British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Brian Reavill
Two Knights and a Chief in Central Africa
Roy Welensky
In 1958 I was posted, on secondment from the Federal Public Service, to the Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Sir Roy Welensky.

In my work, I was required to accompany Sir Roy on many of his visits to the cities and towns of Central Africa. There were new businesses to open, mines to tour, conferences and agricultural shows to attend, and fetes to patronise. Some of the trips were connected with party business and, being a civil servant, I was not asked to take part in that aspect of them. Nevertheless, in the relatively short time I was in the post I flew to Sir Roy's constituency many times. Broken Hill (now Kabwe) had the feel of a frontier town in a Hollywood western. The normal amenities of urban life were so lacking that, at that oppressive time of the year when the thermometer stood well above 40^C and the rains had not yet brought relief, the season was often referred to as the suicide months. After my appointment, the Principal Private Secretary made sure I was always the one chosen to go there.

It was bad driving the hundred and sixty-odd kilometres between Broken Hill and the copper-mining town of Ndola: the route passed through a country possessing few landmarks - apart from the inevitable aloes and the hills thrown up by the termites - so that (the story went) after rain, cars spinning off the road in the mud would leave their occupants uncertain whether they were still facing the way they wanted to go.

Two Knights and a Chief in Central Africa
Sir Stewart Gore-Brown
One memorable experience during this period was the Prime Minister's tour of the north, using the Dakota of the Royal Rhodesian Air Force he invariably flew in. The Principal Private Secretary, Stewart Parker, was ill and so it fell to me to accompany Sir Roy instead. The first stop was Mongu. Barotseland was a separate protectorate within the Protectorate of Northern Rhodesia and Mongu was its official capital, but there had to be two seats of government because the Zambezi plain flooded every year, making it necessary for the inhabitants to fall back, with appropriate ceremony, to the surrounding hills until the waters receded with the coming of the dry season.

It was Lewanika, a paramount chief of Barotseland in the late Nineteenth Century, who granted the concession to Cecil Rhodes whereby the British South Africa Company enjoyed all the mineral rights in Northern Rhodesia.

Here we attended a session of the Saa-Sikalo Kuta, the council of the paramount chief. Before speaking, each induna (councillor) would kneel in a form of kowtow and clap his hands; when addressing the chief direct he would approach, always on his knees, to within a respectful distance.

A pleasant surprise was to find Hugh Synge, a fellow student at Bristol University, who had applied to the Colonial Service at about the same time as I joined the Central African Federal service.

After stops in Lusaka, Kitwe, Fort Rosebery (now Mansa), Abercorn (now Mbala) and Mpika, we made our last overnight stop at Shiwa Ngandu, the home of Sir Stewart Gore-Brown. Sir Roy worked with him in friendly rivalry before World War II when Sir Stewart represented indigenous African interests on the Legislative Council in Lusaka and Sir Roy was serving as a member elected by White voters. At the end of a lengthy drive from Mpika - for the local airstrip had been reconnoitred in advance and found inadequate to take a Dakota although this aircraft would cope with most airfields - and at a height of one thousand five hundred metres, Shiwa House rose out of the surrounding bush like a Disney castle. Erected on ten thousand hectares in the east of Northern Rhodesia, it took ten years to build. It was actually still incomplete, though it boasted a keep, a chapel and battlements, not to mention bams with Gothic windows. We were shown round a hospital in the grounds for TB and leprosy patients. I slept in a mediaeval turret, a surreal experience in the middle of Africa.

Two Knights and a Chief in Central Africa
Shiwa Ngandu
At an open-air concert performed by a choir drawn from the people living on Sir Stewart's land, I heard for the first time the hymn God Bless Africa which later became a familiar anthem on the continent. The entertainment also included a trip round a nearby stretch of water in a Lake Tanganyika fishing boat fitted with an 8 hp outboard motor. The boat leaked so badly that by the time we returned to dry land we had sunk up to the gunwales and there was nowhere dry to put our feet down.

On his walls Sir Stewart had a collection of macabre prints including two, appropriately captioned, of whites being hanged in Tasmania for murdering aborigines and aborigines being similarly executed for killing whites, which he gleefully brought to the attention of Sir Roy. I cannot say whether this unbiased approach to justice was a novel concept for Australians in the Nineteenth Century but the point our host was making seemed obscure: the courts of Central Africa were renowned for their even-handedness and in any case they were not a Federal responsibility. However, he appeared to take a malicious delight in having the pictures on display.

The two knights were having a friendly joust.

Map of Perim Island in 1955
Central African Federation Map, 1960
Colony Profile
Northern Rhodesian Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 98: October 2009


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