Lee Kuan Yew is the last great living twentieth-century nation builder, if he is alive.
Who were the others? What defines them? They have to have created a nation where none before existed – and yet one can’t leave out Mandela.
They must have done it through a personal struggle. They must have a certain stature. Their achievement must be solid. One can’t leave out Herzl, although he died forty-four years before the birth of Israel.
Norway, Finland, Iceland, the Baltic states, Poland, Belarus, Moldova, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the central Asian “stans”, Mongolia were, before the twentieth century, merged or submerged nations, but when they became independent did not have famous fathers, unless you count Piłsudski. They already, in a sense, existed, especially Poland. But, then, so did the Czech nation. (One can’t exactly call Haakon VII a nation-builder, even if he was a father-figure.)
Ukraine is a half-formed nation. Why am I implying less formed than the other Ruthenia, Belarus? At any rate, no builders.
Hungary achieved nationhood in the nineteenth century. Masaryk was a nation-builder even though the nation he founded was later divided into two.
The Philippines’ founders did their work before, not after, American colonisation. Aung San died before Burmese independence, and his legacy is unclear. So are Ho Chi Minh’s and Sihanouk’s. Burma, Vietnam and Cambodia had once contained powerful states. Burma is the most ethnically fragmented. Thailand was never colonised, so the question of nation-building does not arise.
The Republic of China was declared in 1912, but Taiwan became its last stronghold long after Sun’s death. Sun was the father of a nation that, as a geographical entity, doesn’t even recognise itself, and as a wider entity is China – not a new nation.
So I include him uneasily – or do we believe in the permanence of Taiwan? I can’t leave out Sukarno even if I want to.
Not everyone who led a colony into independence qualifies. In fact, not a single leader from the main years of decolonisation is in my list. I can’t bring myself to include Bourguiba, for example. Or, in a short list, Nkrumah or Kenyatta or Nyerere or Kaunda. Is that because black African countries are, or were, not nations, but tribal or ethnic hegemonies and coalitions? But so are others. So is Burma. So was nineteenth-century Hungary.
Mahathir is a smaller figure than Lee. He did not become prime minister until 1981.
In theory Singapore is a coalition of three ethnic groups, like its one-time role-model Switzerland.
Here is my list, in chronological order of the nation’s birth or the builder’s accession to power if later:
Sun Yat-sen 1912
Ibn Saud 1932
Mahatma Gandhi 1947
Muhammad Ali Jinnah 1947
Theodor Herzl 1948
Lee Kuan Yew 1965
Nelson Mandela 1994
Lee’s funeral or public memorial will be as big as Mandela’s and deservedly. You don’t need to have loved someone to feel grief.
The Blairs will be there, collecting cards.
1946, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge
Archive for the 'Africa' Category
… A rough geography
What is sub-Saharan Africa? According to the UN, everything except Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt – and Sudan, too, though it is south of all these. But the statistics of UN institutions do normally count Sudan as sub-Saharan.
So Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad are considered sub-Saharan. If you add Sudan, they form another chain from the Atlantic to the Red Sea. They contain most of the Sahel.
All these countries are Muslim (or Moslem, as we used to say), but two of them, Egypt and Chad, have substantial Christian minorities.
Further south, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea, Djibouti, Somalia are Muslim. Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso are predominantly Muslim, but have substantial Christian minorities of various denominations.
More evenly balanced are Guinea-Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Nigeria. Guinea-Bissau is half-Muslim, 10% Christian and the rest animist or traditional – but when we talk about traditional, we are sometimes including localised versions of Islam and Christianity, and when people declare as Muslims or Christians, they may still bring in elements of a local religion: figures or estimates for one country are not necessarily comparable with figures for another. Côte d’Ivoire is half-Muslim, half-Christian, apart from a small traditional element. Togo is 30% Christian, 20% Muslim, with the rest traditional. Benin is 43% Christian, 25% Muslim. Nigeria is roughly half-Muslim, half-Christian, with the Muslims in the north.
Liberia, Ghana, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, both Congos, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland have large Christian majorities. (Malawi, in this group, has the largest Islamic minority. [Postscript: See comment below.])
Eritrea, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique have smaller Christian majorities. Eritrea has a large Islamic minority. South Sudan has a large traditional minority and a small Islamic one. Ethiopia and Tanzania have large Islamic minorities. Mozambique has a smaller Islamic minority, but still only a small Christian majority, according to official figures, with many undeclared. (Madagascar is half-Christian, with the rest mainly traditional; there is a small Islamic minority.)
Most African Islam is Sunni, but there are Shiite communities in Egypt, Senegal and Nigeria and Ismaili Shia communities, established by immigrants from South Asia, in East and Central Africa and in South Africa. Cairo, of course, though the population is overwhelmingly Sunni, was an Ismaili Shiite foundation.
The dominant churches in Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia are Oriental Orthodox. The Christians in Chad are Catholic and Protestant.
Christians outnumber Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa (including Sudan?) by two to one. Under half are Catholic. Many are renewalists (Pentecostals and Charismatics), Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Primitive African art (it was called primitive), therefore, was the second non-European subverter of Europe’s academic tradition. It dealt the death blow. The first subversive influence, starting half a century earlier, had been the more widely-, sometimes unconsciously-assimilated art of Japan. Toynbee constantly writes about the impact of the West on Japan in the nineteenth century, but he never once mentions the influence out of Japan, which operated at a high-cultural, not a political, economic or religious level.
He never mentions Ife, nor shows any taste for the primitive. On the contrary, in 1939 he sees European engagement with barbarous African art only as a sign of a loss of vitality in Europe’s own art.
He cannot see modern art as a revitalised art. I don’t think his visual or musical sensibilities were highly developed; they were in any case Victorian. Victorians of his background and education were not known for visual or musical sophistication. He can think only of a breakdown.
One could make a fascinating anthology of reactionary writing about modern art, and especially about jazz. High learning, high culture were opposed to popular culture and to barbarous art. The mish-mash of high and low that almost all educated people embrace today was outside his and his generation’s experience. There are Economist pieces about modern mish-mash here and here.
In a late dialogue, Toynbee says:
“Recreation” in the present-day Western sense has always seemed to me to be an unhealthy regression to childishness. I have therefore despised it, and I believe I have been right.
European art wasn’t moribund in 1900. It was vital because it was changing. Artists, even relatively conservative ones, were caught up in a great movement. Academic establishments were becoming trivial or dull. (Even Brahms could seem dull, and when Britten said that he played Brahms once a year to remind himself how bad he was, and a friend of mine spoke to me about “eine verdammt tote Musik” without naming a composer, they perhaps had at the back of their minds some of his late piano pieces. I suspect Britten of thinking of opus 117, no 1. Re-enter rhythm with the Rite of Spring and jazz.)
In Vol IV “Benin” meant barbarism in art. But he had modified his views slightly by the time he got to Vol IX.
The Kingdom of Benin, including the site of the modern Benin City, was in modern Nigeria, east of Ife, and further east of the country called Benin. It was destroyed by the infamous Punitive Expedition of 1897 (last post). The only reason the new country called Benin has that name is that Dahomey was not considered neutral for all ethnic groups; and Benin referred to the Bight or Bay, not to the Edo kingdom.
I am sure he would have gone on to study African history had he lived longer. A travel book called Between Niger and Nile, published in 1965, does not count, and he does not seem to have noticed Ife, though he warmed to Nigeria. He spoke loudly and consistently against white settlement in Kenya and apartheid in South Africa and in the US, and was quoted approvingly by Malcolm X in his autobiography for having referred, in the New York Times on September 29 1963, to the white race as the “bleached” race. Perhaps he would even have come to see something in African art worth absorbing, but before post-colonialism it was thought reasonable to place cultural attitudes in a different compartment from racial and colonial ones.
Experiences, OUP, 1969
We may [ask ourselves] why our own traditional Western styles of music and dancing and painting and sculpture are being abandoned by our own rising generation. In our own case, is the explanation a loss of artistic technique? Have we forgotten the rules of rhythm and counterpoint and perspective and light and proportion which were discovered, or invented, by that Italian and Flemish creative minority which carried our Western Society out of the second chapter in its history into the third chapter some four or five centuries ago? In this case, in which we happen to be first-hand witnesses, the answer to our question is palpably in the negative. In these days of mass-education our Western World is more amply supplied than ever before with virtuosi who are masters of these techniques and who could put them into operation again any day if they felt the impulse in themselves and received the demand from their public. The prevailing tendency to abandon our Western artistic traditions is no involuntary capitulation to a paralytic stroke of technical incompetence; it is the deliberate abandonment of a style of art which is losing its appeal to the rising generation because this generation is ceasing to cultivate its aesthetic sensibilities on the traditional Western lines. We have wilfully cast out of our souls the great masters who have been the familiar spirits of our forefathers; and, while we have been wrapt in self-complacent admiration of the spiritual vacuum which we have discovered how to make, a Tropical African spirit of music and dancing and statuary has made an unholy alliance with a pseudo-Byzantine spirit of painting and bas-relief, and has entered in to dwell in a house that it has found empty and swept and garnished. [Footnote: Matt. xii. 43-5, Luke xi. 24-6.] The decline which betrays itself in this revolutionary change in aesthetic taste is not technical but is spiritual. In repudiating our own native Western tradition of art and thereby reducing our aesthetic faculties to a state of inanition and sterility in which they seize upon the exotic and primitive art of Dahomey and Benin as though this were manna in the wilderness, we are confessing before all men that we have forfeited our spiritual birthright. Our abandonment of our traditional artistic technique is manifestly the consequence of some kind of spiritual breakdown in our Western Civilization; and the cause of this breakdown evidently cannot be found in a phenomenon which is one of the subsequent symptoms.
From the fourth volume of the Study. From “We have wilfully cast out” onwards, he sounds like the headmistress Miss Strudwick, whom he would quote twenty years later: see August 26 post. He started work on Vol IV in the summer of 1933. She made her speech that June. I am sure he filed a cutting. We know from the same volume what he thought about the state of universal education, and from Vol IX his views (expressed just after the Strudwick quotation) on neo-barbarian city-dwellers and their entertainments.
See an old post on dated pessimism.
Benin bronzes became known in the West somewhat earlier than the historically-earlier stone, bronze and terracotta heads of Ife. But they have nothing to do with the country of Dahomey, now called Benin. This looks like a howler. The Empire of Benin was in what is now Edo state. Ife was in Yoruba country, further west.
Toynbee, like many of his English class and generation, had, when he wrote this, no grasp of what modern art was or of what made it happen. His taste in modern literature, such as it was, was also unreliable.
For all his awareness of the impact of the West on Japan, he does not mention in a single place, even a caption in the Caplan abridgement, and may not even have known about, the effect on art in the West in the nineteenth century of the West’s discovery of Japanese aesthetics.
In the passage I have quoted, he sees a “breakdown” of the culture that had come before, rather than a prescient response to what was approaching or a dynamic response to what was new. European culture had never been something static and therefore liable to break down. It was breaking down all the time. Why, nevertheless, did things change so dramatically when even comparatively conservative artists seemed unexhausted? I asked that question, in relation to music, here and here.
Was he so ignorant of modern art in his old age? Perhaps not. An artist such as Epstein (August 27), whom I took as a bogeyman for his class and generation, should have had great appeal for him. Epstein wasn’t even avant-garde at the end. He was quasi-religious and humane, like Toynbee.
Toynbee’s travel in his retirement (1955-75) included Latin America several times between 1956 and 1966, India in 1956-57 and 1960, the US repeatedly during the civil rights struggle, Japan in 1956 and 1967, Nigeria in 1964. His perspectives on art must have changed. From April 1970 to August 1972, he worked on an illustrated abridgement of A Study of History with Jane Caplan, which contained images by Raoul Hausmann, Rivera, Franz Wilhelm Seiwert, CRW Nevinson, Magnus Zeller, Bruno Caruso, Picasso, Dix. He was ready at the end of his life to take African and southeast Asian history seriously, about which he had known nothing earlier. He quotes TS Eliot on the title page of his Gifford lectures (published 1956).
We have evidence of a pre-retirement change of outlook in the ninth volume of the Study (1954). There is a section about renaissances of the visual arts of a dead civilisation in the history of an affiliated civilisation of the next generation. The Sumeric style of carving in bas-relief was revived under the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-612 BC). The style of sculpture and painting of the Old Kingdom was revived in the Saite age (Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, the last before the Persian conquest). The Hellenic style of carving in bas-relief (see Attic masterpieces of the fifth and fourth centuries BC) was nostalgically revived on Byzantine diptychs carved not in stone but in ivory in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries CE. The Babylonic civilisation was indeed, in Toynbee’s scheme, affiliated to the Sumeric, and the Orthodox Christian civilisation to the Hellenic. But why is he suggesting that Saite Egypt was part of a civilisation affiliated to the Egyptiac?
The example on which he dwells, however, is a further one, namely
the renaissance of Hellenic visual arts in Western Christendom which made its first epiphany in a Late Medieval Italy and spread thence to the rest of the Western World during a Modern Age of Western history. This evocation of ghosts of Hellenic visual arts was practised in the three fields of Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting; and, in every one of these three fields, the revenant style of art made so clean a sweep of the style that it found in possession of the corresponding sector of a Western artistic arena that, by the time when the aggressive ghost had spent his formidable force, Western Man had become so thoroughly used to living his aesthetic life under this alien ascendancy that he did not know what to do with a liberty that was not recovered for him by his own exertions, but was reimposed upon him by the senile decay of a pertinaciously tyrannical intruder. When the evaporation of an Hellenic spectre presented Western souls with an aesthetic vacuum, they found themselves at first unable, for the life of them, to say what was the proper visual expression for the West’s long-suppressed native artistic genius.
Hellenism had been an “intruder”. Now he seems to want modernism to hurry up, as if it might be the expression of “the West’s long-suppressed native artistic genius”. “Vacuum” now means something different.
The most extraordinary episode [had been] the triumph of an Hellenic revenant over the native genius of the West in the province of Sculpture in the Round; for, in this field of artistic endeavour, the thirteenth-century Northern French exponents of an original Western style had produced masterpieces that could look in the face those of the Hellenic, Egyptiac, and Mahayanian Buddhist schools at their zeniths, whereas in the field of Painting, by the time when a revenant Hellenic style invaded it, Western artists had not yet shaken off the tutelage of the more precocious art of a sister Orthodox Christian Society, while in the field of Architecture the Romanesque style – which, as its latter-day label indicates, was a nascent Western World’s variation on an architectural theme inherited from the latest age of an antecedent Hellenic Civilization – had already been overwhelmed by an intrusive “Gothic” style which, contrary to the implication of its misnomer, had originated, not among the barbarians in a no-man’s-land beyond the European limes of the Roman Empire, but in a Syriac World which, in articulo mortis, had made a cultural conquest of the savage Western Christian military conquerors who had seized upon fragments of a dissolving ʿAbbasid and a dissolving Andalusian Umayyad Caliphate.
So Gothic had been another alien intrusion. This nativism seems out of place in a man who had never been taken in by racial theory. Whatever the eastern influences in Gothic, to suggest that its small debt to something external made Hellenism’s subsequent triumph over it less surprising than its triumph over an “original” Medieval sculpture is extreme sophistry.
The sterility with which the Western genius had been afflicted by a renaissance of Hellenism in the domain of Architecture was proclaimed in the West’s surprising failure to reap any architectural harvest from the birth-pangs of the Industrial Revolution. In Great Britain at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and in the Western World as a whole before the nineteenth century reached its close, a mutation in industrial technique that had begotten the iron girder had suddenly thrust into the Western architect’s hands an incomparably versatile new building-material; and this gift of the grimy gods might have been expected to inspire the favoured Western human recipient to break even the toughest cake of inherited architectural custom in an eager exploration of the potentialities of a hitherto untried instrument. As it happened, no great effort was required of a Western architect of that generation to break a Hellenizing architectural tradition that was then already crumbling between his fingers; yet the architect who had been presented by a blacksmith with the iron girder, and by Providence with a clean slate, could think of no better ways of filling an opportune vacuum than to cap an Hellenic Renaissance with “a Gothic Revival” and to recoil from the “Gothic” ironmongery of Ruskin’s Science Museum at Oxford [1855-61] and the Woolworth Building in New York [1910-13] into a “Colonial” brickwork [equivalent of our Georgian] reproducing the Hellenizing Western style of architecture as this had been practised during an eighteenth-century North American “Indian Summer”.
Ruskin had deemed the use of iron improper in neo-Gothic buildings, but it became increasingly common. In France, Viollet-le-Duc made a virtue of it.
The first Westerner to think of frankly turning the iron girder to account as a building material without bashfully drawing a “Gothic” veil over his Volcanic vulgarity was not a professional architect but an imaginative amateur; and, though he was a citizen of the United States, the site on which he erected his historic structure overlooked the shores of the Bosphorus, not the banks of the Hudson. The nucleus of Robert College – Hamlin Hall, dominating Mehmed the Conqueror’s Castle of Europe – was built by Cyrus Hamlin in A.D. 1869-71; [footnote: “The building is 113 feet by 103. … The stone is the same as that of the fortress built in A.D. 1452-3. … It is fire-proof, the floors being of iron beams with brick arches” (Hamlin, Cyrus: Among the Turks (London 1878, Sampson Low), p. 297). […]] yet it was only within the life-time of the writer of this Study, who was born in A.D. 1889 and was writing these lines in A.D. 1950, that the seed sown by Hamlin in Constantinople bore fruit in a Western World that was Brunel’s as well as Hamlin’s homeland.
Toynbee had known Robert College since 1921 and had written about it before that, but was it really the first non-Gothic architectural marriage of stone and iron?
Iron had been married to glass in the revolutionary Crystal Palace and had been used in bridges earlier still. By about 1890, steel frames would enable skyscrapers.
It is true that modernism had a delayed entrance. The steel-framed Woolworth Building, and much of early twentieth-century New York, was a halfway house. But while it was going up, so were the earliest examples of modernism in the US.
Toynbee’s generation had been taught to despise neo-Gothic. The generation which valued it – which included, among English taste-makers, Evelyn Waugh, Kenneth Clark and John Betjeman – was a little younger.
This sterilization of the West’s artistic genius, which was the nemesis of a Hellenizing renaissance in the realm of Architecture, was no less conspicuous in the realms of Painting and Sculpture. Over a span of more than half a millennium running from the generation of Dante’s contemporary Giotto (decessit A.D. 1337), a Modern Western school of Painting, which had unquestioningly accepted the naturalistic ideals of an Hellenic visual art in its post-archaic phase, had worked out, one after another, divers methods of conveying the visual impressions made by light and shade until this long-sustained effort to produce the effects of photography through prodigies of artistic technique had been stultified, on the eve of its consummation, by the invention of photography itself. After the ground had thus inconsiderately been cut away from under their feet by the shears of Modern Western Science, Modern Western painters made a “Pre-Raphaelite” Movement, in the direction of their long since repudiated Byzantine provenance, before they thought of exploring a new world of Psychology which Science had given them to conquer in compensation for the old world of Physical Nature which she had stolen from the painter in order to hand it over to the photographer. After the invention of photography the best part of a century had to pass before the rise of an apocalyptic school of Western painters who made a genuinely new departure by frankly using paint – veritably more Byzantino – to convey the spiritual experiences of Psyche instead of the visual impressions of Argus; but the increasing sureness of foot with which the Western painters were advancing along this new road by the close of the first half of the twentieth century seemed to augur that the Western sculptors, in their turn, would eventually set their faces in the same direction after discovering, by trial and error, that the broken road to Athens, which they had been following ever since a Niccolò Pisano had swerved into it in the thirteenth century, could not, after all, be regained by a detour through either Byzantium or Benin.
So they would abandon the road altogether? Was it a road to Athens?
More Byzantino. Byzantine art is about the expression, or rather holding or representation, of spiritual reality, not (pace the Medieval ivories) about the representation of surfaces. The bronzes of Benin influenced modern artists. I don’t know whether there were Benin bronzes at the Palais du Trocadéro in May or June 1907, when Picasso experienced his African revelation there.
Thus, at the time of writing, it looked as if, in all three visual arts, the sterilization of a native Western genius by an exotic Hellenizing renaissance might eventually be overcome; but the slowness and the difficulty of the cure showed how serious the damage had been.
Sterilization of a native Western genius! Cure! Damage! This is the kind of thing that made Trevor-Roper write off Toynbee.
A footnote after the reference to Argus shows that his thinking on modern art has advanced:
In IV. iv. 52, this positive aim [Byzantinist rather than Beninist?] of a revolutionary twentieth-century school of Western painting has not been given due recognition.
He has come, in other words, as far as Expressionism, which is a fair way.
In Mankind and Mother Earth, we have:
Artists have psychic antennae that are sensitive, in advance, to portentous coming events.
They did before 1914. But this isn’t a historical law either. Did Athenian artists have the jitters before the Peloponnesian War, which is Toynbee’s Hellenic First World War?
Perhaps northern European artists on the eve of the Reformation had presentiments of an end of an order.
And in the illustrated abridgement of A Study of History, we have an illustration of Picasso’s Woman with a Fan of 1907, with a caption probably written by Caplan:
The camera’s conquest of the visual world left twentieth-century artists free to explore the hidden worlds of the mind and its modes of perception; art finally exorcized its Hellenic ghost: Picasso, Woman with a Fan, 1908 [pablopicasso.org says 1907].
Archaism in art (old post).
A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954
Mankind and Mother Earth, A Narrative History of the World, OUP, 1976, posthumous
With Jane Caplan, A Study of History, new one-volume abridgement, with new material and revisions and, for the first time, illustrations, and with a Foreword by Toynbee, Thames & Hudson, 1972
Mbuti pygmy music, Congo, possibly a Turnbull recording; the point of this post is the radio documentary above, not this:
Appiah’s review, NYRB, November 16 2000, of Roy Richard Grinker, In the Arms of Africa: The Life of Colin M Turnbull, New York, St Martin’s Press, 2000.
There were so many ways in which one could admire Gordimer. But “a dressing table of literary devices” is the patronising phrase that came into my mind whenever I tried to read her fiction. I’ll try again.
I had the privilege of meeting her at Davos around 1995 or ’6, when she gave a small dinner in a room at one of the hotels. She was erect, frail, commanding, elegant. When I find the transcript of her remarks (about the state of the world), which I have somewhere, I’ll put them in a comment under this post.
“To the south of a zigzag boundary which stretches from Fernando Pó on the west to Mombasa on the east, lies the sphere of the Bantu speech. … There is but one indigenous language-family over the whole of Central and South Africa, the only exceptions to this universality of type being a few patches of Sudanian tongues on the Northern Congo, Nilotic dialects in East Africa, a click language south of the Victoria Nyanza, and the nearly extinct Hottentot and Bushman languages of South-West Africa” (Johnston, Sir H. H.: The Opening Up of Africa (London, no date, Williams & Norgate), pp. 131-2).
Swahili is a Bantu language and, of course, is spoken in Kenya north of Mombasa. Afro-Asiatic, once called Hamito-Semitic, must be a rather loose group. The Hottentot and Bushman languages are also Khoisan or click languages.
Parts of West Africa and the Sudan are extremely linguistically diverse. Nigeria has 522 living languages (Ethnologue, 358 classed as “vigorous”), one of the greatest concentrations of languages in the world. Bantu languages are themselves diverse.
A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934
“My Lord, I wish to turn now to my own position. I have denied that I am a communist, and I think in the circumstances I am obliged to state exactly what my political beliefs are in order to explain what my position in Umkhonto was, and what my attitude towards the use of force is.
“I have always regarded myself, in the first place, as an African patriot. After all, I was born in Umtata, forty-six years ago. My guardian was my cousin, who was the acting paramount chief of Thembuland, and I am related both to Sabata Dalindyebo, the present paramount chief, and to Kaizer Matanzima, the Chief Minister for the Transkei.
“Today I am attracted by the idea of a classless society, an attraction which springs in part from Marxist reading and, in part, from my admiration of the structure and organisation of early African societies in this country. The land, then the main means of production, belonged to the tribe. There were no rich or poor and there was no exploitation.
“It is true, as I have already stated, that I have been influenced by Marxist thought. But this is also true of many of the leaders of the new independent States. Such widely different persons as Gandhi, Nehru, Nkrumah, and Nasser all acknowledge this fact. We all accept the need for some form of socialism to enable our people to catch up with the advanced countries of this world and to overcome their legacy of extreme poverty. But this does not mean we are Marxists.
“Indeed, My Lord, for my own part, I believe it is open to debate whether the Communist Party has any specific role to play at this particular stage of our political struggle. The basic task at the present moment is the removal of race discrimination and the attainment of democratic rights on the basis of the Freedom Charter, and a struggle which can best be led by a strong ANC. In so far, My Lord, as that Party furthers this task, I welcome its assistance. I realise that it is one of the main means by which people of all races can be drawn into our struggle.
“But from my reading of Marxist literature and from conversations with Marxists, I have gained the impression that communists regard the parliamentary system of the West as undemocratic and reactionary. But, on the contrary, I am an admirer of such a system.
“I have great respect for British political institutions, and for the country’s system of justice. I regard the British Parliament as the most democratic institution in the world, and the independence and impartiality of its judiciary never fails to arouse my admiration.
“The American Congress, that country’s doctrine of separation of powers, as well as the independence of its judiciary, arouses in me similar sentiments.
“I have been influenced in my thinking by both West and East. All this has led me to feel that in my search for a political formula, I should be absolutely impartial and objective. I should tie myself to no particular system of society other than of socialism. I must leave myself free to borrow the best from the West and from the East.
[He talks about some exhibits which allegedly showed his interest in communism. Passage is in a comment below.]
“My Lord, there are certain exhibits which suggest that we received financial support from abroad, and I wish now to deal with this question.
“Our political struggle [had] always been financed from internal sources – from funds raised by our own people and by our own supporters. Whenever we had a special campaign or an important political case [Treason Trial] we received financial assistance from sympathetic individuals and organisations in the Western countries. We [had] never felt it necessary to go beyond these sources.
“But when in 1961 the Umkhonto was formed, and a new phase of struggle introduced, we realised that these events would make a heavy call on our slender resources, and that the scale of our activities would be hampered by lack of funds. One of my instructions, as I went abroad in January 1962, was to raise funds from the African states.
“I must add that, whilst abroad, I had discussions with leaders of political movements in Africa and discovered that almost every single one of them, in areas which had still not attained independence, had received all forms of assistance from the socialist countries, as well as from the West, including that of financial support. I also discovered that some well-known African states, all of them non-communist, and even anti-communist, had received similar assistance.
“On my return to the Republic, I made a strong recommendation to the ANC that we should not confine ourselves to Africa and the Western countries, but that we should also send a mission to the socialist countries to raise the funds which we so urgently needed.
“I have been told that after I was convicted such a mission was sent.
“As I understand the State case, and in particular the evidence of ‘X’, Umkhonto was the inspiration of the Communist Party which sought by playing upon imaginary grievances to enrol the African people into an army which ostensibly was to fight for African freedom, but in reality was fighting for a communist state. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact the suggestion is preposterous. Umkhonto was formed by Africans to further their struggle for freedom. Communists and others supported the movement, and we only wish that more sections of the community would join us.
“Our fight is against real, and not imaginary, hardships or, to use the language of the State Prosecutor, ‘so-called hardships’. Basically, My Lord, we fight against two features which are the hallmarks of African life in South Africa and which are entrenched by legislation which we seek to have repealed. These features are poverty and lack of human dignity, and we do not need communists or so-called ‘agitators’ to teach us about these things.
“South Africa is the richest country in Africa, and could be one of the richest countries in the world. But it is a land of extremes and remarkable contrasts. The whites enjoy what may well be the highest standard of living in the world, whilst Africans live in poverty and misery. Forty per cent of the Africans live in hopelessly overcrowded and, in some cases, drought-stricken reserves, where soil erosion and the overworking of the soil makes it impossible for them to live properly off the land. Thirty per cent are labourers, labour tenants, and squatters on white farms and work and live under conditions similar to those of the serfs of the Middle Ages. The other thirty per cent live in towns where they have developed economic and social habits which bring them closer in many respects to white standards. Yet most Africans, even in this group, are impoverished by low incomes and the high cost of living.
“The highest-paid and the most prosperous section of urban African life is in Johannesburg. Yet their actual position is desperate. The latest figures were given on the 25th of March 1964 by Mr. Carr, Manager of the Johannesburg Non-European Affairs Department. The poverty datum line for the average African family in Johannesburg (according to Mr. Carr’s department) is R42.84 per month. He showed that the average monthly wage is R32.24 and that forty-six per cent of all African families in Johannesburg do not earn enough to keep them going.
“Poverty goes hand in hand with malnutrition and disease. The incidence of malnutrition and deficiency diseases is very high amongst Africans. Tuberculosis, pellagra, kwashiorkor, gastro-enteritis, and scurvy bring death and destruction of health. The incidence of infant mortality is one of the highest in the world. According to the Medical Officer of Health for Pretoria, it is estimated that tuberculosis kills forty people a day, almost all Africans, and in 1961 there were 58,491 new cases reported. These diseases, My Lord, not only destroy the vital organs of the body, but they result in retarded mental conditions and lack of initiative, and reduce powers of concentration. The secondary results of such conditions affect the whole community and the standard of work performed by Africans.
“The complaint of Africans, however, is not only that they are poor and whites are rich, but that the laws which are made by the whites are designed to preserve this situation.
“There are two ways to break out of poverty. The first is by formal education, and the second is by the worker acquiring a greater skill at his work and thus higher wages. As far as Africans are concerned, both these avenues of advancement are deliberately curtailed by legislation.
“I ask the Court to remember that the present Government has always sought to hamper Africans in their search for education. One of their early acts, after coming into power, was to stop subsidies for African school feeding. Many African children who attended schools depended on this supplement to their diet. This was a cruel act.
“There is compulsory education for all white children at virtually no cost to their parents, be they rich or poor. Similar facilities are not provided for the African children, though there are some who receive such assistance. African children, however, generally have to pay more for their schooling than whites. According to figures quoted by the South African Institute of Race Relations in its 1963 journal, approximately forty per cent of African children in the age group between seven to fourteen do not attend school. For those who do attend school, the standards are vastly different from those afforded to white children. In 1960-61 the per capita Government spending on African students at State-aided schools was estimated at R12.46. In the same years, the per capita spending on white children in the Cape Province (which are the only figures available to me) was R144.57. Although there are no figures available to me, it can be stated, without doubt, that the white children on whom R144.57 per head was being spent all came from wealthier homes than African children on whom R12.46 per head was being spent.
“The quality of education is also different. According to the Bantu Educational Journal, only 5,660 African children in the whole of South Africa passed their Junior Certificate in 1962, and in that year only 362 passed matric. This is presumably consistent with the policy of Bantu education about which the present Prime Minister said, during the debate on the Bantu Education Bill in 1953 when he was Minister of Native Affairs, I quote:
“‘When I have control of Native education I will reform it so that Natives will be taught from childhood to realise that equality with Europeans is not for them. People who believe in equality are not desirable teachers for Natives. When my Department controls Native education it will know for what class of higher education a Native is fitted, and whether he will have a chance in life to use his knowledge.’ Unquote.
“The other main obstacle to the economic advancement of the African is the industrial colour-bar under which all the better paid, better jobs of industry are reserved for whites only. Moreover, Africans in the unskilled and semi-skilled occupations which are open to them are not allowed to form trade unions which have recognition under the Industrial Conciliation Act. This means that strikes of African workers are illegal, and that they are denied the right of collective bargaining which is permitted to the better-paid white workers. The discrimination in the policy of successive South African governments towards African workers is demonstrated by the so-called ‘civilised labour policy’ under which sheltered, unskilled Government jobs are found for those white workers who cannot make the grade in industry, at wages far, which far exceed the earnings of the average African employee in industry.
“The Government often answers its critics by saying that Africans in South Africa are economically better off than the inhabitants of the other countries in Africa. I do not know whether this statement is true and doubt whether any comparison can be made without having regard to the cost-of-living index in such countries. But even if it is true, as far as African people are concerned it is irrelevant. Our complaint is not that we are poor by comparison with people in other countries, but that we are poor by comparison with white people in our own country, and that we are prevented by legislation from altering this imbalance.
“The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy. White supremacy implies black inferiority. Legislation designed to preserve white supremacy entrenches this notion. Menial tasks in South Africa are invariably performed by Africans. When anything has to be carried or cleaned, the white man will look around for an African to do it for him, whether the African is employed by him or not. Because of this sort of attitude, whites tend to regard Africans as a separate breed. They do not look upon them as people with families of their own; they do not realise that we have emotions – that we fall in love like white people do; that we want to be with [our] wives and children like white people want to be with theirs; that we want to earn money, enough money to support our families properly, to feed and clothe them and send them to school. And what ‘house-boy’ or ‘garden-boy’ or labourer can ever hope to do this?
“Pass laws, which to the Africans are among the most hated bits of legislation in South Africa, render any African liable to police surveillance at any time. I doubt whether there is a single African male in South Africa who has not at some stage had a brush with the police over his pass. Hundreds and thousands of Africans are thrown into jail each year under pass laws. Even worse than this is the fact that pass laws keep husband and wife apart and lead to the breakdown of family life.
“Poverty and the breakdown of family life have secondary effects. Children wander about the streets of the townships because they have no schools to go to, or no money to enable them to go to school, or no parents at home to see that they go to school, because both parents, if there be two, have to work to keep the family alive. This leads to a breakdown in moral standards, to an alarming rise in illegitimacy, and to growing violence which erupts not only politically, but everywhere. Life in the townships is dangerous. There is not a day that goes by without somebody being stabbed or assaulted. And violence is carried out of the townships into the white living areas. People are afraid to walk alone in the streets after dark. Housebreakings and robberies are increasing, despite the fact that the death sentence can now be imposed for such offences. Death sentences cannot cure the festering sore.
“The only cure is to alter the conditions under which Africans are forced to live and to meet their legitimate grievances. Africans want to be paid a living wage. Africans want to perform work which they are capable of doing, and not work which the Government declares them to be capable of. We want to be allowed to live where we obtain work, and not be endorsed out of an area because we were not born there. We want to be allowed [to own land in places where we work] and not to be obliged to live in rented houses which we can never call our own. We want to be part of the general population, and not confined to living in our ghettoes. African men want to have their wives and children to live with them where they work, and not be forced into an unnatural existence in men’s hostels. Our women want to be with their menfolk and not be left permanently widowed in the reserves. We want to be allowed out after eleven o’clock at night and not to be confined to our rooms like little children. We want to be allowed to travel in our own country and to seek work where we want to, where we want to and not where the Labour Bureau tells us to. We want a just share in the whole of South Africa; we want security and a stake in society.
“Above all, My Lord, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.
“But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division based on colour is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs as it certainly must, it will not change that policy.
“This then is what the ANC is fighting. Our struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by our own suffering and our own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.
“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But if needs be, My Lord, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Mandela timeline (post here).
“Another of the allegations made by the State is that the aims and objects of the ANC and the Communist Party are the same. I wish to deal with this and with my own political position. The allegation as to the ANC is false. This is an old allegation which was disproved at the Treason Trial and which has again reared its head. But since the allegation has been made again, I shall deal with it as well as with the relationship between the ANC and the Communist Party and Umkhonto and that party.
“The ideological creed of the ANC is, and always has been, the creed of African Nationalism. It is not the concept of African Nationalism expressed in the cry, ‘Drive the white man into the sea’. The African Nationalism for which the ANC stands is the concept of freedom and fulfilment for the African people in their own land. The most important political document ever adopted by the ANC is the Freedom Charter . It is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state. It calls for redistribution, but not nationalisation, of land; it provides for nationalisation of mines, banks, and monopoly industry, because monopolies, big monopolies are owned by one race only, and without such nationalisation racial domination would be perpetuated despite the spread of political power. It would be a hollow gesture to repeal the Gold Law prohibitions against Africans when all gold mines are owned by European companies. In this respect the ANC’s policy corresponds with the old policy of the present Nationalist Party which, for many years, had as part of its programme the nationalisation of the gold mines which, at that time, were controlled by foreign capital. Under the Freedom Charter, nationalisation would take place in an economy based on private enterprise. The realisation of the Freedom Charter would open up fresh fields for a prosperous African population of all classes, including the middle class. The ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change in the economic structure of the country, nor has it, to the best of my recollection, ever condemned capitalist society.
“As far as the Communist Party is concerned, and if I understand its policy correctly, it stands for the establishment of a State based on the principles of Marxism. Although it is prepared to work for the Freedom Charter, as a short term solution to the problems created by white supremacy, it regards the Freedom Charter as the beginning, and not the end, of its programme.
“The ANC, unlike the Communist Party, admitted Africans only as members. Its chief goal was, and is, for the African people to win unity and full political rights. The Communist Party’s main aim, on the other hand, was to remove the capitalists and to replace them with a working-class government. The Communist Party sought to emphasise class distinctions whilst the ANC seeks to harmonise them. This is, My Lord, a vital distinction.
“It is true that there has often been close co-operation between the ANC and the Communist Party. But co-operation is merely proof of a common goal – in this case the removal of white supremacy – and is not proof of a complete community of interests.
“My Lord, the history of the world is full of similar examples. Perhaps the most striking illustration is to be found in the co-operation between Great Britain, the United States of America, and the Soviet Union in the fight against Hitler. Nobody but Hitler would have dared to suggest that such co-operation turned Churchill or Roosevelt into communists or communist tools, or that Britain and America were working to bring about a communist world.
“My Lord, I give these illustrations because they are relevant to the allegation that our sabotage was a communist plot or the work of so-called agitators. Because, My Lord, another instance of such co-operation is to be found precisely in Umkhonto. Shortly after Umkhonto was constituted, I was informed by some of its members that the Communist Party would support Umkhonto, and this then occurred. At a later stage the support was made openly.
“I believe that communists have always played an active role in the fight by colonial countries for their freedom, because the short-term objects of communism would always correspond with the long-term objects of freedom movements. Thus communists, My Lord, have played an important role in the freedom struggles fought in countries such as Malaya, Algeria, and Indonesia, yet none of these States today are communist countries. Similarly in the underground resistance movements which sprung up in Europe during the last World War, communists played an important role. Even General Chiang Kai-Shek, today one of the bitterest enemies of communism, fought together with the communists against the ruling class in the struggle which led to his assumption of power in China in the 1930s.
“This pattern of co-operation between communists and non-communists has been repeated in the National Liberation Movement of South Africa. Prior to the banning of the Communist Party, joint campaigns involving the Communist Party and the Congress movements were accepted practice. African communists could, and did, become members of the ANC, and some served on the National, Provincial, and local committees. Amongst those who served on the National Executive are Albert Nzula, a former Secretary of the Communist Party, another former Secretary, Edwin Mofutsanyana and J. B. Marks, a former member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
“I joined the ANC in 1944, and in 1952 I became Transvaal President and Deputy National President. In my younger days I held the view that the policy of admitting communists to the ANC, and the close co-operation which existed at times on specific issues between the ANC and the Communist Party, would lead to a watering down of the concept of African Nationalism. At that stage I was a member of the African National Congress Youth League, and was one of a group which moved for the expulsion of communists from the ANC. This proposal was heavily defeated, and amongst those who voted against the proposal were some of the most conservative sections of African political opinion. They defended the policy on the ground that from its inception the ANC was formed and built up, not as a political party with one school of political thought, but as a Parliament of the African people accommodating people of various political views, convictions, all united by the common goal of national liberation. I was eventually won over to this point of view and I have upheld it ever since.
“It is perhaps difficult for white South Africans, with an ingrained prejudice against communism, to understand why experienced African politicians so readily accept communists as their friends. But to us the reason is obvious. Theoretical differences amongst those fighting against oppression [are] a luxury which cannot be afforded. What is more, for many decades communists were the only political group in South Africa who were prepared to treat Africans as human beings and as their equals; who were prepared to eat with us, talk with us, live with us, and work with us. They were the only political group which was prepared to work with the Africans for the attainment of political rights and a stake in society. Because of this, there are many Africans who today tend to equate freedom with communism. They are supported in this belief by a legislature which brands all exponents of democratic government and African freedom as communists and banned many of them who are not communists under the Suppression of Communism Act. Although, My Lord, I am not a communist and I have never been a member of the Communist Party, I myself have been banned, have been named under that pernicious Act because of the role I played in the Defiance Campaign . I have also been banned and convicted under that Act.
“It is not only in internal politics that we count communists as amongst those who support our cause. In the international field, communist countries have always come to our aid. In the United Nations and other Councils of the world the communist bloc has supported the Afro-Asian struggle against colonialism and often seems to be more sympathetic to our plight than some of the Western powers. Although there is a universal condemnation of apartheid, the communist bloc speaks out against it with a louder voice than most of the western world. In these circumstances, it would take a brash young politician, such as I was in 1949, to proclaim that the Communists are our enemies.”
Mandela timeline (post here).
“At the beginning of June 1961, after a long and anxious assessment of the South African situation, I, and some colleagues, came to the conclusion that as violence [in this country – inaudible] was inevitable, it would be unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the Government met our peaceful demands with force.
“This conclusion, My Lord, was not easily arrived at. It was when all, only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of struggle, and to form Umkhonto we Sizwe. We did so not because we desired such a course, but solely because the Government had left us with no other choice. In the Manifesto of Umkhonto published on the 16th of December 61, which is Exhibit AD, we said, I quote:
“‘The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices – submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future, and our freedom.’ Unquote.
“This was our feeling in June of 1961, when we decided to press for a change in the policy of the National Liberation Movement. I can only say that I felt morally obliged to do what I did.
“We who had taken this decision started to consult leaders of various organisations, including the ANC. I will not say whom we spoke to, or what they said, but I wish to deal with the role of the African National Congress in this phase of the struggle, and with the policy and objectives of Umkhonto we Sizwe.
“As far as the ANC was concerned, it formed a clear view which can be summarised as follows:
a) It was a mass political organisation with a political function to fulfil. Its members had joined on the express policy of non-violence.
b) Because of all this, it could not and would not undertake violence. This must be stressed. One cannot turn such a body into the small, closely knit organisation required for sabotage. Nor would this be politically correct, because it would result in members ceasing to carry out this essential activity: political propaganda and organisation. Nor was it permissible to change the whole nature of the organisation.
c) On the other hand, in view of this situation I have described, the ANC was prepared to depart from its fifty-year-old policy of non-violence to this extent that it would no longer disapprove of properly controlled sabotage. Hence members who undertook such activity would not be subject to disciplinary action by the ANC.
“I say ‘properly controlled sabotage’ because I made it clear that if I helped to form the organisation I would at all times subject it to the political guidance of the ANC and would not undertake any different form of activity from that contemplated without the consent of the ANC. And I shall now tell the Court how that form of violence came to be determined.
“As a result of this decision, Umkhonto was formed in 1961, in November 1961. When we took this decision, and subsequently formulated our plans, the ANC heritage of non-violence and racial harmony was very much with us. We felt that the country was drifting towards a civil war in which blacks and whites would fight each other. [Tape seems to jump.] [We viewed] the situation with alarm. Civil war could mean the destruction of what the ANC stood for; with civil war, racial peace would be more difficult than ever to achieve. We already had examples in South African history of the results of war. It has taken more than fifty years for the scars of the South African War to disappear. How much longer would it take to eradicate the scars of inter-racial civil war, which could not be fought without a great loss of life on both sides?
“The avoidance of civil war had dominated our thinking for many years, but when we decided to adopt violence as part of our policy, we realised that we might one day have to face the prospect of such a war. This had to be taken into account in formulating our plans. We required a plan which was flexible and which permitted us to act in accordance with the needs of the times; above all, the plan had to be one which recognised civil war as the last resort, and left the decision on this question to the future. We did not want to be committed to civil war, but we wanted to be ready if it became inevitable.
“Four forms of violence are possible. There is sabotage, there is guerrilla warfare, there is terrorism, and there is open revolution. We chose to adopt the first method and to test it fully before taking any other decision.
“In the light of our political background the choice was a logical one. Sabotage did not involve loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations. Bitterness would be kept to a minimum and, if the policy bore fruit, democratic government could become a reality. This is what we felt at the time, and this is what we said in our Manifesto (Exhibit AD). I quote:
“‘We of Umkhonto we Sizwe have always sought to achieve liberation without bloodshed and civil clash. We hope, even at this late hour, that our first actions will awaken everyone to a realisation of the disastrous situation to which Nationalist policy is leading. We hope that we will bring the Government and its supporters to their senses before it is too late, so that both the Government and its policies can be changed before matters reach the desperate state of civil war.’ Unquote.
“The initial plan was based on a careful analysis of the political and economic situation of our country. We believed that South Africa depended to a large extent on foreign capital and foreign trade. We felt that planned destruction of power plants, and interference with rail and telephone communications, would tend to scare away capital from the country, make it more difficult for goods from the industrial areas to reach the seaports on schedule, and would in the long run be a heavy drain on the economic life of the country, thus compelling the voters of the country to reconsider their position.
“Attacks on the economic life-lines of the country were to be linked with sabotage on Government buildings and other symbols of apartheid. These attacks would serve as a source of inspiration to our people and encourage them to participate in non-violent mass action such as strikes. In addition, they would provide an outlet for those people who were urging the adoption of violent methods and would enable us to give concrete proof to our followers that we had adopted a stronger line, and we were fighting back against Government violence.
“In addition, if mass action were successfully organised, and mass reprisals taken, we felt that sympathy for our cause would be roused in other countries, and that greater pressure would be brought to bear on the South African Government.
“This then, My Lord, was the plan. Umkhonto was to perform sabotage, and strict instructions were given to its members right from the start, that on no account were they to injure or kill people in planning or carrying out operations. These instructions have been referred to in the evidence of ‘X’ and ‘Z’ [informers].
“The affairs of the Umkhonto were controlled and directed by a National High Command, which had powers of co-option and which could, and did, appoint Regional Commands. The High Command was the body which determined tactics and targets and was in charge of training and finance. Under the High Command there were Regional Commands which were responsible for the direction of the local sabotage groups. Within the framework of the policy laid down by the National High Command, the Regional Commands had authority to select the targets to be attacked. They had no authority to go beyond the prescribed framework and thus had no authority to embark upon acts which endangered lives, or which did not fit into the overall plan of sabotage. For instance, Umkhonto members were forbidden ever to go armed into operation. Incidentally, the terms High Command and Regional Command were an importation from the Jewish national underground organisation the Irgun Zvai Leumi, which operated in Israel between 1944 and 1948.
“Umkhonto had its first operation on the 16th of December 1961, when Government buildings in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban were attacked. The selection of targets is proof of the policy to which I have referred. Had we intended to attack life we would have selected targets where people congregated and not empty buildings and power stations. The sabotage which was committed before the 16th of December 1961 was the work of isolated groups and had no connection whatsoever with Umkhonto. In fact, My Lord, some of these and a number of later acts were claimed by other organisations.
[He produces newspaper cuttings to show that a number of bodies other than Umkhonto planned and carried out acts of sabotage. Passage is in a comment below.]
“Now, My Lord, the Manifesto of Umkhonto was issued on the day that operations commenced. The response to our actions and Manifesto among the white population was characteristically violent. The Government threatened to take strong action, and called upon its supporters to stand firm and to ignore the demands of the Africans. The whites failed to respond by suggesting change; they responded to our call by retreating behind the laager.
“In contrast, the response of the Africans was one of encouragement. Suddenly there was hope again. Things were happening. People in the townships became eager for political news. A great deal of enthusiasm was generated by the initial successes, and people began to speculate on how soon freedom would be obtained.
“But we in Umkhonto weighed up the whites’ response with anxiety. The lines were being drawn. The whites and blacks were moving into separate camps, and the prospects of avoiding a civil war were diminishing. The white newspapers carried reports that sabotage would be punished by death. If this was so, how could we continue to keep Africans away from terrorism?
“I now wish, My Lord, to turn to the question of guerrilla warfare and how it came to be considered. By 1961 scores of Africans had died as a result of racial friction. In 1920 when the famous leader, Masabalala, was held in Port Elizabeth jail, twenty-four of a group of Africans who had gathered to demand his release were killed by the police and white civilians. [In 1921] more than one hundred Africans died in the Bulhoek affair. In 1924 over two hundred Africans were killed when the Administrator of South-West Africa led a force against a group which had rebelled against the imposition of dog tax. On the 1st of May 1950, eighteen Africans died as a result of police shootings during the strike [a general strike against all discriminatory laws and for full franchise rights]. On the 21st of March 1960, sixty-nine unarmed Africans died at Sharpeville.
“How many more Sharpevilles would there be in the history of our country? And how many more Sharpevilles could the country stand without violence and terror becoming the order of the day? And what would happen to our people when that stage was reached? In the long run we felt certain we must succeed, but at what cost to ourselves and the rest of the country? And if this happened, how could black and white ever live together again in peace and harmony? These were the problems that faced us, and these were our decisions.
“Experience convinced us that rebellion would offer the Government limitless opportunities for the indiscriminate slaughter of our people. But it was precisely because the soil of South Africa is already drenched with the blood of innocent Africans that we felt it our duty to make preparations as a long-term undertaking to use force in order to defend ourselves against force. If war were inevitable, we wanted to be ready when the time came, and for the fight to be conducted on terms most favourable to our people. The fight which held out the best prospects for us and the least risk of life to both sides was guerrilla warfare. We decided, therefore, in our preparations for the future, to make provision for the possibility of guerrilla warfare.
“All whites undergo compulsory military training, but no such training is given to Africans. It was in our view essential to build up a nucleus of trained men who would be able to provide the leadership which would be required if guerrilla warfare started. We had to prepare for such a situation before it became too late to make proper preparations. It was also necessary to build up a nucleus of men trained in civil administration and other professions, so that Africans would be equipped to participate in the government of this country as soon as they were allowed to do so.
“At this stage, My Lord, the ANC decided that I should attend the Conference of the Pan-African Freedom Movement for Central, East, and Southern Africa [actually Pan-African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa], which was to be held in 1962 in Addis Ababa, and it was also decided that, after the conference, I would undertake a tour of the African States with a view to soliciting support for our cause and obtaining scholarships for the higher education of matriculated Africans. At the same time the MK [abbreviation of Umkhonto we Sizwe] decided I should investigate whether facilities were available for the training of soldiers, which was the first stage in the preparation for guerrilla warfare. Training in both fields would be necessary, even if changes in South Africa came about by peaceful means. As I have just explained, administrators would be necessary who would be willing and able to administer a non-racial state and so men, and so would men be necessary to control the army and police force of such a state.
“It was on this note that I left South Africa to proceed to Addis Ababa as a delegate of the ANC. My tour was successful beyond all our hopes. Wherever I went I met sympathy for our cause and promises of help. All Africa was united against the stand of white South Africa, and even in London I was received with great sympathy by political leaders, such as the late Mr. Hugh Gaitskell and Mr. Grimond [not, apparently, by Harold Macmillan]. In Africa I was promised support by such men as Julius Nyerere, now President of Tanganyika; Mr. Kawawa, then Prime Minister of Tanganyika; Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia; General Abboud, President of the Sudan; Habib Bourguiba, President of Tunisia; Ben Bella, now President of Algeria; Modibo Keita, President of Mali; Leopold Senghor, President of Senegal; Sekou Toure, President of Guinea; President Tubman of Liberia; and Milton Obote, Prime Minister of Uganda, and Kenneth Kaunda, now Prime Minister of Northern Rhodesia. It was Ben Bella who invited me to visit Oujda, the Headquarters of the Algerian Army of National Liberation, the visit which is described in my diary, one of the exhibits.
“I had already started to make a study of the art of war and revolution and, whilst abroad, underwent a course in military training. If there was to be guerrilla warfare, I wanted to be able to stand and fight with my people and to share the hazards of war with them. Notes of lectures which I received in Ethiopia and Algeria are contained in exhibits produced in evidence. Summaries of books on guerrilla warfare and military strategy have also been produced. I have already admitted that these documents are in my writing, and I acknowledge that I made these studies to equip myself for the role which I might have to play if the struggle drifted into guerrilla warfare. I approached this question as every African nationalist should do. I was completely objective. The Court will see that I attempted to examine all types of authority on the subject – from the East and from the West, going back to the classic work of Clausewitz, and covering such a variety as Mao Tse Tung, Che Guevara on the one hand, and the writings on the Anglo-Boer War on the other. Of course, these notes, My Lord, are merely summaries of the books I read and do not contain my personal views.
“I also made arrangements for our recruits to undergo military training. But here, My Lord, it was impossible to organise any scheme without the co-operation of the ANC offices in Africa. I consequently obtained the permission of the ANC in South Africa to do this. To this extent then there was a departure from the original decision of the ANC that it would not take part in violent methods of struggle, but it applied outside South Africa only. The first batch of recruits actually arrived in Tanganyika when I was passing through that country on my way back to South Africa.
“I returned to South Africa and reported to my colleagues on the results of my trip. On my return I found that there had been little alteration in the political scene save that the threat of a death penalty for sabotage had now become a fact. The attitude of my colleagues in Umkhonto was much the same as it had been before I left. They were feeling their way cautiously and felt that it would be a long time before the possibilities of sabotage were exhausted. The ANC had also not changed its attitude. In fact, My Lord, the view was expressed by some that the training of recruits was premature. This is recorded by me in the document which is Exhibit R14 which are very rough notes of comments made by others on my report. After a full discussion, however, it was decided to go ahead with the plans for military training because of the fact that it would take many years to build up a sufficient nucleus of trained soldiers to start a guerrilla campaign, and whatever happened, the training would be of value.
[He deals with some of the evidence of one of the informers, Witness X. Passage is in a comment below.]
“My Lord, I wish to turn now to certain general allegations made in this case by the State. But before doing so, I wish to revert to certain occurrences said by witnesses to have happened in Port Elizabeth and East London. I am referring to the bombing of private houses of pro-Government persons during December, during September, October and November 1962. I do not know what justification there was for these acts, nor what provocation had been given. But if what I have said already is accepted, then it is clear that these acts had nothing to do with the carrying out of the policy of Umkhonto.
“One of the chief allegations in the indictment is that the ANC was a party to a general conspiracy to commit sabotage. I have already explained why this is incorrect [the ANC and Umkhonto worked separately] but how, externally, there was a departure [the training of guerrillas] from the original principle laid down by the ANC. There have, of course, My Lord, been overlapping of functions internally as well, because there is a difference between a resolution adopted in the atmosphere of a committee room and the [concrete] difficulties that arise in the field of practical activity. At a later stage the position was further affected by bannings and house arrests, and by persons leaving the country to take up political work abroad. This led to individuals having to do work in different capacities. But though this may have blurred the distinction between Umkhonto and the ANC, it by no means abolished that distinction. Great care was taken to keep the activities of the two organisations in South Africa distinct. The ANC remained a mass political body of Africans only carrying on the type of political work they have conducted prior to 1961. Umkhonto remained a small organisation recruiting its members from different races and organisations and trying to achieve its own particular objectives. The fact that members of Umkhonto [were] recruited from the ANC, and the fact that persons served both organisations, like Solomon Mbanjwa, did not, in our view, change the nature of the ANC or give it a policy of violence. This overlapping of officers, however, was more the exception than the rule. This is why persons such as ‘X’ and ‘Z’ [informers], who were on the Regional Command of their respective areas, did not participate in any of the ANC committees or activities, and why people such as Mr. Bennett Mashiyana and Mr. Reginald Ndubi did not hear of sabotage at their ANC meetings.
“Another of the allegations in the indictment is that Rivonia was the headquarters of Umkhonto. This is not true of the time when I was there. I was told, of course, and knew that certain of the activities of the Communist Party were carried on there. But this is no reason (as I shall presently explain) why I should not use the place.
“I came there in the following manner:
a) As already indicated, early in April 1961 I went underground to organise the May general strike [in protest at the new Republic]. My work entailed travelling throughout the country, living now in African townships, then in country villages and again in cities. During the second half of the year I started visiting the Parktown home of Mr. Arthur Goldreich, where I used to meet my family privately. Although I had no direct political association with him, I had known Mr. Goldreich socially since 1958.
b) In October, Mr. Goldreich informed me that he was moving out of town and offered me a hiding place there. A few days thereafter, he arranged for Mr. Michael Harmel, another co-conspirator in this case, to take me to Rivonia. I naturally found Rivonia an ideal place for the man who lived the life of an outlaw. Up to that time I had been compelled to live indoors during the daytime and could only venture out under cover of darkness. But at Liliesleaf [farm, in Rivonia, used by the South African Communist Party] I could live differently and work far more efficiently.
c) For obvious reasons, I had to disguise myself and I assumed the fictitious name of David. In December, Mr. Goldreich and his family also moved in. I stayed there, My Lord, until I went abroad on the 11th January 1962. As already indicated, I returned in July 1962 and was arrested in Natal on the 5th August.
d) Up to the time of my arrest, Liliesleaf farm was the headquarters of neither the African National Congress nor Umkhonto. With the exception of myself, none of the officials or members of these bodies lived there, no meetings of the governing bodies were ever held there, and no activities connected with them were either organised or directed from there. On numerous occasions during my stay at Liliesleaf farm I met both the Executive Committee of the ANC, as well as the National High Command [of Umkhonto], but such meetings were held elsewhere and not on the farm.
e) Whilst staying at Liliesleaf farm, I frequently visited Mr. Goldreich in the main house and he also paid me visits in my room. We had numerous political discussions covering a variety of subjects. We discussed ideological and practical questions, the Congress Alliance, Umkhonto and its activities generally, and his experiences as a soldier in the Palmach, the military wing of the Haganah. Haganah was the political authority of the Jewish National Movement in Palestine.
f) Because of what I had got to know of Mr. Goldreich, I recommended on my return to South Africa that he should be recruited to Umkhonto. I do not know of my personal knowledge whether this was done.
g) Before I went on my tour of Africa, I lived in the room marked twelve on Exhibit A. On my return in July 1962 I lived in the thatched cottage. The evidence of Joseph Mashefane that I lived in room number twelve during the period that he was there, at the farm, is incorrect.”
Mandela timeline (post here).
“The African National Congress was formed in 1912 to defend the rights of the African people which had been seriously curtailed by the South Africa Act, and which were then being threatened by the Native Land Act. For thirty-seven years – that is until 1949 – it adhered strictly to a constitutional struggle. It put forward demands and resolutions; it sent delegations to the Government in the belief that African grievances could be settled through peaceful discussion and that Africans could advance gradually to full political rights. But white governments remained unmoved, and the rights of Africans became less instead of becoming greater. In the words of my leader, Chief Lutuli, who became President of the ANC [in 1952], and who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I quote:
“‘Who will deny that thirty years of my life have been spent knocking in vain, patiently, moderately, and modestly at a closed and barred door? What have been the fruits of moderation? The past thirty years have seen the greatest number of laws restricting our rights and progress, until today we have reached a stage where we have almost no rights at all.’ Unquote.
“Even after 1949, the ANC remained determined to avoid violence. At this time, however, there was a change from the strictly constitutional means of protest which had been employed in the past. The change was embodied in a decision which was taken to protest against apartheid legislation by peaceful, but unlawful, demonstrations against certain laws. Pursuant to this policy the ANC launched the Defiance Campaign, in which I was placed in charge of volunteers. This campaign was based on the principles of passive resistance. More than 8,500 people defied apartheid laws and went to gaol. Yet there was not a single instance of violence in the course of this campaign. I and nineteen colleagues were convicted for the role [which we played in the campaign] and this conviction was under the Suppression of Communism Act  although our campaign had nothing to do with communism, but our sentences were suspended, mainly because the Judge found that discipline and non-violence had been stressed throughout. This was the time when the volunteer section of the ANC was established, and when the word ‘Amadelakufa’ [self-sacrifice] was first used: this was the time when the volunteers were asked to take a pledge to uphold certain principles. Evidence dealing with volunteers and their pledges has been introduced into this case, but completely out of context. The volunteers were not, and are not, the soldiers of a black army pledged to fight a civil war against the whites. They were, and are, dedicated workers who are prepared to lead campaigns initiated by the ANC to distribute leaflets, to organise strikes, or do whatever the particular campaign required. They are called volunteers because they volunteer to face the penalties of imprisonment and whipping which are now prescribed by the legislature for such acts.
“During the Defiance Campaign, the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act were passed. These Statutes provided harsher penalties for offences committed by way of protests against laws. Despite this, the protests continued and the ANC adhered to its policy of non-violence.
“In 1956, 156 leading members of the Congress Alliance, including myself, were arrested on a charge of high treason and charges under the Suppression of Communism Act. The non-violent policy of the ANC was put in issue by the State, but when the Court gave judgement some five years later [in 1956, in the Treason Trial], it found that the ANC did not have a policy of violence. We were acquitted on all counts, which included a count that the ANC sought to set up a communist state in place of the existing regime. The Government has always sought to libel, to label all its opponents as communists. This allegation has been repeated in the present case, but as I will show, the ANC is not, and never has been, a communist organisation.
“In 1960 there was the shooting at Sharpeville, which resulted in the proclamation of a State of Emergency and the declaration of the ANC as an unlawful organisation. My colleagues and I, after careful consideration, decided that we would not obey this decree. The African people were not part of the Government and did not make the laws by which they were governed. We believed in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that ‘the will of the people shall be the basis of authority of the Government’, and for us to accept the banning was equivalent to accepting the silencing of the African people for all time. The ANC refused to dissolve, but instead went underground. We believed it was our duty to preserve this organisation which had been built up with almost fifty years of unremitting toil. I have no doubt that no self-respecting white political organisation would disband itself if declared illegal by a government in which it had no say.
[Two paragraphs by Mandela about misleading evidence are omitted here and are in a comment below.]
“My Lord, I would like now to deal with the immediate causes [of the decision to form Umkhonto]. In 1960 the Government held a referendum which led to the establishment of the Republic. Africans, who constituted approximately 70 per cent of the population of South Africa, were not entitled to vote, and were not even consulted about the proposed constitutional change. All of us were apprehensive of our future under the proposed white republic, and a resolution was taken to hold an All-In African Conference to call for a National Convention, and to organise mass demonstrations on the eve of the unwanted Republic, if the Government failed to call the Convention. The conference was attended by Africans of various political persuasions. I was the Honorary Secretary of the Conference and undertook to be responsible for organising the national stay-at-home which was subsequently called to coincide with the declaration of the Republic. As all strikes by Africans are illegal, the person organising such a strike must avoid arrest. I was chosen to be this person, and consequently I had to leave my home and my family and my practice and go into hiding to avoid arrest.
“The stay-at-home, in accordance with ANC policy, was to be a peaceful demonstration. Careful instructions were given to organisers and members to avoid any recourse to violence. The Government’s answer was to introduce new and harsher laws, to mobilise its armed forces, and to send Saracens, armed vehicles, and soldiers into the townships in a massive show of force designed to intimidate the people. This was an indication that the Government had decided to rule by force alone, and this decision was a milestone on the road to Umkhonto.
“Some of this may appear irrelevant to this trial. In fact, I believe none of it is irrelevant because it will, I hope, enable the Court to appreciate the attitude towards Umkhonto eventually adopted by the various persons and bodies concerned in the National Liberation Movement. When I went to jail in 1962, the dominant idea was that loss of life should be avoided. I now know that this was still so in 1963.
“I must return, however, My Lord, to June 1961. What were we, the leaders of our people, to do? Were we to give in to the show of force and the implied threat against future action, or were we to fight it out and, if so, how?
“We had no doubt that we had to continue the fight. Anything else would have been abject surrender. Our problem, My Lord, was not whether to fight, but was how to continue the fight. We of the ANC had always stood for a non-racial democracy, and we shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart than they already were. But the hard facts were that fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights.
“It may not be easy for this Court to understand, but it is a fact that for a long time the people had been talking of violence – of the day when they would fight the white man and win back their country – and we, the leaders of the ANC, had nevertheless always prevailed upon them to avoid violence and to pursue peaceful methods. When some of us discussed this in June of 1961, it could not be denied that our policy to achieve a non-racial state by non-violence had achieved nothing, and that our followers were beginning to lose confidence in this policy and were developing disturbing ideas of terrorism.
“It must not be forgotten, My Lord, that by this time violence had, in fact, become a feature of the South African political scene. There had been violence in 1957 when the women of Zeerust were ordered to carry passes; there was violence in 1958 with the enforcement of Bantu Authorities and cattle culling in Sekhukhuneland; there was violence in 1959 when the people of Cato Manor protested against pass raids; there was violence in 1960 when the Government attempted to impose Bantu Authorities in Pondoland. Thirty-nine Africans died in these Pondoland disturbances. In 1961 there had been riots in Warmbaths, and all this time, My Lord, the Transkei had been a seething mass of unrest. Each disturbance pointed clearly to the inevitable growth amongst Africans of the belief that violence was the only way out – it showed that a Government which uses force to maintain its rule teaches the oppressed to use force to oppose it. Already small groups had arisen in the urban areas and were spontaneously making plans for violent forms of political struggle. There now arose a danger that these groups would adopt terrorism against Africans, as well as whites, if not properly directed. Particularly disturbing was the type of violence engendered in places such as Zeerust, Sekhukhuniland, and Pondoland amongst Africans. It was increasingly taking the form, not of struggle against the Government – though this is what prompted it – but of civil strife between pro-government chiefs and those opposed to them conducted in such a way that it could not hope to achieve anything other than a loss of life, and bitterness.”
Mandela timeline (post here).
“Having said this, I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of sabotage. Some of the things so far told to the Court are true and some are untrue. I do not, however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the whites.
“I deny that Umkhonto [the armed wing of the ANC] was responsible for a number of acts which clearly fell outside the policy of the organisation, but which have been charged in the indictment against us. I do not know what justification there was for these acts, or who committed them, but to demonstrate that they could not have been authorised or committed by Umkhonto, I want to refer briefly to the roots and policy of the organisation.
“I have already mentioned that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto. I, and the others who started the organisation, did so for two reasons. Firstly, we believed that as a result of Government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to canalise and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of the country which is not produced even by war.
“Secondly, we felt that without sabotage there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the Government. We chose to defy the Government. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and when the Government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence.
“But the violence which we chose to adopt was not terrorism. We who formed Umkhonto were all members of the African National Congress, and had behind us the ANC tradition of non-violence and negotiation as a means of solving political disputes. We believed that South Africa belongs to all the people who live in it, and not to one group, be it black or white. We did not want an inter-racial war, and tried to avoid it to the last minute. If the Court is in doubt about this, it will be seen that the whole history of our organisation bears out what I have said, and what I will subsequently say, when I describe the tactics which Umkhonto decided to adopt. I want, therefore, to say something about the African National Congress.”
Mandela timeline (post here).
Pretoria, April 20 1964:
“My Lord, I am the First Accused.
“I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts and practised as an attorney in Johannesburg for a number of years in partnership with Mr. Oliver Tambo, a co-conspirator in this case. [Tambo had lived in London since 1960 and did not return to South Africa until 1990.] I am a convicted prisoner serving five years for leaving the country without a permit and for inciting people to go on strike at the end of May 1961 [sentence under the pre-Rivonia charges].
“I admit immediately that I was one of the persons who helped [in 1961] to form Umkhonto we Sizwe [Spear of the Nation, the armed wing of the ANC], and that I played a prominent role in its affairs until I was arrested in August 1962. In the statement which I am about to make, I shall correct certain false impressions which have been created by State witnesses; amongst other things I will demonstrate that certain of the acts referred to in the evidence were not, and could not have been, committed by Umkhonto. I will also deal with the relationship between the African National Congress and with the part which I personally have played in the affairs of both organisations. I shall deal also with the part played by the Communist Party. In order to explain these matters properly, I will have to explain what Umkhonto set out to achieve, what methods it prescribed for the achievement of these objects, and why these methods were chosen. I will also have to explain how I came, I became involved in the activities of these organisations.
“At the outset, I want to say that the suggestion made by the State in its opening that the struggle in South Africa is under the influence of foreigners or communists is wholly incorrect. I have done whatever I did, both as an individual and as a leader of my people, because of my experience in South Africa and my own proudly felt African background, and not because of what any outsider might have said.
“In my youth in the Transkei I listened to the elders of my tribe telling stories of the old days. Amongst the tales they related to me were those of wars fought by our ancestors in defence of the fatherland. The names of Dingane and Bambatha, Hintsa and Makana, Squngathi and Dalasile, Moshoeshoe and Sekhukhune, were praised as the pride and the glory of the entire African nation. I hoped then that life might offer me the opportunity to serve my people and make my own humble contribution to their freedom struggle. This is what has motivated me in all that I have done in relation to the charges made against me in this case.”
Mandela timeline (post here).
Nelson Mandela’s speech from the dock on April 20 1964 at the opening of the defence case in the Rivonia Trial is full of history. I’ll give it in full over the next few posts and add links and explanations. Links to South African History Online work slowly, but work.
His statement (and the rest of the trial?) was recorded on dictabelt and eventually digitised with the help of the British Library. The digital version, I presume complete, is in the custody of the National Archives of South Africa.
YouTube (below) has the last half-hour of three hours. The full recording may be online elsewhere.
There are differences between transcriptions online, coming either from mistranscriptions of the recording or from inaccurate printed versions.
For example, many have, near the beginning: “I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of violence.” The Nelson Mandela Foundation has: “I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of sabotage.” I have quoted the Foundation text, which is based on the digital recording.
South Africa went into isolation as a republic (and Mandela went underground) just as the colonial age was ending in most of Africa. It emerged as soon as the Cold War had ended. To what extent did the Cold War sustain apartheid?
Reading Mandela’s speech reminds one of the clarity of his mind and prompts the depressing thought that, for all the heroism of the South African struggle, and notwithstanding the role of the Dutch Reformed Church, bigotry is overcome comparatively easily where religious feeling isn’t intense.
On this site:
The desperate remedy of cutting the Gordian Knot with the sword, to which Austrian statesmanship, in its dealings with Serbia and Montenegro, resorted with such fatal results in 1914, had been resorted to with impunity by British statesmanship only fifteen years before, in its dealings with the Transvaal Republic and the Orange Free State.
In an age when the political creed of Nationalism was gaining ascendancy throughout the Western World, an identical problem of unusual difficulty presented itself to British imperialism in South Africa and to Austrian imperialism in South-Eastern Europe. In both regions the awakening of the local populations to national consciousness – and to consequent political aspirations towards national unity and independence – found one local nationality partitioned between a great multi-national empire and two small and fragmentary and backward but at the same time independent national states; and in both cases these states came to regard it as their mission to achieve the unity and independence of the whole of their own nation under their own flag, without being deterred by the consideration that the fulfilment of this national ambition on these lines would involve the disruption of the great multinational empire which now held half their nationals as its more or less unwilling subjects. In both cases the threatened empire made a series of clumsy, but on the whole well-meaning, efforts to safeguard its own integrity against its puny neighbours’ preposterous designs without a breach of the peace or a change in the territorial status quo but in both cases the imperial statesmen rather reluctantly came to the conclusion, after a time, that the existing partition of the recalcitrant nationality was not, after all, a possible basis for a permanent settlement, and that therefore their only practical prospect of obtaining a solution that would be satisfactory to themselves lay in taking advantage of their overwhelming superiority in military strength in order to unite the recalcitrant nationality under the imperial flag by putting a forcible end to their puny but aggressive neighbours’ independence.
When the Hapsburg Government acted on this policy in 1914 it brought about the exact opposite of the result at which it was aiming; for the ultimatum which it addressed to Serbia precipitated a general war which did not come to an end until the Hapsburg Monarchy itself had been broken in pieces. On the other hand, when the British Government applied the self-same policy in dealing with the Transvaal Republic in 1899, it did successfully achieve its aim by making war. The threat of an anti-British coalition of Continental European Powers never materialized; there was no intervention; the South African War was not enlarged, like the American Revolutionary War of 1775-83 or the Austro-Serbian War of 1914-18, to the dimensions of a general engagement; and so there was no question of its ending disastrously for Great Britain. The two Dutch Republics in South Africa were duly conquered by British arms and annexed by the British Crown; and the problem with which the British Empire had been faced by the rise of the Afrikander Dutch national movement was eventually solved by the creation [in 1910], within a British political framework, of a Union of South Africa in which the whole of the Afrikander Dutch nation was enabled to enjoy its national self-government in a partnership with the English settlers in its midst. This result of cutting the Gordian Knot in the loosely woven social fabric of South Africa stands out in extreme contrast to the result in South-Eastern Europe, where the indurated texture of historic memories turned the edge of the Austrian sword with such disastrous consequences for the Power that had ventured to draw it. While Dutch nationalism in South Africa has eventually been given satisfaction, at the cost of a minor local war, through a moderate and constructive process of political consolidation, Jugoslav nationalism in South-Eastern Europe has only been satisfied at the cost of a world war which has brought in its train the violent disruption of the whole previous political régime in that quarter of Europe.
The settlement of 1910 ended on May 31 1961, when South Africa became an independent republic and left the Commonwealth, beginning its thirty-three years in disgraced isolation.
In the same year, Mandela, not yet jailed, went underground and helped to found the ANC’s military wing. He also gave his first television interview (television hadn’t arrived yet in South Africa), to the UK’s Independent Television News:
A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939
July 18 1918: Born in Mvezo, Eastern Cape (Transkei)
1925: School near the village of Qunu, Eastern Cape, given name Nelson by a teacher who insists that pupils have a Christian name
1939: University College of Fort Hare, Alice, Eastern Cape
1940: Expelled from Fort Hare for joining a protest
1941: Moves to Johannesburg to escape arranged marriage, works briefly as a night watchman at a mine, starts work as trainee lawyer at Witkin, Sidelsky & Eidelman, studies at night
1942: Completes BA (in what?) at University of South Africa, Pretoria
1943: Joins ANC, enrols for law degree at University of Witwatersrand; fails final exams three times, degree is never awarded
1944: Co-founds ANC Youth League, marries Evelyn Mase, with whom he has two sons and two daughters
1951: Elected president of ANC Youth League
1952: Arrested for violating laws aimed at suppressing communism and sentenced to nine months imprisonment with hard labour suspended for two years, opens South Africa’s first black law firm with Oliver Tambo, elected ANC deputy president
1956: Arrested and charged with treason, along with 155 others, all are acquitted (the Treason Trials)
1958: Divorces Evelyn Mase and marries Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela, with whom he has two daughters
1960: Detained following banning of ANC and imposition of a state of emergency
1961: Goes underground, helps to co-found ANC’s military wing and is appointed its commander-in-chief, South Africa becomes a republic May 31 and leaves the Commonwealth
1962: Leaves the country January 11 to travel in Africa, arrested August 5 on return (Marshall Square Prison, Johannesburg), convicted of incitement to strike and leaving country illegally, sentenced November 7 to five years’ imprisonment (Pretoria, Robben Island off coast of Cape Town, Pretoria)
1963: after July 11 police raid on Liliesleaf Farm in Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia also charged with sabotage, Rivonia trial begins in Pretoria October 9
June 11-12 1964: Convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, sent to Robben Island
1982: Transferred from Robben Island to Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town, rejects President PW Botha’s offer to free him if he renounces violence, undergoes prostate surgery
1988: Contracts tuberculosis, transferred to Victor Verster prison, outside Cape Town
February 11 1990: Released from prison
1990: Elected ANC deputy president
1991: Elected ANC president
1993: Awarded Nobel Peace Prize with President FW de Klerk
April 27 1994: Votes for first time in his life in South Africa’s first democratic election
May 10 1994: Inaugurated as president
1996: Divorces Winnie Mandela
1998: Marries Graca Machel on his 80th birthday
June 14 1999: Steps down after one term as president
2001: Diagnosed with prostate cancer
2002: Begins global campaign to fight AIDS
2004: Withdrawal from public life
2005: Reveals that eldest son, Makgatho, died of an AIDS-related illness
2008: 90th birthday
2010: Public appearance at final of soccer World Cup
2011-13: Hospital visits
December 5 2013: Dies in Johannesburg
I remember the moment I realised Mandela actually was a great man: it was while watching a BBC documentary about him long after his release.
I saw him at Davos during his presidency. I remember him standing with a few people in the snow outside the lower entrance to the old congress centre, near the Extrablatt café. A waiter was standing near him, perhaps hesitating to cross his path. Mandela pulled the chap towards him so that they could be photographed together. I hope the man got the picture.
A conversation […] took place in the nineteen-twenties between the Zaydi Imam Yahya of Sanʿa and a British envoy whose mission was to persuade the Imam to restore peacefully a portion of the British Aden Protectorate which he had occupied during the general War of 1914-18 and had refused to evacuate thereafter, notwithstanding the defeat of his Ottoman overlords. In a final interview with the Imam, after it had become apparent that the mission would not attain its object, the British envoy, wishing to give the conversation another turn, complimented the Imam upon the soldierly appearance of his new-model army. Seeing that the Imam took the compliment in good part, he went on:
“And I suppose you will be adopting other Western institutions as well?”
“I think not,” said the Imam with a smile.
“Oh, really? That interests me. And may I venture to ask your reasons?”
“Well, I don’t think I should like other Western institutions,” said the Imam.
“Indeed? And what institutions, for example?”
“Well, there are parliaments,” said the Imam. “I like to be the Government myself. I might find a parliament tiresome.”
“Why, as for that,” said the Englishman, “I can assure you that responsible parliamentary representative government is not an indispensable part of the apparatus of Western civilization. Look at Italy. She has given that up, and she is one of the great Western powers.”
“Well, then there is alcohol,” said the Imam, “I don’t want to see that introduced into my country, where at present it is happily almost unknown.”
“Very natural,” said the Englishman; “but, if it comes to that, I can assure you that alcohol is not an indispensable adjunct of Western civilization either. Look at America. She has given up that, and she too is one of the great Western powers.”
“Well, anyhow,” said the Imam, with another smile which seemed to intimate that the conversation was at an end, “I don’t like parliaments and alcohol and that kind of thing.”
The Englishman could not make out whether there was any suggestion of humour in the parting smile with which the last five words were uttered; but, however that might be, those words went to the heart of the matter and showed that the inquiry about possible further Western innovations at Sanʿa had been more pertinent than the Imam might have cared to admit. Those words indicated, in fact, that the Imam, viewing Western civilization from a great way off, saw it, in that distant perspective, as something one and indivisible and recognized certain features of it, which to a Westerner’s eye would appear to have nothing whatever to do with one another, as being organically related parts of that indivisible whole. Thus, on his own tacit admission, the Imam, in adopting the rudiments of the Western military technique, had introduced into the life of his people the thin end of a wedge which in time would inexorably cleave their close-compacted traditional Islamic civilization asunder. He had started a cultural revolution which would leave the Yamanites, in the end, with no alternative but to cover their nakedness with a complete ready-made outfit of Western clothes. If the Imam had met his Hindu contemporary Mr. Gandhi, that is what he would have been told, and such a prophecy would have been supported by what had happened already to other Islamic peoples who had exposed themselves to the insidious process of “Westernization” several generations earlier.
Toynbee’s distant perspectives are as dangerous as the Imam’s. The modern cultural interaction of the West with other societies was a subtler process than he acknowledges. He rarely examines its nuances. He had a rather superficial conception of what constituted modernity.
The Imam is, in Toynbeean terminology, a Zealot rather than a Herodian.
Britain in Yemen (old post).
Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948
Dr Omar Ashour, Director, Middle East Graduate Studies Programme, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, The World Tonight, BBC Radio 4, August 14: “Chile 1973, Argentina post-1976, in Algeria 1992, in Tajikistan 1992, in Spain 1936.”
He wasn’t allowed to continue. Wikipedia list of “incidents involving direct voter fraud or in which the results were procedurally contested, massively or violently protested, or recognized as fraudulent by a reliable international organization”. That covers elections, like the recent one in Zimbabwe, which were contested by those with legitimate grievances, but not counter-coups of the kind that has been staged in Egypt.
List of coups d’état and coup attempts.
Has Egypt had a civil war since pharaonic times? It is hard to imagine one in that old country, but also hard to imagine any way out of this impasse.
United States Presidents and control of Congress: historical charts.
Chinatowns in the Middle East, but are any real?
Oldest. Anywhere: Manila. In Japan: Nagasaki. In Americas: Mexico City. In US: San Francisco. In Canada: Victoria. In Australia: Melbourne. In Europe: Liverpool. The oldest are never the largest.
Largest. In US: New York, followed by San Francisco. In Canada: Vancouver, followed by Toronto. In Japan: Yokohama, followed by Kobe, followed by Nagasaki (the three official Chinatowns). In Australia: Sydney, followed by Melbourne. In Britain: London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle.
In the Netherlands: Amsterdam, followed by The Hague, followed by Rotterdam. In Belgium: Antwerp (the only official one). In France: Paris, the main one in the 13th arrondissement.
The only official Chinatown in Korea is in Incheon. There are Chinatowns in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Jakarta’s is in a district called Glodok. The only real Chinatown in India is in Kolkata.
It is odd, in the case of Singapore, to have a Chinatown in a country that is ethnically Chinese. The word at least pays lip service to Singapore’s multiculturalism. There is no Chinatown in Tokyo.
Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo do not have well-defined areas. Buenos Aires has a small Chinatown. Moscow and Berlin do not have historic Chinatowns.
Many Chinatowns are in decline or are being replaced by China-themed malls. Flight of upwardly-mobile Chinese in US to the suburbs.
Chinese laundries in North America.
Manhattan, Wikimedia Commons
The main line of Sunni Caliphs – Rightly Guided, then Umayyad, then Abbasid – came to an end when the Mongols conquered Baghdad in 1258.
A surviving member of the Abbasid house was installed at Cairo under the patronage of the newly formed Mamluk Sultanate three years later.
In 1517 the Ottoman Turks took the last nominal Abbasid Caliph at Cairo into custody and transported him to Constantinople.
When he died, the Caliphate was virtually in abeyance. The first time Caliph was used as a political instead of symbolic religious title by the Ottoman Sultans was in the peace treaty with Russia at the end of the war of 1768-74, as a way of allowing the Turks to retain moral authority in territory they had ceded, notably the Crimea.
Around 1880 Sultan Abdul Hamid II reasserted the title as Russia expanded into Central Asia. His claim was fervently accepted by the Muslims of British India.
The Khilafat movement (1919-24) was a vain pan-Islamic protest campaign launched by Muslims in India to persuade the British government to protect the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate. The Ottoman Sultanate was abolished in 1922, the Caliphate in 1924.
At the time when the present chapter was being written, it looked as if this had really been the end of the Caliphate, for an immediate attempt on the part of the Hāshimī King Husayn of the Hijāz to assume the office (on the eve, as it turned out, of his own ejection from his ancestral patrimony by Ibn Saʿūd) was – in spite of the Sharīf’s unimpeachable Qurayshī lineage and his sovereignty, at the moment, over the two Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina – as dismal a failure as most of his other enterprises. Nor did any practical action result from a Caliphate Congress held at Cairo on the 13th-19th May, 1926.
Yet, even if this forecast were to prove correct – though, in the light of previous history, it would not be safe to sign a death certificate for so resilient an institution as the Caliphate until it had been in abeyance for at least a quarter of a millennium [footnote: Its latest interregnum had lasted from the death of the last Cairene ʿAbbasid Caliph Mutawakkil in A.D. 1543 to the drafting of the Russo-Turkish Treaty of Küchuk Qaynārja in A.D. 1774.] – the marvel would be, not that the Caliphate should have petered out at last, but that, on the strength of having been an effective sovereignty over a span of less than two hundred years, [footnote: From the death of the Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632 to the death of the ʿAbbasid Caliph Amīn (imperabat A.D. 809-13), in a civil war with his brother and supplanter Ma’mūn (imperabat A.D. 813-33) over the heritage of their father Hārūn-ar-Rashīd (imperabat A.D. 786-809).] it should have been able within that time to acquire a prestige sufficient to keep it alive, and twice revive it, [footnote: i.e. at Cairo in A.D. 1261 and at Constantinople in A.D. 1774.] for another eleven hundred years [footnote: Reckoning from the death of the Baghdādi ʿAbbasid Caliph Amīn in A.D. 813 to the deposition of the Constantinopolitan ʿOsmanli Caliph ʿAbd-al-Mejīd in A.D. 1924.] during which it never emerged from the state of political impotence into which it had begun to decline in the reign of Hārūn-ar-Rashīd’s son Ma’mūn (imperabat A.D. 813-33).
The revival of the Caliphate is often predicted today, in Brummie, Indonesian and other accents.
Ma’mūn is written thus in the OUP text, not as Maʿmūn.
At times in Muslim history there have been rival caliphs, notably those of the Ismaili Shia Fatimid Caliphate in North Africa, 909-1171.
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954
By the year A.D. 1952 the initiative and skill of Western Man had been engaged for some four and a half centuries in knitting together the whole habitable and traversable surface of the planet by a system of communications that was unprecedented in the two features of being literally world-wide and being operated by a technique which was constantly surpassing itself at a perpetually accelerating pace. The wooden caravels and galleons, rigged for sailing in the eye of the wind, which had sufficed to enable the pioneer mariners of Modern Western Europe to make themselves masters of all the oceans, had given way [in the 1840s] to mechanically propelled iron-built ships of relatively gigantic size [some smaller steamships had wooden hulls]; “dirt-tracks” travelled by six-horse coaches had been replaced by macadamized and concrete-floored roads travelled by automobiles; railways had been invented to compete with roads, and aircraft to compete with all land-borne or water-borne conveyances. Concurrently, means of [instantaneous] communication which did not require the physical transportation of human bodies had been conjured up, and put into operation on a world-wide scale, in the shape of telegraphs, telephones, and wireless transmission – visual as well as auditory – by radio. The movement of sea-borne and airborne traffic had been made detectable at long range by radar. There had been no period in the history of any other civilization in which so large an area had been made so highly conductive for every form of human intercourse.
From this perspective, the creation of an electronic World Wide Web (for non-privileged users) in 1994 was the latest stage of a process that had begun with the discovery of Madeira by the Portuguese in 1419.
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954
The key-notes of the fifteenth-century acceleration in the shipwright’s and the navigator’s art were its suddenness and its speed.
“In the fifteenth century … there was a swift and momentous change in the building of ships. It was a great era of architecture. In the space of fifty years the sea-going sailing-ship developed from a single-master into a three-master carrying five or six sails.” [Footnote: Bassett-Lowke, J. W. [that should be W. J.], and Holland, G.: Ships and Men (London 1946, Harrap), p. 46. […]]
The revolution in navigation was the development of the sea astrolabe.
And this technological revolution in the West not only gave its authors access to all quarters of the Globe by making them masters of Oceanic navigation; it also gave them an ascendancy over all non-Western mariners whom they encountered in any seas.
“At the beginning of the fifteenth century the seaborne trade of Europe was carried in ships markedly inferior in design and workmanship to the vessels used in many parts of the East; but at the end of the sixteenth century the West European ships were the best in the World. They were, perhaps, less handy and less weatherly than the junks of the China seas, but in general, in their combination of seaworthiness, endurance, carrying capacity, and fighting power, they proved superior to anything else afloat.” [Footnote: Parry, J. H.: Europe and a Wider World, 1415-1715 (London 1949, Hutchinson), p. 21.]
This new-fangled Western type of vessel is the most characteristic emblem of a Modern Age of Western history (currebat circa A.D. 1475-1875) during which its unchallenged supremacy was proclaimed in its monopoly of the title “ship”, by which it came to be known par excellence. The “ship’s” distinctive virtue, in which it surpassed its successors as conspicuously as its predecessors, was its power to keep the sea for an almost unlimited length of time on end; and this virtue has been divined and lauded by a nineteenth-century Western man of letters who lived to see the “ship” reach its peak of technical perfection, and all but lived on to see it disappear from the seas as suddenly as it had invaded them some four hundred years earlier.
“L’ancien navire de Christophe Colomb et de Ruyter est un des grands chefs-d’œuvre de l’homme. Il est inépuisable en force comme l’infini en souffles, il emmagasine le vent dans sa voile, il est précis dans l’immense diffusion des vagues, il flotte et il règne.” [Footnote: Hugo, Victor: Les Misérables, Part II, Book II, chap. 3.]
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954
This is from Basil Davidson’s 1984 sweeping Channel 4 television series Africa: A Voyage of Discovery (from the third of its eight one-hour parts).
Davidson put African history on the map for laymen, including Africans. Is he still regarded highly? If not, is that because he has been superseded or because he was self-taught and a journalist and lacked any academic qualifications? Or is it a residue from a time when he must have seemed unsettlingly left-wing and when African history was not considered a real subject?
The Channel 4 series is all on YouTube, but not in one place and not in good recordings. There is no decent bibliography of him online. Many people will know his Lost Cities of Africa (1959), African Slave Trade (1961), Africa: History of a Continent (1966) and Time-Life book African Kingdoms (1966).
Swahili, or Kiswahili, is a Bantu language of the East African coast. It became the tongue of the urban class in the Great Lakes region and went on to serve as a post-colonial lingua franca in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Romans visited the coast in the first century. Arab traders had contact with the black coastal peoples from the sixth century CE or earlier. Islam reached the coast in the ninth century or earlier. There is cultural evidence of early Persian (or Arabo-Persian) settlement on Zanzibar from Shiraz. Swahili contains many Arabic and Persian loan words.
City-states – Muslim, cosmopolitan, and politically independent of each other – began to flourish along the coast and on the islands: Kilwa, Malindi, Gedi, Pate, Comoros, Zanzibar. They depended on trade from the Indian Ocean.
The Swahili acted as middlemen between Africa and the outside world. Slaves, ebony, gold, ivory and sandalwood were brought to the coasts and sold to Arab, Indian and Portuguese traders, who carried them to Arabia, Persia, Madagascar, India, China, Europe. Many slaves sold in Zanzibar ended up in Brazil.
Zanzibar grew spices: cinnamon and cardamom were introduced from Asia (when?), chilli and cacao were brought by the Portuguese from South America. When were cloves introduced? Were spices sent mainly to Europe or also to Asia?
How Arab were the ruling classes? How much of the Indian Ocean sailing was done by black Africans? Is there evidence for the arrival of black traders in China? Wikipedia on Chinese in the Indian Ocean and in Africa.
The sultanates began to decline in the sixteenth century, as Portuguese influence grew. The Portuguese in turn were threatened by Omanis, who controlled Zanzibar from 1698 until the middle of the nineteenth century, when the British started to interfere. They were in turn followed by Germans.
Commerce between Africa and Asia via the Indian Ocean declined, but some of the dhow trade survived when Davidson made his film. Swahili fishermen still sell fish to their inland neighbours in exchange for products of the interior.
The earliest known documents written in Swahili are letters written in Kilwa in 1711 in the Arabic script. They were sent to the Portuguese of Mozambique and their local allies. They are preserved in the Historical Archives of Goa. Another document in Arabic script is Utendi wa Tambuka (The History of Tambuka), an epic poem from 1728, written in Pate, about wars between Byzantium and Muslims from 628 to 1453. The Latin script was used later, under the influence of European colonial powers.
Another west and east. A friend of mine, who worked in Lagos and then Rio, said:
“Africa is a fine claret, Brazil a gaudy cocktail.”
Man seems to be able to live in a wider range of climates than any of the other primates. If you traverse one of the canons that have been carved deep into the soft volcanic soil of Ethiopia, you descend from the temperate surface of the plateau to a level at which the canon is habitable for monkeys; but, before you reach the bottom, you leave the monkey’s habitat behind. You descend to a depth at which the canon is too hot to hold monkeys; but there is no altitude, from temperate plateau to tropical river-bed, at which Ethiopia is not habitable for Man.
What species is he noticing? Ethiopia’s most famous monkeys are geladas, which live at high altitudes in the Ethiopian Highlands. They only sleep lower down. How much lower? Was he seeing them as he descended into the canyons in the early morning? And why are there normally no monkeys in temperate climates? Wikipedia:
“Geladas are found only in the high grassland of the deep gorges of the central Ethiopian plateau. They live in elevations 1,800-4,400 m asl [above sea level], using the cliffs for sleeping and montane grasslands for foraging. These grasslands have greatly spaced trees and also contain bushes and dense thickets. The highland areas where they live tend to be cooler and less arid than lowlands areas. […] Geladas are the only primates that are primarily graminivores and grazers – grass blades make up to 90% of their diet. […] At night, they sleep on the ledges of cliffs. At sunrise, they leave the cliffs and travel to the tops of the plateaus to feed and socialize. When morning ends, social activities tend to wane and the geladas primarily focus on foraging. They will travel during this time, as well. When evening arrives, geladas exhibit more social activities before descending to the cliffs to sleep.”
The highest peak is Ras Dashen, at 4,500 metres.
In another book, he describes a journey from Gondar to Aksum in the far north, in early 1964, crossing the Tekezé Gorge – and, I think, the Semien mountains (any connection with simian?), where gelada live in particularly large numbers. Gondar was an Ethiopian imperial capital from 1635 until the middle of the nineteenth century. The Kingdom of Aksum emerged as a power in the first century and lasted for a thousand years. It was never conquered by Moslems.
The Kingdom of Aksum, in the northern part of present-day Ethiopia, had been converted to Christianity about half way through the fourth century. In the sixth century, Aksum, like Nubia, adopted Monophysitism, and the East Roman Imperial Government had to acquiesce. Aksum commanded the sea-route between Egypt and India, and its ruler was in a position to intervene in the Yemen in the Roman Empire’s interest. Constantinople could not afford politically to quarrel with Aksum over a theological issue.
Ethiopian Christianity is now predominantly Oriental Orthodox, which is quasi-Monophysite.
The road, which has kept more or less on one level so far, now gives way, without warning, beneath our wheels. The plateau breaks off short, and the road zigzags down the side of an apparently bottomless ravine. The descent is so steep that the sections of the road immediately below us are out of sight. Down we go and down and down again. A few more twists and turns and we have entered the monkey-zone. At our approach, these amusing creatures leap over the parapet with their children on their backs and hurl themselves into the abyss – a less formidable ordeal for them than coming to close quarters with their human cousins. A few more twists and turns, and the monkey zone has been left behind us and above us. Monkeys seem to be less adaptable than human beings are to differences of climate. The plateau is too chilly for them; the bottoms of the gorges are too torrid. Only human beings can make themselves at home in both these climates, and in the monkey-zone as well.
Gelada family (is the old one on the way to going grey?); sleeping on a cliff
Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous (first two passages)
Between Niger and Nile, OUP, 1965 (final passage)
“Welcome to Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire. This website holds detailed information on over 6000 films showing images of life in the British colonies. Over 150 films are available for viewing online. You can search or browse for films by country, date, topic, or keyword. Over 350 of the most important films in the catalogue are presented with extensive critical notes written by our academic research team.
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“Finn pushed back his chair. He spoke slowly.
‘Borrit told me when he was serving in the Gold Coast, one of the Africans said to him: “What is it white men write at their desks all day?”’”
Anthony Powell, The Military Philosophers, 1968. Ninth novel in A Dance to the Music of Time.
“My address book blew out of the window.”
Ghanaian c 1979 to a friend of mine, explaining why he did not turn up for something.
“Here is the minibar. Here is the remote control. Here is the safe. Here is the bathroom. And here is the machine for warming up your hair.”
A bellboy in Tanzania c 1999 to another friend of mine.
“Where was this Google all this time?”
William Kamkwamba (post here), the Malawian who built an electricity-generating windmill for his village without help from the Internet, on first being told about search engines. As told to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, 2009.
The friend who went to Tanzania said: “It wasn’t a joke. It was genuinely meant. That was his actual comprehension of what whites do with their hair, which makes it a better anecdote.” I replied: “He was working in a hotel and must have got the idea, no? Anyway, some African women use hairdryers. I don’t think it becomes less of an anecdote if you attribute just a bit of conscious humour.” He wrote back: “I do. It loses his charm and makes him appear wiley. Besides, as a joke it’s not that funny.”
I think I am right. His interpretation makes the chap sound naïve. That would kill the charm in a different way. (We are already in dangerous territory in looking for a common type of quaint humour in different parts of a continent. Africa is bigger than the US, China including Tibet, and the whole of Europe combined.) Even the man who lost his address book didn’t, in his heart of hearts, expect anyone to believe such a ridiculous story, though he told it in a deadpan way. And the Gold Coast man’s question is a good one. I ask it when I wonder why I am paid as much as I am to hit plastic squares in a certain order.
The humour is an infinitely gentle, barely conscious, postcolonial irony, a mock-naïveté about Western things. Offices, address books, hairdryers, search engines.
In A.D. 1952 […] the feat that had to be performed by Western navigators on the face of the waters of History was to pilot their vessel, without disaster, through perilous straits in the hope of making their way into more open waters beyond; and in this post-Christian Odyssey there was more than one passage to be negotiated and more than one kind of ordeal to be faced.
To paraphrase and anticipate, sailing between Scylla and Charybdis: abjuring war without sinking into consumerism.
Sailing between the Pillars of Hercules: negotiating a spiritual passage between a Christian heresy, Communism, on one shore and a backward-looking Christian orthodoxy on the other.
In terms of our Mediterranean maritime simile, we may compare the social and spiritual enterprise to which these Western adventurers were committed in the twentieth century of the Christian Era with the navigational task confronting Hellenic mariners in the sixth century B.C. who had bidden farewell to their Ionian homeland and had set sail westward rather than submit to the alien dominion of un-Hellenic-minded Achaemenidae. Following in Odysseus’ wake, these Phocaean seafarers would have first to negotiate the straits between Sicily and Italy without approaching either an Italian shore where they would be pounced upon by the monster Scylla or a Sicilian shore where they would be engulfed by the whirlpool Charybdis; but, if, by managing to steer their course along the narrow fairway through this first danger-zone, they should succeed in making the friendly port of Marseilles, they would not there find themselves at rest in the haven where they would be; [footnote: Ps. cvii. 30.] for their bold and skilful negotiation of the Straits of Messina would merely have carried them from the inner basin into the outer basin of the Mediterranean, without having liberated them from the imprisoning shores of their landlocked native sea.
I’m not sure why the open waters of the Atlantic would have been a haven for them. Nor did the Persians reach the outer basin. But the speculation is half-fanciful. Rather than submit to Persian rule, the Phocaeans, or some of them, had abandoned Ionia. Where did they sail to, in fact? Some, perhaps, to Chios, some to Phocaean colonies on Corsica and elsewhere. Massalia or Massilia, Marseille (Marseilles, the English sometimes call it), was an existing Phocaean colony: it was an independent Greek city from 600 BC until Caesar conquered it in 49 BC. Some became the founders of Elea, or Velia, in Campania. Some eventually returned to Phocaea.
If they were to reach the boundless waters of a globe-encompassing Ocean, these voyagers must put to sea again from the sheltering harbour of their mother country’s daughter city in order to make for the Straits of Gibraltar between the Pillars of Hercules, where this pair of menacing mountains, towering above the African and the European shore and threatening, from either flank, to fall upon any ship audacious enough to run the gauntlet without their leave, were visible embodiments of Imperial Carthage’s decree that no Hellenic vessel was ever to sail on through this golden gate leading out from the landlocked waters into the main.
Since Carthage controlled both sides of the straits, such a decree would not be surprising, but what source tells us that it was made? Were the Carthaginians in part protecting access to Madeira, the Canaries, Cape Verde, the Azores? Some of these islands must have lain behind the tradition of the Hesperides, which Hercules had visited.
A Phoenician fleet had circumnavigated Africa by about 600 BC in the other direction. Herodotus describes how the Pharaoh Necho II sent out an expedition manned by Phoenician sailors. They sailed out of the Red Sea, rounded the Cape, and headed north to the Mediterranean. They paused on the African coast in two successive years to sow and harvest grain, and reached Egypt in the course of the third year.
A Carthaginian, Hanno, probably early in the 5th century BC, sailed to the Bight of Bonny, probably as far as Sherbro Island off Sierra Leone or Cape Palmas off Liberia. An account of his periplus was engraved in Punic on a bronze tablet set up in the temple of Baal at Carthage. It was translated into Greek. The translation survives, and is the only piece of Carthaginian literature we have. His account was used by Ptolemy and remained the standard guide for seafarers until the Portuguese explorations of the 15th century.
We have fragmentary evidence that a certain Euthymenes of Massalia sailed down the west coast of Africa as far as a river which was infested with crocodiles and whose waters were driven back by strong sea breezes. He thought that this river was the Nile. It may have been the Senegal River. We are not sure what century Euthymenes lived in, but there is a statue of him on the façade of the Marseille bourse.
Polybius passed them after Carthage had been destroyed. Pliny the Elder tells us that he sailed down the west coast of Africa c 146 BC in ships lent to him by the destroyer, Scipio Aemilianus. He may have seen Mount Kakulima in Guinea.
So the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and presumably Persians were aware that Africa was surrounded by sea except where it was connected to Asia. Bartolomeu Dias sailed round the Cape in 1488. Vasco da Gama sailed round most of Africa in 1497-98 on his way to India.
And here woe betide the Hellenic mariner who allowed himself [if he wanted to reach his haven] to be intimidated by his adversary’s veto into following the Theban Pindar’s poor-spirited advice to his Agrigentine patron Thêrôn.
“And now Thêrôn’s achievements have carried him to the limit: they have brought him to the Pillars of Hercules on his long voyage from home; and what lies beyond this terminus is out of bounds (ἂβατον) for all men, wise or witless. I will not pursue this venture. I should deserve to lose my senses if I did this senseless thing!” [Footnote: Pindar: Odes in Honour of Victors in the Olympic Games, Ode iii, ll. 43-45.]
Theron had reached a metaphorical Pillars of Hercules by his unsurpassable excellence in the Olympic chariot race in 476 BC.
Ne plus ultra! These were the very words that a forbidding Carthaginian statesmanship had been intending to extort from defeatist Hellenic lips; and, so long as this self-imposed Hellenic psychological inhibition held, no Hellenic explorer would ever sail on to test the truth of a later poet’s intuition that the untried passage of the Ocean would prove to be the avenue to a New World. [Footnote: Seneca: Medea, ll. 364-79 […].] More than two thousand years were to pass before Columbus’s victorious defiance of the veto once imposed by a jealous Carthage was to be commemorated, in the device of “the dollar sign”, by the first sovereign on whose globe-encircling dominions the Sun could never set. On coins minted for Charles V out of American bullion, the antistrophic words Plus ultra! were triumphantly inscribed on a scroll displayed behind the minatory pair of pillars; and the moral was one which a twentieth-century Odysseus ought to take to heart if this series of episodes in the history of the art of navigation was an apt parable of the spiritual voyage on which his sails were set.
According to a Renaissance tradition, the pillars had been inscribed with the words Ne plus ultra as a warning to sailors and navigators to go no further. There is no version of the phrase in Greek.
Luigi Marliano, doctor and advisor to the young King of Spain, proposed Plus Oultre for his motto as an encouragement to ignore the ancient warnings, take risks. (The OED can find no example of the phrase Ne plus ultra from before 1637, but that means in English sources.)
Plus ultra is on the present Spanish coat of arms as an inscription on a banner linking two pillars. Its history between Charles V and now includes use thus on the Spanish dollar (current in the Spanish Empire 1497-19th century; the main currency within Spain was the real). The Spanish dollar was contemporary with the German Thaler and was the basis of the American dollar.
The wrapped pillars do not appear on US dollars, but may be the origin of the US dollar sign.
Future post: global histories of anna, cent, centime, crown, cruzado, cruzeiro, denarius, dinar, dollar, drachma, escudo, florin, franc, Groschen, guinea, gulden, Kreuzer, krone, lira, livre, Mark, penny, peseta, peso, pfennig, piastre, pound, real, rial, ruble, rupee, Schilling, shekel, shilling, solidus, sovereign, talent, Thaler, zloty.
In the interpretation of this parable in terms of the Western Civilization’s prospects, the finding of a passage between Scylla and Charybdis signified the negotiation of the Western World’s immediate problem of finding some way of avoiding self-destruction without falling into self-stultification. Mid-way through the twentieth century of the Christian Era the Western Society was in imminent danger of destroying itself by failing to stop making War now that a demonic drive had been put into War by the progress of a Western physical science; and it was in hardly less imminent danger of stultifying itself by seeking asylum from War and Class-Conflict in Circe’s pig-sty. If post-Christian Western souls did succeed in threading their way between these two immediate perils, they would owe their happy issue out of this affliction to an inspiration to take Religion as the mark on which they were once more to set their course; but an impulse to return to Religion would not in itself suffice to bring the Western pilgrims’ ships out of inland waters into open sea; for the call of Religion was being uttered in diverse tongues; [footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 28.] and the questions to which the agnostic Western pioneer in search of a Christian oracle would have, at his own peril, to find an answer for himself, were:
“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? … Have all the gifts of healing? … Do all interpret?” [Footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 29-30.]
In this spiritual ordeal the forbidding Pillars of Hercules were a pair of rival authoritarian and dogmatic faiths, both of which alike were offering to the storm-tossed voyager an everlasting Nirvāna in their stony bosoms and were threatening him with the eternal punishment that had been inflicted on the Flying Dutchman if he were to be so impious and so fool-hardy as to reject their offer and sail on past them out into the blue. From the one shore this ultimatum was being delivered to Western souls by a Christian heresy in which the stone of Communism had been substituted for the bread [footnote: Matt. vii. 9; Luke xi. 11.] of the Gospel, and from the other shore by a Christian Orthodoxy in which the body of Christ, [footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 27; Eph. iv. 12.] who had “come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”, [footnote: John x. 10.] had been petrified into a pillar of salt [footnote: Gen. xix. 26.] by a backward-looking ecclesiastical tradition. To dare the passage between these two frowning Pillars of Hercules was a venture that might daunt even a mariner whose moral had been fortified by a previous success in making his way safely between Scylla and Charybdis. But, if, at this supremely critical point in his voyage, the pilgrim were to feel his heart failing, he might recover his courage and initiative by taking his oracle from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians:
“Covet earnestly the best gifts; and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.” [Footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 31.]
OED defines petrify as “turn (an organic body) into a stony concretion by gradually replacing its original substance with a calcareous, siliceous, or other mineral deposit”, which I suppose makes “petrify into a pillar of salt” not quite a mixed metaphor.
If a contrite humility was the first of the Christian virtues that were necessary for the Western pilgrim’s salvation, an indomitable endurance was the second. What was required of him at this hour was to hold on his course and to trust in God’s grace; and, if he prayed God to grant him a pilot for the perilous passage, he would find the bodhisattva [in the Mahayana, an enlightened being who has voluntarily delayed his entry into Nirvana in order to help his suffering fellow-beings] psychopompus [conductor of souls through the underworld] whom he was seeking in a Francesco Bernardone of Assisi, who was the most god-like soul that had been born into the Western World so far. A disciple of Saint Francis who followed faithfully enough in the saint’s footsteps to participate in the saint’s gift of receiving Christ’s stigmata would know, with the knowledge that comes only through suffering, that his sacrifice had been accepted by the Lord. [Footnote: Gen. iv. 3-7.] Asperges me hyssopo et mundabor. [Footnote: Ps. l. 9, in the Vulgate Latin text, Ps. li. 7, in the English Authorized Version.]
Seville Town Hall (Ayuntamiento), reign of Charles V
A footnote after “minatory pair of pillars” advises us to
See Raymond, Wayte: The Silver Dollars of North and South America (New York 1939, Wayte Raymond, Inc.) for photographs of dollars coined for the Spanish Crown, over a series of reigns ranging from Charles V’s (regnabat A.D. 1516-56) to the break-up of the Spanish Empire of the Indies in the nineteenth century of the Christian Era, which display the pair of pillars with the motto Plus ultra. On 46 of the 67 specimens (not counting “necessity coins” [small mintings of little value]) of “pillar type” coins here reproduced, including the earliest in the series, Charles V’s coin from Santo Domingo (p. 18, No. 1), the two words are inscribed on a single scroll linking the pillars (and passing behind an heraldic shield inserted between the pillars on coins of this type minted for the Bourbons). On fifteen specimens, each of the two pillars is wreathed in a separate scroll of its own, with “Plus” inscribed on the left-hand scroll and “Ultra” on the right-hand scroll. On six specimens, including Philip II’s dollar minted in Peru (reproduced in Supplement, p. 3, No. A 1), the motto is inscribed behind or above the pillars without being mounted on a scroll.
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954
Amazon: “In this compelling history, Jonathan Derrick recounts the opposition to British and French rule practised both by Africans living on the continent and by European anticolonialists and members of the Black Diaspora. He covers campaigns waged by an early incarnation of the ANC and other groups in South Africa who fought against legal and other aspects of white minority rule. He also analyses the Kikuyu protests against the settler regime in Kenya; Marcus Garvey’s African American movement and its role in sparking interest in Africa; the Étoile Nord-Africaine, formed mainly by Algerians in France, that called for the independence of French North Africa; protests led by European critics against forced labor in Kenya and French Equatorial Africa; and the activity of small militant groups like the Ligue de Défense de la Race Nègre (LDRN) in France and George Padmore’s International African Service Bureau (IASB) in Britain. Derrick also examines the role of the Comintern and Western Communist parties that were opposed to Western colonialism and ready to support militant action against it. He shows that, although colonial rulers greatly feared the specter of Communism in Africa, actual Communist activity was in fact quite small. The onset of the Second World War pushed colonial issues to the background, but as Derrick argues, in the long term the anticolonialists of the interwar era helped pave the way for later decolonisation.”
Attack on the Sufi Sidi Yahia mosque in Mali. Sufis venerate saints. Salafi fundamentalists don’t like that. This is something like the destruction of the sixth-century Buddhas of Bamiyan in central Afghanistan by the Taliban in 2001.
Timbuktu was an important centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th centuries. The city played a major role in spreading Islam in West Africa. As somebody has said, Mali is threatening to become the Afghanistan of Africa.
BBC slide show. BBC radio’s The World Tonight has a segment on this today, starting 34 minutes in.
Newish Granta-format quarterly published by the UK-based Muslim Institute.
I worried about the title at first, but I suppose the implication is fair.
Issue 4: forthcoming on Pakistan
“Take up the White Man’s burden –
Send forth the best ye breed –
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild –
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.
Take up the White Man’s burden –
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.
Take up the White Man’s burden –
The savage wars of peace –
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.
Take up the White Man’s burden –
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper –
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living,
And mark them with your dead.
Take up the White Man’s burden –
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard –
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light: –
‘Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?’
Take up the White Man’s burden –
Ye dare not stoop to less –
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.
Take up the White Man’s burden –
Have done with childish days –
The lightly proferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!”
Kipling. See last post but one, including first comment. The Times, February 4 1899; Wikipedia says McClure’s magazine with no exact date; The Five Nations (1903). The text here is from The Five Nations.
“To veil the threat of terror.” That word already.
The nineteenth-century diplomatists’ idea of a desert was that it was a region of no economic or political value because it was incapable of supporting life. Accordingly, while they were prepared to haggle, and, in the last resort, to go to war, over a few square metres in Alsace or Oregon, they amicably partitioned the Arabian Desert and the African Sahara by blithely drawing straight lines of enormous length across small-scale maps. In this cavalier way they disposed of the sovereignty over vast areas which, in the atlases of the day, were the “perfect and absolute blank” commended as the ideal kind of map by the Bellman in Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. During the late-nineteenth century partition of Africa between European states there was an occasion on which Lord Salisbury – under fire in the House of Commons at Westminster for having acquiesced in the annexation of startling numbers of African square kilometres by France – made the celebrated reply that most of this territory that he had let slip [in essence, Niger] was “very light soil”. Some of it, however, was the soil under which the French oil-prospectors have recently discovered what they believe to be rich oil-bearing strata; and the time has long ago passed when diplomatists negotiating international frontiers in either the Sahara or Arabia were carefree. The desert-girt Buraymi oasis is at this moment an object of acrimonious dispute between the governments of Saʿudi Arabia and Great Britain. The “idea formed” of a desert has in fact been transformed – in regions in which deserts overlie an oil-bearing subsoil – by the late-nineteenth century discovery of the economic value of mineral oil and the twentieth-century development of techniques for tapping it at ever greater depths below surface-level. The Arabian desert is just as inhospitable to life today as it ever was, yet it has now become a key part of the environment of the peoples of Western Europe.
In the agreement of 1890, the town of Say, in southwest Niger, was taken as the western end of an imaginary line which ran eastward to Barrua on Lake Chad. This is roughly the border between Nigeria and Niger. The “light soil” of the Sahara was recognised as French.
Niger has oil, but if you look at all the countries which once formed the colonial federation of French West Africa (1895-1960) – Mauritania, Mali (French Sudan), Niger, Senegal, Guinea (French Guinea), Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso (Upper Volta), Benin (Dahomey) – none, even today, whether of light or heavy soil, is a significant producer. In 1890, the industrialised world was getting its oil from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Azerbaijan, the US, Canada, not yet from Iran or Iraq, much less from the area now comprising the GCC.
The Buraymi oasis, or Al Buraimi, is in Oman, at the border with Abu Dhabi. The dispute arose from Saudi Arabia’s claim, first made in 1949, of sovereignty over a large part of Abu Dhabi where oil was suspected to be present and an area in a 20-mile circle around Buraymi. Both Oman and the Trucial States were British protectorates.
The Saudi claim was backed by the American oil company Aramco. In 1952 a small group of Saudi Arabian guards crossed Abu Dhabi and occupied Hamasa, one of three Omani villages in the oasis. The Sultan of Muscat and Imam of Oman gathered their forces to expel them but were persuaded by the British, who were no doubt under American pressure, to exercise restraint.
On July 30 1954, it was agreed to refer the dispute to international arbitration. Saudi Arabia began a campaign of bribery to obtain declarations of tribal loyalty. It even extended to Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahayan, the brother of the ruler of Abu Dhabi (he overthrew him in 1966), who is said to have turned down an offer of $20 million. In 1955 arbitration proceedings began in Geneva. They collapsed when the British abitrator, Sir Reader Bullard, objected to Saudi attempts to influence the tribunal. A few weeks later, the Saudi party was forcibly ejected from Hamasa by the Trucial Oman Levies (later known as the Trucial Oman Scouts), a British-backed force based in Sharjah (Trucial States), taken to Sharjah and dispatched to Saudi Arabia by sea. The dispute rumbled on and was settled in 1974 by an agreement, known as the Treaty of Jeddah, between Sheikh Zayed (then President of the UAE) and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia.
1961, Lance Corporal (later General) Saif Bin Mubarak sends morse code on a Trucial Oman Scouts dhow; Flickr credit: laponik
A Study of History, Vol XII: Reconsiderations, OUP, 1961
… Anthony Musaala, a household name in Uganda, and a friend of mine. From connectuganda.com.
“I was born on June 25, 1956 in Dublin, Ireland. My father was Paul Musaala, a well known lawyer in Kampala, and my mother was Josephine Namakula.
My parents went to Ireland in 1954 and I was born two years later. My father went to study law there. So the first two years of my life were spent in Dublin and then for the next seven years my parents moved to London.
The first school I attended was run by nuns in Bridport, Dorset, in South West England. I came to Uganda in 1964; I did not speak Luganda and I didn’t know anything about Uganda. I attended Nakasero Primary School and that is where I began to sing.
As soon as I joined the school, I joined the choir at the age of eight and a half.
In those days there were very few Africans in the school. When I look at the pictures, I see there were only three blacks in my class.
There were no African teachers in the school in 1964 and 1965. They were all white.
In 1967 I was selected to sing in a musical play called Carousel which was being performed at the National Theatre. That was the first time I went on stage, with a group called Kampala Amateur Theatrical Society (KATS). I was the only African in the whole cast of the play.
In the audience, there happened to be the assistant headmaster of Savio School (Kisubi). When he saw me on stage, afterwards he came and said, ‘we want to offer you a place in our school because you are a good singer’. So in 1968, I went to Savio School because of singing.
I passed P.7 and went to SMACK – St. Mary’s College Kisubi.
At St. Mary’s, I immediately joined the junior choir. We had guitars, drums; we already had bidongo [pop: I am finding it hard to get a more precise definition]. It was very good for me as a child because the mass became interesting. And also, people think the Catholic Church has been boring for a long time, but before the balokole came, we already had bidongo in 1969.
I say that because people think I brought a revolution in the Church, but I am only doing what I saw in a Catholic School – SMACK – in 1969.
Now, these were my adolescent years and I was in rebellion to parents and authority. I was discovering myself. I loved school so much not because of studies but because of the friends.
Although I was very intelligent, I was often at the bottom of the class and after Senior Two, they did not promote me to Senior Three. I was very unhappy and I ran away from SMACK and joined East African Railways Training School in Nairobi at the age of 15 without my parents’ permission.
I went to train as a railway mechanic. I applied by myself and then sat an interview at Kampala Railway Station (that time we had East African Railways).
I passed, they sent me a ticket, I got on the train and went.
I just told my mother that ‘I am going to Nairobi today at 4 p.m.’.
She said ‘what?’ But I was a very determined person. If I said I was going to do something, nobody could stop me. I was in Nairobi for three months and my father wrote a letter to the [railway] principal saying he would sue him for kidnapping his son (me) – he was a lawyer, you know. So the principal sent me back to Uganda on the train.
My father took me to St. Charles Lwanga Kasasa. Since I had been expelled from SMACK , they could not take me back. At Kasasa, I lasted one year and we had a strike over food, then I was expelled. My father was very angry with me and sent me away from home.
I boarded a bus to Arua where my mother was working. My mother had separated from my father and I went to live with her. I did Senior Four at a school called St. Charles Lwanga in Koboko. I managed to pass and I was sent to Mvara S.S.S in Arua town, but I did not like the school.
Eventually I managed to get myself expelled after one term. My father said, ‘Oh, it is you again! You have been expelled again?’
I said ‘yes’, and he told me to work in his office at plot 14 William Street as a clerk. That was 1974. I was 18 years old. I was very disappointed in myself. My brothers and sisters were in school and I was seated in an office. Amin was killing people, there were roadblocks everywhere.
One day I woke up and said, ‘I am going to leave Uganda.’ I took some money from the office and boarded a train to Nairobi. I knew I had a cousin there. But it took me a week to find her and I slept at a police station until I found my cousin. There was a kind policeman who saw this boy coming with a suitcase from Uganda and said, ‘you can come and sleep on this bench.’ I later got a job working in a shoe shop. After two years in Nairobi, in 1976, I went to London.
You see, I discovered that having been born in the Republic of Ireland, I was entitled to Irish nationality. So I went to the Irish Embassy in Nairobi armed with my birth certificate and said, ‘I am your citizen; give me a passport please.’ It was so simple. They said, ‘do you have any one to guarantee …?’ Within two days, I had an Irish passport. Then some friends did a harambee (fund-raising) and I was off to London at the age of 20. I said to myself, ‘I will never come back to Africa.’ It was like I was going to the promised land.
I arrived in London and worked at London Tara Hotel in Kensington, washing plates – kyeyo. They were paying me about £5, but at that time it was a lot of money. I did various jobs from 1976 to 1981. I worked as a swimming pool attendant, in a bakery, as a travel agent.
Life was very good in London. Those were the years when discos were starting and I became a disco addict. I used to go to the disco every single night without fail.
I would go to bed at 3 a.m. and wake up to go to work at 7 a.m. The discos were very exciting. That was my entertainment.
I was a total pagan. I never went to church. I was enjoying life. I travelled to America, Russia, France, Spain, Nigeria, Ghana, Holland, Denmark … I was working for a travel agency – AfroAsian Travel – so I used to get free tickets. Every year I used to come to Nairobi but would never come to Uganda.
For me Uganda had bad memories – because of Amin and because of the poor relationship with my father. And for five years after I left, I did not even speak to my father. But it did not bother me at all. I think it was this feeling that ‘I am now a free person to enjoy life. Those people are old; they are there with their problems in Africa. Me I am a muzungu.’ I had this passport, and freedom, and money.
Those were interesting years of my life because I was exposed to so many experiences. I was able to see what good life was, as far as the world is concerned.
Now in 1981, out of the blue, I began to experience a depression; to feel empty; bored, sad that life had no meaning. I was only 25, but I felt like an old man. Like I had done everything in life and now there was nothing more to do. I had dined, partied, had girlfriends and travelled; I met very wealthy people and poor people. It was like ‘is there anything left to do now?’
I did not have any ambition. The people I was working with in office wanted to study more, get promoted, and for me I was content, as long I had money.
So I had a crisis of existence: What am I doing? Why was I created? Is this all there is to life? I couldn’t find the answers in London.
So towards the end of 1981, I visited Nairobi on a holiday and met a Catholic religious brother called Br. Richard Tamale (RIP) at the New Stanley Hotel. We had been at Savio School together and I had not seen him since 1968.
I found it very challenging that this guy, with whom I had been friends, had become a brother and was now looking very holy. His whole life had a meaning and a purpose. And that is what made me feel that may be there was something I had not done yet. I began to hang out with this guy; he took me to their house and I watched him closely.
They were called the Marianist Brothers and they were working in slums. They were working with the poor; they lived in community, and they had joy. I said that whatever they had, I wanted to have. Gradually, I began to experience the love of God. They accepted me as I was; nobody told me ‘get saved’ or something like that. I started to pray again. I had not prayed in I don’t know how many years. And this depression, this sadness, started to drift away. I began to feel a deep happiness.
After about six months with these brothers (I did not go back to London), I joined a brotherhood called the Benedictine Brothers and they gave me a name, Brother Michael (when you join, they give you a different name). That was 1982. I went through the stages of formation and in 1984, I took my vows of chastity, poverty, obedience and stability. I became a brother.
In the same year that I took my vows, I came into conflict with members of the community because I had so many ideas about being a Christian and a brother. But the community I was with was very traditional and I felt there was more that could be done.
I appeared to them like I was radical. I took my vows in February and in May, they asked me to leave.
It was not upsetting; it was traumatic. I was 28. I felt betrayed by God, by myself. I really went through the biggest internal suffering of my life because I had left the world to join this community and now I was being told to go back to the world. I was totally devastated. I remember telling God, ‘… I left London and came looking for you, now I have been chased out. I am going back to London, I will make more money, become rich and I will be very happy.’
But before leaving, I hung around for about one year. I tried to negotiate with the people who had expelled me from the monastery, but it did not work out. That was also when I started a project with youths in the slums.
I rented a mud-house in Kitui-Majengo slum in Nairobi. This was an area where people were smoking marijuana, but I used to gather youths in my small house and we used to sing. I had a small keyboard. I wanted to know what it meant to be totally poor and to have solidarity with poor people.
One of the youths could curve gourds which we would sell to tourists in town. We would spend the evenings singing.
It was very challenging. I became very sick there. You sleep on the ground and fleas bite you. I grew very thin, almost like a reed.
After one year, I said ‘if I don’t get out of this place I am going to die.’ I wrote to friends and they sent me a ticket, and that is how I went back to London in 1985.
On arriving in London, I got my job back in the travel agency. I had kept on good terms with the manager and she said: ‘why not? come back. We even don’t know why you left in the first place.’ I worked for about six months and I tried to go back to my former life; the friends I had been with, the discos I used to go to, travelling around, buying clothes.
And once again, I had this experience of total emptiness. And you see this is something you can’t talk to anyone about. They will say, ‘what is wrong with this person?’ So I ended up going for a retreat to talk to a priest. I told this priest that ‘my life is a failure. I am so confused. I have tried everything and I am so miserable …’
The priest told me that the Catholic Church was looking for people of African background to be priests. He advised me to tell my story to the Archbishop of London and that is how I met Cardinal Basil Hume in the middle of 1986. I told this Cardinal everything; I was very honest with him, and he said: ‘It is not the end. Have you ever thought of becoming a priest?’ I said ‘no; I wanted to be a brother and I failed.’
He said, ‘I would like you to think about becoming a priest. I am going to send you to my seminary and if after one year, you don’t like it, feel free to leave’. I said ‘okay.’
But remember I had not completed A-level, and I told him so. But he said, ‘you go and the Lord will help you.’ I was admitted to the seminary to begin studying philosophy. I was there like on probation because they wanted to see if I could cope with the studies, but I was also there for myself – to see if I wanted to continue. At the end of the year, I passed very well. I did the second year.
In the first year, I started composing music for worship. One of the first songs was called You Will Find Me There. I was leading the choir in the seminary and I was able to develop my music skills.
To rewind a bit, during the time I went to the discos in the late 70s, I had decided to compose because I wanted to be a pop star. I composed two songs; one of them was called Dog in a Disco. The other was called Some Things. You see, there were these talent shows in pubs and I used to go there and sing. People used to clap and say, ‘wow, you are good!’ But I never followed it up. When I went to the seminary, I wrote so many songs. I could fill another 10 albums without adding any new compositions.
So, I went through the priest formation for eight years and was ordained in 1994. I asked Cardinal Hume for permission to be ordained in Uganda because my mother was here, my relatives were here and it would have been expensive to transport them to London. He sent a letter to Cardinal Wamala and he agreed to ordain me here.
Many of my friends came from England to witness my ordination at Lubaga. The ceremony was also attended by my mother’s family and my ex-teachers from Kisubi. Some of them came to see if it was really true that Musaala was becoming a Catholic priest. It was like nobody could believe it. I think they said, ‘if Musaala can become a priest, God is there! There is hope for all of us.’
I went back to London and worked for two years, after which I began to feel a strong desire to come to live in Uganda. What I realised is that we don’t plan our lives. I am the person who had said, ‘I will never come back to Uganda’ and now I am working in London and want to come to Uganda!
Of course things had been so bad under Amin. Now Museveni had taken power, things were getting better. I felt I wanted to be part of the new Uganda. I wanted to come home and make my contribution.
So I shared this thought with my Bishop and he was very disappointed. He said look, ‘we ordained you because we are looking for black priests. We have invested in you and now you say you are going to Uganda?’
So Cardinal Hume was not happy; but in the end he let me return. However, he said, ‘it is a great loss to our diocese. We needed you to be a priest here; maybe you would have become a very senior priest; who knows what God had in stock for you here?’
Cardinal Hume really loved me. He saw many things in me and now I was telling him ‘bye’. I was hearing something telling me ‘go home’. And I really struggled with it. I prayed about it for a year … Eventually I had to return to Kyaddondo, near Kampala.
My Bishop had to write a letter asking if Cardinal Wamala would accept me as a priest in his diocese. Cardinal Wamala accepted me first as a priest on loan and after four years I was fully incardinated into the Archdiocese of Kampala.
I came back in 1996 and was posted to Ggaba Parish. While there, I got the idea to make an album. I started composing Luganda songs and made my first album which was called Katonda Taata, around 1999. I have made all my albums in Kasiiwukira Studios. But the first album, very few people bought it because it was not marketed. Still, I recovered all the expenses. It probably sold 2,000 tapes.
In the second album, Jesus is Coming, I included one song from the Mujje Tumutendereze (Luganda Hymn Book), which is Tusinde ffenna mu kisinde, but I decided to do this song to Afro-beat style. On the album, that is the one song that captured people’s hearts. That is the song which made me famous because it is the one that won the PAM Award the first time. Everybody seemed to like it – the Catholics, Pentecostals, Anglicans.
And to me it was very interesting because I never intended to become a Gospel artiste. I was just doing something that I enjoyed. And then people would say the song was so nice: ‘Father, thanks so much! We saw you on TV singing and dancing. We have never seen a Catholic priest doing this.’ The Catholics would say ‘Father webale kutujjayo nti naffe tuyinza okubaako kye tukola (thank you for showing that we can also do something).’
And that is a very important statement because Catholics are so talented musically, but when it came to gospel music, we were not represented. Some people even thought it was not allowed for a Catholic to sing and dance like that. People were buying all these gospel albums without any by a Catholic.
I think of my celebrity status as a kind of value added to my priesthood. I don’t see it as being negative. What does it mean to be a celebrity? It means you become a public figure. For me as a preacher, that is what I need. It gives me a platform to reach out to many people I would never be able to communicate to. It is so wonderful to be able to bring joy to so many people.
For instance, I go to town or walk into a shop and there will be people who will either point at, whisper or say something. You are always on stage. You are always being watched. But I think that is also an opportunity to witness who you are. The way in which you interact with your fans can say a lot about your faith.
You find people and they say, ‘Father, I saw you on TV, but now I am seeing you live.’ I actually bless people on the streets; they tell me their issues. It is an opportunity to evangelise and to share God’s love.
People look at you as a whole package; as a human being, as singer. When I am interacting with my fans or the public, it is at different levels and it is very important for me to accept people where they are and to accept the kind of response they want to have towards me.
And I can always use that response to show that person the love of God or to give them a kind word or a word of encouragement.
Jesus Christ was very attractive. We read in the Bible that there were all these women who were following him. He was a man. He was not married and so he was like an eligible bachelor. But more important, he radiated love. He was an attractive person physically, sexually, intellectually, psychologically. What did Jesus do with that? He was able to draw people into a relationship with himself in which they could experience the love of God.
When you are 51 and have been to all the places I have been, you have this experience and you can tell what someone is going to say even before they open their mouth. You just need to be very skilful in ensuring that you don’t get caught up in people’s emotional jungle. You learn to create boundaries. And you see, I am very tactile; I hug people all the time and someone can say ‘father you have hugged me, now I will take a week without bathing’ – Ooh!
I think celibacy is a sacrifice in the same way that a married person would make certain sacrifices in terms of not having certain things for the sake of their children – a sacrifice of love; a sacrifice you do for the sake of a greater good.
When a man is getting married and he has had 10 girlfriends, he has to decide to stop seeing the other nine and in some cases a married man may be living away from his wife – and if you have made a commitment and you want to have integrity, you will try to be faithful.
I look at celibacy as a sacrifice that I have to make and it costs something.
But I also believe that celibacy for chastity is not possible without grace of the Holy Spirit. In fact, celibacy is not about not having sex; it is about being single – to have a single lover, a single purpose for your life. Jesus himself never married. Paul never married.
The Church in her long history has seen the advantages of celibacy. If the Bishop wants to move me from here to Mpigi, I don’t have to think about where my children are schooling. He just uproots me and sends me there like a soldier because I don’t have family baggage. It also means the Church does not have to provide for my family. And when people have family, property becomes very important: The wonderful thing in the Catholic Church is that the property of the Church remains in the Church. There are no children who have to inherit it.
Now, there are disadvantages of celibacy: priests are human beings and they also have a need for a partner. There will be time when a priest will suffer loneliness. This can make a priest vulnerable and we know that priests have fallen. But the number of those who fall is small compared to those who are faithful. You must also remember that married people fall, although they have wives.
I think for any priest to say that they have never had such moments would be dishonesty. However, I counsel married couples and I know the tremendous difficulties of married life and raising children. Sometimes I think, ‘thank God!’ It is a double-sided coin because there are also moments when I am like, ‘I have not had children!’
When you take celibacy vows, it is not like an automatic magic wand which makes all your human emotions disappear. But actually, it is a grace and without prayer, you cannot live as a celibate priest. I also believe that since celibacy is a Church discipline, the Church can also change it and it may one day decide to do that. But the Church also looks at what works, what has worked.
One of the highest moments in my life was the day I received the gift of tongues in Germany in 1985. Having been expelled from the monastery, I went to appeal to the headquarters in Germany. As the appeal was going on, I was asked to stay in a monastery in Bavaria for five months. One Sunday I went for a walk and very near the monastery there was an American Army base.
I saw black people walk in and out and I also walked in and saw a chapel. I thought that ‘if there is a Catholic group here, they pray in English’ because in the monastery we were praying in German. Inside the chapel, there were black Americans and they had a Pentecostal Church and they were clapping and dancing.
Then they started speaking in tongues – it’s like a language of the Holy Spirit. I found myself singing in those tongues. At some point the leader told them to stop and I couldn’t stop singing. I just continued, tears coming down my cheeks and they realised that something had happened to me. They came and put their hands on me and after about 10 minutes, I collapsed on the floor. That is why when you see these things on TV as an outsider, you ask yourself, ‘Are they real?’ I felt an indescribable joy.
My ordination was of course another moment.
My lowest moment was the death of my father. He was murdered in June 1986. It was a very dark day. And my mother’s death. She died in my arms at Mulago Hospital in 2003. It is a terrible feeling to feel totally powerless when you are watching someone you love die.
I don’t know what God is going to do next. I don’t know what is going to happen.”
In writing both the world and the west into my title, and writing the two words in that order, I was doing both things deliberately, because I wanted to make two points that seem to me essential for an understanding of our subject. The first point is that the west has never been all of the world that matters. The west has not been the only actor on the stage of modern history even at the peak of the west’s power (and this peak has perhaps now already been passed). My second point is this: in the encounter between the world and the west that has been going on now for 400 or 500 years, the world, not the west, is the party that, up to now, has had the significant experience. It has not been the west that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit – and hit hard – by the west; and that is why, in my title, I have put the world first.
Let us try, for a few minutes, to slip out of our native western skins and look at this encounter between the world and the west through the eyes of the great non-western majority of mankind. Different though the non-western peoples of the world may be from one another in race, language, civilisation, and religion, if we ask them their opinion of the west, we shall hear them all giving us the same answer: Russians, Moslems, Hindus, Chinese, Japanese, and all the rest. The west, they will tell us, has been the arch-aggressor of modern times, and each will have their own experience of western aggression to bring up against us. The Russians will remind us that their country has been invaded by western armies overland in 1941, 1915, 1812, 1709, and 1610; the peoples of Africa and Asia will remind us that western missionaries, traders, and soldiers from across the sea have been pushing into their countries from the coasts since the fifteenth century. The Asians will also remind us that, within the same period, the westerners have occupied the lion’s share of the world’s last vacant lands in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and South and East Africa. The Africans will remind us that they were enslaved and deported across the Atlantic in order to serve the European colonisers of the Americas as living tools to minister to their western masters’ greed for wealth. The descendants of the aboriginal population of North America will remind us that their ancestors were swept aside to make room for the west European intruders and for their African slaves.
This indictment will surprise, shock, grieve, and perhaps even outrage most of us westerners today. Dutch westerners are conscious of having evacuated Indonesia, and British westerners of having evacuated India, Pakistan, Burma, and Ceylon, since 1945.
That was all the territory Britain had lost by 1952, except for Palestine and concessions in China. We lost none, except Sudan (which was an Anglo-Egyptian “condominium”) and a military base at Suez, between Ceylon on February 4 1948 (which completed our evacuation of the subcontinent) and Ghana on March 6 1957.
1952 was also a year of direct British and American interference in the internal affairs of Iran.
British westerners have no aggressive war on their consciences since the South African war of 1899-1902, and American westerners none since the Spanish-American war of 1898. We forget all too easily that the Germans, who attacked their neighbours, including Russia, in the First World War and again in the Second World War, are westerners too, and that the Russians, Asians, and Africans do not draw fine distinctions between different hordes of “Franks” – which is the world’s common name for westerners in the mass. “When the world passes judgment, it can be sure of having the last word”, according to a well-known Latin proverb. And certainly the world’s judgment on the west does seem to be justified over a period of about four and a half centuries ending in 1945. In the world’s experience of the west during all that time, the west has been the aggressor on the whole; and, if the tables are being turned on the west by Russia and China today, this is a new chapter of the story which did not begin until after the end of the Second World War. The west’s alarm and anger at recent acts of Russian and Chinese aggression at the west’s expense are evidence that, for westerners, it is today still a strange experience to be suffering at the hands of the world what the world has been suffering at western hands for a number of centuries past.
The lectures introduced ideas which would be developed in the eighth volume of the Study.
In the encounter between the world and the west that has been going on now for 400 or 500 years, the world, not the west […], has had the significant experience
is the most striking sentence. These views were shocking, as he says, to many listeners in 1952. They seemed defeatist.
I have taken this from a transcript on the BBC website, not from the printed book: there may be differences. The transcript probably shows what was printed in The Listener. I have made the use of upper case in references to world wars consistent.
The lectures were published in book form as
The World and the West, OUP, 1953