The story of the diaspora of Northern Rhodesians is a difficult subject to record in a fair and balanced manner because of the many diverse views of Northern Rhodesians. I think Pamela Shurmer-Smith done an excellent job in weaving together the personal stories of so many people with an unbiased view of the history of our country.
I thought that maybe I was alone in being unable to settle back in England the land of my birth after 21 years in Africa, but I find that the majority of returnees had the same difficulty and many of them have moved on. They either returned to Africa or went to other parts of the world or some even became eternal ‘men in a suitcase’ moving like gypsies from one location to another.
This book brings alive the trauma of having to uproot oneself from one’s long time friends and neighbours when or shortly after Northern Rhodesia became Zambia in 1964. The cruelty was compounded by the restrictions on taking one’s honest and hard earned life savings with one. This was made even worse when currency restrictions were expanded to include personal and household effects. Yes, there were reasons for it but for the average Northern Rhodesian who had no option but to leave; for him to have to leave his own life savings behind was just pure theft on the part of the new regime.
The expatriates who came to Zambia after Independence are a different story from NR’s. They knew they were just hired on a short contract basis and had no illusions about the country becoming their home. Even so many if them feel a strange nostalgia for their years in Zambia that is only too evident in the social media pages.
The residents of Northern Rhodesia were roughly divided into the Government or PA types and the rest. The PA community (the British Colonial Civil Servants) were deliberately transferred from station to station and given 6 months home leave every 3 years to prevent them forming any attachment to their host countries. Despite this many did form strong attachments to Northern Rhodesia (especially those who served in the Northern Rhodesia Police).
The non-PA community was divided into the commercial / trading, the mining and the farming communities. Most of the miners came from South Africa and SR and would work a few years on the mines before returning to their farms down south. After a few bad seasons on the farms they would return to the Copperbelt to save up another grubstake. They had little interest in NR or its peoples and were only there to make money. In a way one could call these temporary sojourners the forerunners of the ‘expatriates’ who came after independence. Even so many of them did form an attachment for the affluent and relaxed Copperbelt lifestyle.
Among the non-PA group and mainly in the trading and farming communities were the ‘settlers’, the real Northern Rhodesians, who actually thought that they were going to live in NRZ for ever and who were prepared to adapt to changing conditions and live under an African dominated government. I identify myself with this group. I think these settlers or at least the ones who had to leave NRZ were the ones who felt the loss most poignantly because they lost not only a comfortable lifestyle and their properties and assets and in some cases their families, but most importantly they lost their dreams. They suffered something like what the Yanks call post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in their troops returning from battle fronts. Time eases the pain but many of us will take the mental scars with us to our graves.
The emigrants had a wide variety of success in their new lives after leaving NRZ from Neville Isdell who became head of the giant Coca-Cola organization to the chap who ended up penniless sleeping in a New Zealand garden shed. Most however returned to the western humdrum life of wage slavery as university bursars, teachers, policemen or lawyers with only their memories of a life in the sun to brighten their dull lives.
The book is generally sad and nostalgic but I found the saddest story was that of Heather Hunt who was born in Broken Hill hospital in 1939. She married Des and they built up a farm near Broken Hill from scratch, even making the bricks themselves. After Des’ death Heather stayed on until July 2014 when she moved to the UK at 75 years old. She had no children left in Zambia to take over the farm and look after her in her old age so she had to sell the farm. I really feel for Heather. I hope she finds some happiness in the years that remain for her. What a crying shame after sticking it out through thick and thin in Northern Rhodesia and Zambia that she has had to leave.