William Grant describes the life of a Cadet/District Officer in a remote district of
Northern Rhodesia during the three years between 1958 and 1961. His recall of
his life and his work as well as his feelings and attitudes is remarkable in its detail.
It reflects an exciting life in a most beautiful and unspoiled part of the country.
His description of the circumstances of the sad death of an ex-Cambridge 'A' course
colleague of mine, Victor Magee, in a car accident is particularly poignant. Certainly
what he writes will ring many bells with anyone who worked in the Northern Rhodesian
Provincial Administration. He describes a stable peaceful country and a very busy
working life with an emphasis on contact with ordinary rural people and their chiefs and
headmen; it was work of which he and we can be justly proud. What he has written
contributes significantly to a balanced retrospective view of our work and the
preoccupations of serving officers in the years before independence.
Grant describes the rural beginnings of what was to become some rather ugly
nationalist activity particularly on the Copperbelt. He rightly links this activity with
universal anti-Federation sentiment.
Clearly he enjoyed his job and from the way he describes it, was good at it too.
Like others before him he highlights the vital, sometimes heroic role of the District
William Grant's keen eye and sensitivity would have been ideal qualifications to
observe and describe the many changes affecting the country and us administrative
officers in the three years before independence in October 1964. So he missed the first
one man one vote elections in October 1962, the first local government elections in
February 1964, and the Lumpa uprising and the complications of dealing with it when
power was divided between a Prime Minister (Kaunda) and a British Governor
(Sir Evelyn Hone). Then of course there was the excitement of independence itself and
how everyone reacted to it. The main point here is that a book seeking to compare "then
and now" is seriously weakened by its failure to mention the vital changes and how they
affected the country as well as Grant's erstwhile colonial service colleagues. In fact the
latter played a little known crucial role in helping to launch the new country.
Their loyalty, adaptability and commitment to the new state and the way they rose to a
multiplicity of challenges in running new ministries and departments is a story yet to be
Part of the whole story of the independence period was the way so many suddenly
promoted African ex-clerks coped with vastly more responsibility, how the
administration was politicised in 1966 by the appointment of District Governors and how
the district messenger service was run down. All this was to set the tone for rural
administration for 40 years. Only in 2003 were District Governors again to become
District Commissioners but by then their power and influence was gone.
I find William Grant's diary of his 2006 visit less impressive than the first part of his
book. It seems to me that it could have been written by a first time visitor to the country
and it lacks the perspectives which OSPA readers would be looking for. He does not
comment for instance on the demise of the district administration, the people's reaction
to it or on where real power now lies and why.
Again though it was obviously well researched. I was generally unimpressed by the
chapter on the Zambian economy and the author's overall failure to relate the way things
are now to the pre-independence period. I am not sure either that he gives credit to the
Zambians for the way they have learned from the many mistakes of the early years, have
turned the economy around and achieved a high level of prosperity.
Though I don't go along with all his conclusions in the last chapter I think what he
says about aid to Africa and how it is so often inappropriate, perpetuates dependency and
frequently does real harm, shows real appreciation of the issues and practicalities.
Whatever it lacks, overall Zambia Then and Now is a valuable book which will be
enjoyed particularly by ex-HMOCS officers.