The British Empire Library

The Last of the Queen's Men: A Lesotho Experience

by Peter Sanders

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by MJL Glaze (Basutoland/Lesolho 1959-70)
Peter Sanders was one of the last administrative officers to be recruited from Britain and posted to Basutoland, as it then was, arriving in 1961. He worked in the Secretariat, and as a D.O. in mountain and lowland districts, did a short spell acting as Secretary to the Constitutional Commission and, as Chief Electoral Officer, organised the elections which led to self-government and independence in 1965/6. He left Lesotho, as it became, in October 1966. He has written A Life of Moshoeshoe, the 19th century founder of the Basotho nation and, jointly with Mosebi Damane, published an edited translation of the praise poems of the Basotho chiefs. He was Chief Executive of the Race Relations Board in Britain from 1988 to 1993.

The Last of the Queen's Men is, he says, 'an attempt to recapture what it was like for me, as a young and impressionable Englishman, to work as an administrator in the last days of British rule in Basutoland'. One of the nice things about this honest book by an honest man is the way he pokes gentle fun at that young and impressionable Englishman who 'prided himself on his liberal outlook' and the fact that he had not been to public school, whose strong Nonconformist background caused him to sit 'silently asking myself whether I could be of more use to the world' in a developed or an underdeveloped country, and who was at first uncomfortable having domestic servants working for his family.

The truth is that Sanders of Lesotho is a romantic, his book a tale of youthful love. He fell for the grandeur of this mountain kingdom and its sturdy peasantry on their sturdy ponies. It was an intense personal experience, and he has written a highly personal book. He may have lost his heart but he kept his head, studying the country, its people, their history and their culture in order to understand what he was experiencing, so that 'romanticism became grounded in reality'.

The book gives a good picture of the very varied duties which might fall to a fortunate young D.O. He evokes life in a small, dusty capital, and the people he met, Boers, Britons and Basotho, some larger-than-life characters among them, always with a gentle touch.

The book does not set out to be a comprehensive account of political developments in Basutoland/Lesotho, rather do wider political developments form the context in which Sanders moves and works, but this background is succinctly presented. There are no surprising revelations, as far as your reviewer can judge, but some of the political paragraphs are of considerable interest, such as his description of the attitude of the Basotho Chiefs and politicians on the Executive Council to asylum-seekers from South Africa.

One of the strengths of this book is the even-handedness of Sander's judgments. Political correctness is firmly put in its place. While it is now taken as axiomatic that colonialism was exploitation, he says 'such critiques are too subservient to the political preoccupations and fashions of the day, and need to be set against... the testimony of the individuals, black and white, who made up the many different colonial situations over a long period of time'. The testimony of a former Chief Executive of the Race Relations Board, based on his personal experience as a young man must be of particular significance. His book is 'neither a triumphant vindication nor a defensive apologia' but he remains 'convinced that - certainly in the 1960s - the British were acting in good faith in Lesotho' in what they believed were the interests of the Basotho to prepare them for independence.

This book should be required reading for any student of Southern African affairs. It is likely to appeal to anyone who has shared the colonial experience. We were all romantics, weren't we?

British Empire Book
Peter Sanders
Africa Book Centre Ltd.
186814 353 8


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