The British Empire Library


Under An African Sun: Memoirs of a Colonial Officer in Northern Rhodesia

by Frank Bennett


Courtesy of OSPA


David Glendening (N Rhodesia 1956-71)
This book covers the author’s first tour of duty in Northern Rhodesia from 1958 to 1961 and includes his recruitment and his passages out and back. He was a Clerical Officer in the Ministry of Finance and friends to whom I spoke all wondered how in this position he could possibly have experienced anything of sufficient interest to form the basis of a book. I have to say that he pulls it off triumphantly.

Part of the reason for Bennett’s success is that he is completely unpretentious and this makes it easy to warm to him. At the time he was still a young man and inclined to play jokes and have fun. He describes his practical jokes and other adventures with his cars and girlfriends with a light and entertaining touch.

That same lightness of touch is evident when he comes to describe his work. Even the forbidding-sounding topic of the conversion of pay scales of all officers from old to new, with back-dating, is found to have its humorous aspects. At another time he was in the section dealing with passage entitlements and bookings and discovered the possibilities of stopovers and circuitous routes back to Britain, knowledge which was useful to him when he made his own leave arrangements. As a single man in good standing he also found it convenient to become a regular house sitter for more senior officers due to go off on long leave and so we learn a good deal about the arcane science of colonial housing entitlements. These subjects, salary scales and rules covering housing, leave and passages, were dear to the heart of every man or woman who ever worked for the Northern Rhodesia Government; they may sound tedious matters but the author deals with them with the same good humour that is apparent in everything he writes.

Frank Bennett thoroughly enjoyed his first tour in Lusaka and the company of the friends he made there, and he clearly thought that his own conditions of service were at least adequate and in some ways generous. His recollection of detail is good but there are occasional lapses, as when he calls his favourite hotel the Edinburgh when from his description it was clearly the Ridgeway.

This is in no sense a political book. There is no axe to grind. It may seem odd that the only Africans mentioned are domestic servants but I do not feel too critical about that. Bennett is largely writing about and for members of the Overseas Civil Service. At that time he and his friends appeared to regard a bush posting as a sort of living death. It seems that his next posting was to be Solwezi in the North Western Province and it would be interesting to know how he enjoyed it but perhaps that will be covered in a later book. This one is entertaining and very readable. The reader will find it easy to smile and occasionally even to chuckle.

British Empire Book
Author
Frank Bennett
Published
2005
Pages
246
Publisher
Radcliffe Press
ISBN
1 84511 083 8
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon


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