An Anarchist in Africa

Submitted by Reddebrek on March 21, 2019

AS AN INTRODUCTION TO THIS ARTICLE it is my intention to establish that, through my ancestors and myself, I can claim to be a person who is interested in helping Africa rather than exploiting her. This is worth mentioning because many Europeans who have been associated with Africa have been greedy exploiters, taking rather than giving, destroying rather than building.

There is however a tradition in Africa which speaks for European radicals. It can be seen historically in the life-work of Livingstone; today men like Guy Clutton-Brock and Terence Ranger fit into this tradition. In Africa “the liberals” are renowned for courage and determination, they are a proud example of belief being transferred into action; unlike the weak liberalism of the European countries Africa’s liberalism is tough and practical. Its radical toughness places it close to the anarchist philosophy.

I can claim some association with the Livingstonian tradition. My great-grandmother was the sister of Adam Sedgewick, a close friend of Livingstone’s. Adam Sedgewick as a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge was influential in assisting Livingstone. Of Livingstone Sedgewick wrote: “He stood before us a plain, single-minded, cheerful man and he addressed us in unadorned and simple words.” The authors of Sedgewick’s biography1 report that when Sedgewick spoke at a meeting in Cambridge after Livingstone “he entreated his hearers not merely to welcome and thank Livingstone for what he had said, but to carry forward the noble work which he had so auspiciously begun. His words were few, but well chosen, and when he sat down the applause told that they had gone straight to the hearts of his hearers.”

Sedgewick, as can be seen, was a rather sentimental Christian and his attitude was a trifle exalted but when Livingstone’s “Lectures” were published and Sedgewick wrote the preface the authors of his biography write that “Probably nothing contributed more directly to the establishment of the Universities Mission to Central Africa than this short essay.”

Writing of the Livingstonian tradition in Central Africa Patrick Keatley2 mentions the two empire builders of Rhodesia, Cecil Rhodes who “built with money and military power” and David Livingstone who “built his empire in the abiding allegiances of men.” Keatley quotes an old African friend of Livingstone’s who wrote of Livingstone as a person who “treated black men as brothers” and whose “words were always gentle and manners kind, and who knew the way to the hearts of all men.”

For myself I feel it legitimate to claim that to teach in an African run school in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia for close on a year at half wages is evidence of a desire to help the African people. I have worked out that the amount of money due but not paid to me by Highfield Community School is rather more than the contribution made to the school by the British South Africa Company over the same year.

The School

In his description of the birth of Highfield Community School3, Mr. Chinamano the Principal of the School paints the background to the story by mentioning the lodger system which operates in the Highfield African Township of Salisbury. These lodgers were allowed in Highfield so that the owners of the houses would be better able to pay off instalments on their houses. But “because, according to law, children of lodgers may not enter government schools, this year (1962) more than 1,500 children found themselves without schooling.”

Mr. Chinamano goes on to describe the demonstrations that the children made for schools. “Government” he wryly remarks “decided to stick to the legal aspect and dispersed the children with tear-gas. Determined to get school, these youngsters decided to ‘Invade’ classrooms demanding to be taught. And again government turned deaf ears to the demands of the children and instead charged them with trespass.” Eventually the community of Highfield formed an association to provide schooling for the children.
“By means of this self-help effort”, Mr. Chinamano continues, “Africans were able in a matter of a week, to raise about £3,000 as “school fees.” The Government tolerated the establishment of the school but did not support it and a fund-raising campaign was started. Enough money was raised and church halls and old shops were lent or given to the school, 32 teachers were employed and 1,300 children provided with school.
An interesting comment is made by the School Principal in his report when he writes: “The Highfield Community School Association is convinced that the answer to this educational crisis lies in the hands of the people and not of the Government. As a result of the Highfield scheme various centres in the country are establishing similar locally supported schools.”

In September 1963 I left Britain to teach at the Highfield Community School. A return to Livingstonia was evident in the fact that a trustee of the school, Sir Robert Tredgold is related to Livingstone. It was not my first visit to Rhodesia, those interested in my earlier experiences with the Northern Rhodesia Government can find them related in the “University Libertarian” No. 11.

Before I was able to enter Rhodesia the body which was sponsoring my journey, the Scottish Union of Students, received a cable attempting to stop them sending me. It was claimed, I am informed, that I was a Communist. Obviously the British secret police and the Rhodesian Government work hand in hand and distort the facts in the process. However by the time a final cable forbidding me to go to Rhodesia had arrived in Britain I was in the air being transported, ironically enough, by the South African Airways, armed with a work permit issued in some bureaucratic error.

Whilst I was teaching at the school the number of children there rose to 1,800 and the number of teachers increased. From month to month the school just managed to pay salaries and even the Government provided a little when all else failed. As a correspondent of The Times pointed out in an article about the school “As a social service it has an undoubted value, recognised by the police in keeping potential juvenile delinquents occupied throughout a full working day.” The school was also important to African nationalists as a demonstration of their creativeness and practicality.

Conditions at the school were poor. Classes were over 50 in number, text books were scarce, classrooms became very stuffy and hot in the warm weather, the load for teachers was very heavy. Yet through all this a cheerful school emerged. A memorable Christmas carol concert was given by the school to the community and African songs became part of the concert.

Many is the time at the end of an exhausting day when one could hear three or four children singing together in a classroom demonstrating the Africans’ great love of song. I taught History, English and Biology mainly to the class preparing for ‘O’ level and the intensity of their political views over-reached itself in the history classes, whilst in Biology total lack of equipment meant experiments were impossible.

Trouble for the school started earlier this year when the Principal of the School Mr. Chinamano was arrested with Joshua Nkomo and restricted to a remote area of Southern Rhodesia. It seemed to all of us that the Government was set on destroying the school and we heard rumours of plans to close it down. Somehow we managed to struggle on but in recent months an unhappy series of events has brought the school to its knees.

I can quote from an article I wrote for the African “Daily News”4 shortly before I left Rhodesia which explains the position. “We have had a very hard time recently at the school. Somebody has organised a disruptive element both inside and outside the school.
“These thugs have made teaching difficult. They have broken down the desire to learn and they have intimidated the children into demanding that all teachers with affiliations to the Zimbabwe African National Union should be boycotted.

“Three of the longest serving and most loyal members of staff were attacked or boycotted by the children at the school. It was a deplorable exhibition of children being used for political motives.
“Indeed Mr. Chinamano in his letter to me wrote: “I was sorry to bear that Mr. Mafukidze was subjected to unhealthy treatment by the students.”
“He wrote this because he knows it is fatal if politics, rather than education, is the main consideration at the school.
“Nevertheless, when the teachers had been boycotted I was shocked to discover shortly afterwards that the teachers in question had been replaced. They had not resigned, they had not been dismissed but they had been replaced.
“I was dismayed that the committee of the school could allow themselves to be intimidated into treating these teachers so unjustly.
“It was after this that I decided to resign in the hope that it would be realised the unjust treatment of the teachers was not condoned by this particular member of staff.
“I would emphasise that my action has no political motive. It is action over the principle of a person being victimised for his opinions.
“If the tables were turned and a PCC teacher was victimised for his opinions I would take similar action.
“I believe, very strongly, that education dominated by politics becomes indoctrination and that this worthless substitute for the real thing is a mark of totalitarianism. For a political movement to have control of children’s minds is fatal—no freedom can flourish in such an atmosphere. An attitude of slavish obedience is driven into the malleable minds of the children so that they cannot think for themselves.
“All I can do is ask you, for your own sakes to build a sense of toleration of other people’s views. Do not follow the example of Ian Smith and call those who disagree with you enemies of the people. Do not repeat the worst mistakes of European history where dictators have sought to wipe out the flower of freedom.”
That I was advised to leave Rhodesia at the earliest opportunity after the publication of this article shows that it had some effect at least.

African Nationalism

Writing in ANARCHY No. 3 on “Africa and the Future” in May 1961 I wrote: “Whatever one says or thinks of the African nationalist politicians, it is good to see a people throwing off the yoke of colonialism. To me the thought of one nation forcing its customs and culture on to another is so despicable that I rejoice in the fact that the Africans want to make their own way. This is what gains my qualified support for the various struggles for independence. What I do emphasise however, is that the struggle is only for independence and is, sadly, nothing to do with freedom.” My recent experiences of African nationalism as related above confirm, to my mind, this approach. A time has come to get the matter of African nationalism in its true perspective. It is in fact a concept which is dangerous to those ideals which anarchists hold dear. I have lost all patience with pacifists who support the “non-violent” Kenneth Kaunda and greet the slaughter of 300 Africans by Kaunda’s
Government with silence. No amount of double-talk can justify the person who mouths words about fair play and turns a blind eye to the brutal and cruel treatment meted out by Africans to other Africans who oppose them.

One reads a letter to the Daily Telegraph5 by the Minister of Justice in Northern Rhodesia, Mainza Chona with unutterable disgust. Concerning the suppression of the Lumpa sect in Northern Rhodesia the Minister of Justice writes: “Your sympathy for these savages is giving rise to suspicions that an imperialist may be a brain behind Lenshina.” He continues to complain that “In Chinsali the Lumpa Church was not merely non-political; it was positively anti-politics. Its leaders hurled the worst and most primitive abusive curses at leading politicians.” For myself, having seen at close quarters the workings of African politics I would commend wholeheartedly the anti-political stand taken by the Lumpa Church.

Anarchism has been of relevance to a few Africans in the present age. In the war years Jomo Kenyatta wrote for the anarchist press, but look at him now, a committed centralist. The Foreign Minister of Zanzibar has claimed an intellectual sympathy with anarchism and Kaunda is friendly with the libertarian John Papworth. Although the whole direction of events in Africa seems to be rushing away from anarchism I am confident that soon the shortcomings of African nationalism will be seen and lessons will be learnt.

The mutinies in East Africa and the general strike in Nigeria are pointers to the fact that the African people are not content with black leaders who line their own pockets at the expense of the people. In my own experience I know the communal ideas of anarchism are of instinctive interest to Africans.

We may yet see the day when the end of white supremacist rule in Southern Africa coincides with the African people awakening to the ideas of anarchist communism as they appreciate the similarities of the white settler rulers and the black rulers. One only needs to add that these twin events in Africa would involve the Iberian peninsula in a resurgence of the anarcho-syndicalist struggle set off by the overthrow of Salazar.

1 Life and Letters of Sedgewick by Clark & Hughes. 2 Vols. (Cambridge Univ. Press).
2 The Politics of Partnership by Patrick Keatley (Pelican).
3 The Story of Highfield Community School by J. M. Chinamano.
4 “Why I Resigned from Community School” by Jeremy Westall (Daily News 29/7 /64).
5 “Lumpa Sect Crimes” by Mainza Chona (Daily Telegraph 13/8/64).