The early Livingstonian ideal of African politico-social organization based on the
ubuntu principle (lit: human-ness, ie. kindliness and solidarity) as it is beautifully
expressed and epitomised in McCall Smith's novels set in Botswana and here cited, fits
nicely with current Swazi political orthodoxy. The author admires the late King
Sobhuza II for having circumvented or outmanoeuvred the relatively weak (but
potentially disruptive ) political parties. He builds a strong argument for the suitability
of this traditional model for a mono-tribal state such as Swaziland, but describes
sympathetically the personalities and political aims of the new parties and their leaders.
At post-independence 1973 (not covered in the book), the said political parties won
a couple of seats and were promptly banned, while the policies of Sir Brian Marwick,
last but one Queen's Commissioner and most associated with the imposed
constitution (which was abrogated and parliament suspended), were disavowed. This
left the job of political opposition to the trade unions, which were never seriously
contested, oddly enough.
This is a personal record of the author's first tour as an admin cadet, from Devonshire
Course (then limited to Oxbridge - no more London) to his ultimate engagement in the
matrimonial sense. The daily routine, mainly in the districts, with switches of postings to
cover long furloughs, gave a rich and varied administrative experience, exercise of
responsibility, and scope for initiative -- albeit limited always by budget. In this work the
author thoroughly immersed himself, gaining personal insights into the Swazi and
settler/business communities which he translates into character sketches, including his
colleagues (occasionally off the mark and even crossing the line of good taste). But his
book is based on notes off the cuff and letters home, and makes an interesting chronicle
of this phase of colonial history, a multiracial society in microcosm seen against the then
very divergent SA polity. The blackballing of his coeval Jeremy Varcoe by the Manzini
social club was not typical of Swaziland, but is prophetically and amusingly illustrated
by the said Varcoe's fancy dress photo as a gate-crasher on the eponymous boat out.
Among other admin colleagues, Mark Patey stands out, a bluff avuncular Cambridge
college oar and Leander member, "affectionately known to his friends as 'puff puff.
Swazi sobriquets aka's are also listed and analysed. (Mike Fairlie's Mavukela could refer
to his early rising habit, or to his 'acerbic' temperament (the author's term); 'suffers
fools ungladly'in Rawlins'description).
Brian Marwick's 'nit-picking' attention to detail might with benefit have been applied
by the author, since the book needs some editing ("a gratuitous supply of fresh fish"; "it bode well"; Hugh vs Huw). He sometimes felt a lack of recognition, but then
management training had not yet caught on, with its cardinal principle: "Tell me how I
As for Brian Marwick, his was not a wealthy family so in order to study he shared the
hard grind which is the lot of many Swazi in similar circumstances, in order to
eventually produce his monumental monograph. The author acknowledges his
kindliness, charm and quiet personality, given sometimes to spells of intense cerebration
when he seemed cut off from the world ("John, one must remember this is the RC's
show", hissed Bunny Teale in my ear when I tried to break the silence, when seated in a
Chief's kraal on a horseback tour in Sipocosini!).
In fact many looked back on this time with nostalgia as a Camelot era. Beside the
"Zebras" tennis club, the Mbabane Choral Society perhaps deserves mention - for its G
& S operettas brilliantly staged by Mike Fairlie and costumes by Betty Wilhelm,
attracting the attention of the Rand Daily Mail.
The book gives a good perspective on the ecological/conservation scene. It raises the
land tenure issue in face of an awkward squatter eviction sensitively handled and recounted.
Photo portraits and well chosen illustrations illuminate the text, plus a map, siSwati
and other terminological and social glossary, lists of key historical events, animal
species, select reading and a detailed index all make this a most useful vade mecum.