markets, where we were introduced to fried caterpillars, quite tasty and crunchy once one recovered from the initial shock of facing this exotic snack.

Professor Willard Rhodes, Lillie Rhodes and DWB, Bulawayo, 1958

When I had joined Bernard in Bulawayo in 1956, we had naively high hopes for the future of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and we expected to spend the rest of our lives there. Two events indicate our high expectations in our early years there. First, I had kept my anthropology books, when I was in Tanganyika, thinking that I might someday return to the academic world, as John Beattie and Meyer Fortes had suggested. However, having decided, as I thought, to stay in administration in Bulawayo, I donated my books to the library of the new University of Rhodesia, where they were gratefully received. At that time, Clyde Mitchell and Ioan Lewis were in the small Department of Social Anthropology, which was doing significant studies. Second, we decided to build ‘our dream home’, inspired by my POW friend Jake who had built an impressive stone house, Valhalla, in Bulawayo. We found a lovely plot in Douglasdale, just outside Bulawayo, and had an architect friend draw up plans for a splendid stone house, complete with a freeform swimming pool set among rocks; we negotiated, through an accountant friend, to secure a loan for building the house.

Then, in late 1958, the Rhodesian Government declared an emergency, arresting scores of African political leaders, and intellectuals, many of whom we knew. Hugh Ashton, who was leaving for three months’ sabbatical in the USA, asked me to make regular visits to Khami Prison, twenty miles north of Bulawayo, where the detainees had been sent. We could see the writing on the wall by then, and my visits to the prison provided further warnings of what was to come. I found the detainees to be reasonable men, with justifiable grievances, and I could not see any easy solution.

Among the detainees was a young poet from Nyasaland, David Rubadiri, who had been at Oxford, and who asked me for reading material. I made a wise choice, when I lent him, one by one, my set of Jane Austen novels, drawing on my own experience as a prisoner of war, and telling him that he needed to read something that would take him far away from his prison surroundings. (David Rubadiri became well known for his writings, and was later appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malawi. In this position he criticised the Malawian police for using unnecessary violence against protesting students.) The prison governor allowed me to bring small gifts and comforts for the prisoners at any time, and he also changed the general visiting hours to include Saturdays, the most convenient day for the wives of the detainees.

I felt that I had done what I could to ease the lot of the prisoners, when there was a major setback. One Saturday, when I had brought out a bus with many of the detainees’ wives, another bus arrived, with no advance notice, from Salisbury (Harare). The leader of this group was a lecturer from the University of Rhodesia, who imperiously knocked on the prison door and demanded that his group be allowed to see their relatives. To aggravate the situation, a prominent member of the group was a Dutch woman, the wife of an African prisoner; bringing her was calculated to annoy the (white) prison staff – although ‘mixed’ marriages were not illegal, they were not readily accepted by whites. The prison governor refused to let anyone in, and it took me some time to restore the former cordial relations. The visitors from Salisbury had made sure that a press photographer was present, and the event was given prominence in the British Sunday newspapers. The lecturer would have said that publicity for the draconian measures, and the political repression, justified the frustration and sadness of the wives who could not see their men; I disagreed.

Guy Clutton-Brock, a saintly agronomist and missionary, and his wife, Molly, lived at St Faith’s Mission, a multi-racial institution not far from Bulawayo. Guy was outspoken in his sympathy with African aspirations, and in his condemnation of racial discrimination. He was arrested in November 1958, and charged with treason. During Guy’s term in prison, Molly suffered a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a Bulawayo hospital. On his release in March 1959, we were about to leave for a holiday in Durban, so we offered Guy the use of our flat and of our old and temperamental 1939 Chev, so that he could be near Molly, who recovered quickly. On our return, we asked Guy if he had had any trouble with the car, which was liable to stall at inconvenient times. He told us that when the Chevrolet stalled, which happened several times, he would wait, and each time a few men – Special Branch officers who had been trailing him – would appear and push the vehicle to make it start. We also noticed curious ‘clicks’ on our telephone, indicating that it was being tapped; these soon stopped. A footnote to this tale is that after Guy died in Wales, in 1995, his ashes were interred at Heroes’ Acre in Harare by President Robert Mugabe: Guy Clutton-Brock was the first white person to be declared a national hero in Zimbabwe.

At that time it was not possible for ZANU to operate inside Rhodesia, and Herbert Chitepo, Rhodesia’s first African barrister, later left the country to become chairman of ZANU in Lusaka, Zambia. He was killed there in March 1975, in a car bomb assassination. Chitepo’s death has never satisfactorily been explained, but a Zambian Commission of Enquiry concluded that he had been murdered by political rivals. Although South African and Rhodesian agents were doing all sorts of dirty tricks in Zambia at this time, there is no evidence that they were involved in Chitepo’s assassination. President Mugabe introduced into the schools a controversial ‘Patriotic History’, which depicts ZANU as operating always harmoniously, whereas it is well known that it was, and still is, riven by conflicts, partly based on the six groupings within the Shona community. Chitepo, who is now buried as a National Hero, has been called ‘Zimbabwe’s Nelson Mandela’, and many Zimbabweans still believe that he would have made an excellent president.

By 1959 Bernard and I realised that we had no future in Rhodesia, and began looking around for a new home. Fortunately, we were able to extricate ourselves from our tentative building plans; we later wondered, fearfully, what we would have done if we had saddled ourselves with a large mortgage, and had begun building our ‘dream home’. What a nightmare that would have been.

Our American friend Lillie Rhodes took charge, encouraging us to set our sights on academic careers in the USA. She persuaded Bernard to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship, which then took him to Indiana University. Lillie told me that my CV was far too modest, and rewrote it. But that was what was needed; with the help of Paul Baxter, who was then teaching at the University of Ghana, and with a recommendation from Herbert Chitepo, I was offered and accepted a post at the University of Ghana, in September 1959.

Bernard and I had agonised about our future: we would, of course, have preferred to stay together, but this did not seem possible. Wedecided reluctantly that we should pursue our own studies, each of us aiming for a PhD, so that we could find academic positions at the same university in the United States. In the event, our separation lasted much longer than we had envisaged, and for several years we had to make do with only occasional sweet meetings, followed by long absences; but ultimately it all worked out well.





Bulawayo, 1959. Denise Dowling showing a map of Indiana University to Bernard, who was on his way there.



In June 1959, shortly before we left Rhodesia, Lillie gave each of us a US $1 bill (which I still possess, and which I treasure) and the key of their apartment near Columbia University, which she said was to be our base if we were ever in New York. At first I regarded this as a typically sentimental American gesture, but I actually used the key just over a year later, on my first visit to New York. While I had liked and admired the few Americans whom I had met, I never imagined that I might live in the USA; yet a few years later I started a twenty-six year residence in California, and later Bernard and I both took out American citizenship. So we had very vague ideas about ‘America’ and ‘Americans’, and it was Lillie and Willard Rhodes who first made us aware of all the generosity and openness that the United States has to offer – despite the present aberration of George W and his misguided, destructive gang.

Later events in Rhodesia showed that we were right in leaving when we did. Nyasaland left the Federation in May 1963, to become independent Malawi, Zambia was on the way to independence, and the Federation was abolished in December 1963. My Rhodes University adversary, Ian Smith, became Prime Minister of Rhodesia in 1964, and in November 1965, he broke away from Britain in a defiant Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). Although I have often criticised Ian Smith, I readily admit that many (black) Zimbabweans now say that they wish that ‘Smithy’ was back in charge of the country. I also admire his courage, his outspokenness, and his continuing to live, modestly, in Harare, without any excessive security. (He recently moved, for health reasons, to a retirement complex in Cape Town.)

In late 1965, I was living in Berkeley, California, and I was invited to discuss the implications of UDI, together with the African historian Basil Davidson, on the Public Service TV channel. Our host asked us how long we thought Smith could hold out. Knowing that the United Nations had imposed sanctions on the ‘illegal regime of Rhodesia’, I solemnly ventured ‘three months’; Basil, a trifle more cautiously, thought that it might be as long as six months. So much for the views of ‘African experts’ – which is how the TV host had introduced us: Smith’s government lasted fourteen years, and it was not until 1980 that Robert Mugabe became president of an independent Zimbabwe – after a bitter war which resulted in the deaths of 50 000 people, nearly all of them Africans.

During Smith’s regime, Bernard and I made several trips to Kenya for our fieldwork, often making a side-trip to Rhodesia, to visit my brother Paul. The Rhodesian immigration authorities agreed not to stamp our passports – as they frequently did if requested – since a Rhodesian stamp would have prevented us from visiting independent African countries. During these visits I saw how several countries, notably France and Japan, were blatantly ignoring the UN-imposed sanctions, as attested by the numbers of new Peugeots and Toyotas on the roads.

Despite my having to leave Rhodesia, my three and a half year stay there was useful, giving me valuable insights into African urban problems – a good balance to my mainly rural experience in Tanganyika. Bernard and I made good and enduring friendships, and our stay prepared us for the tensions we would soon encounter in relationships between white and black people in other countries.


next part ~ Part 4:Teacher


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