The Last of the White Ants is a very good read for the money. It will surely be very
much enjoyed by all ex-colonial civil servants, whether from Malawi or elsewhere
in the one time Empire. And as an interesting and readable novel the general reader
should not miss it.
The 'White Ants' of the title is the author's name for the expatriate civil servants in
pre- and post-colonial Nyasaland/Malawi, and is a fictional account of their life and work. The story starts in January 1966 when the hero, Sinclair Brown, sails for the Cape in a
Union Castle liner, and ends in 1992 about two years before Dr Banda's final retirement,
as President. Some of the amusing incidents recorded may have been exaggerated for the
sake of amusing the reader: this is not important because there is a useful four page
appendix outlining the history of the country and the life of its first president Dr Hastings
Kamuzu Banda as well as an adequate map. The photographs are very good for a
publication of this nature.
The foreword is written by Professor Colin Baker, an expert on the country, and gives
a useful account of the author whose full name is Patricia Shelagh Pink (her very small
image may be detected in the photograph on page 59).
Pattie lived and worked in Malawi as publications officer for the Ministry of
Agriculture for eight years. This experience gave her a love and understanding of her
fellow expatriate civil servants and motivated her to write this book as her tribute to
them. It seems rather a back-handed tribute at times, such as when Sinclair makes a lifelong
friend of a law-breaking planter by spending a day drinking with him instead of
telling him off for the error of his ways.
The geographical names of places are sometimes spelt as in the time of Nyasaland
and at others as Dr Banda later decided was more correct for Malawi. And although the
author declares that any resemblance of the characters to real people is 'purely
coincidental', it seems to this reviewer that there is a disproportionate amount of
drinking beer, laughing, flirting and adultery in the tale: more than is justified. Those
who have worked in Malawi may enjoy putting real names to the many pseudonyms and
may feel that some characterizations are unfair: but remember this is a novel, not history:
'the years have smoothed down what was agitating and personal'. Buy it, read it and