Archive for the 'Africa' Category

Of things unseen

I have remarked before that anyone who has spent any extended period living in Africa or Asia will have encountered people with strong beliefs, based on their own direct, personal experiences, in the existence of a non-material realm.   In many places, the overwhelming majority of people have such beliefs.  It may be that the majority of westerners, too, have had such experiences but our contemporary culture (pseudo-rationalist materialism arising from a Protestant disdain for the supernatural, pagan aspects of Catholicism) inhibits their public expression, or even, sometimes, their private recognition.

Strangely, my thoughts on this subject I find mirrored uncannily by Lafcadio Hearn, writing 120 years ago.  Here is Hearn, writing about Shintô temples in Japan and his reactions to the associated beliefs:

Why certain architectural forms produce in the beholder a feeling of weirdness is a question about which I should like to theorize some day; at present I shall venture  only to say that Shintô shrines evoke such a feeling.  It grows with familiarity instead of weakening; and a knowledge of popular beliefs is apt to intensify it.   We have no English words by which these queer shapes can be sufficiently described, – much less any language able to communicate the peculiar impression which they make.  Those Shintô terms which we loosely render by the words “temple” and “shrine” are really [page-break] untranslatable; — I mean that the Japanese ideas attaching to them cannot be conveyed by translation.  The so-called “august house” of the Kami is not so much a temple, in the classic meaning of the term, as it is a haunted room, a spirit-chamber, a ghost-house; many of the lesser divinities being veritably ghosts, — ghosts of great warriors and heroes and rulers and teachers, who lived and loved and died hundreds or thousands of years ago.  I fancy that to the Western mind the word “ghost-house” will convey, better than such terms as “shrine” and “temple,” some vague notion of the strange character of the Shintô miya or yashiro, — containing in its  perpetual dusk nothing more substantial than symbols or tokens, the latter probably of paper.   Now the emptiness behind the visored front is more suggestive than anything  material could possibly be; and when you remember that millions of people during thousands of years have worshiped their great dead before such yashiro, — that a whole race still believes those buildings tenanted by viewless conscious personalities, — you are apt also to reflect how difficult it would be to prove the [page-break] faith absurd.  Nay!  In spite of Occidental reluctances, — in spite of whatever you may think it expedient to say or not to say at a later time about the experience, — you may very likely find yourself for a moment forced into the attitude of respect towards possibilities.   Mere cold reasoning will not help you far in the opposite direction.  The evidence of the senses counts for little:  you know there are ever so many realities which can neither be seen nor heard nor felt, but which exist as forces, — tremendous forces.  Then again you cannot mock the conviction of forty millions of people while that conviction thrills all about you like air, — while conscious that it is pressing upon your psychical being just as the atmosphere presses upon your physical being.  As for myself, whenever I am alone in the presence  of a Shintô shrine, I have the sensation of being haunted; and I cannot help thinking about the possible apperceptions  of the haunter.  And this tempts me to fancy how I should feel if I myself were a god, — dwelling in some old Izumo shrine on the summit of a hill, guarded by stone lions and  shadowed by a holy grove. (Hearn 1897, pages 2-4)”



Lafcadio Hearn [1897]: Gleanings in Buddha-Fields: Studies of Hand and Soul in the Far East. London, UK:   Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Company Limited.

Historic compromises


After the coup in Chile in 1973 which overthrew the democratically-elected administration of Salvador Allende (and which killed him and many others), the Eurocommunist left in Western Europe spoke of the need to have a grand “historic compromise” before entering Government: enjoining the centre and centre-right to support a coalition of national unity, so as to preclude, or at least inhibit, the right from undermining an elected government of the left.  One of the ironies of history was that it was the left in government – the communist regimes of Eastern Europe – which were forced to forge such grand compromises, by conducting negotiations and sometimes forming coalitions (albeit, short-lived) with their non-communist opponents in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and even Zimbabwe.

ARM Members

The African Resistance Movement (ARM) was an underground movement engaged in sabotage and violent resistance to the South African apartheid regime. Formed in late 1960, it just predates MK and Poqo, the armed wings of the ANC and PAC, respectively (although its public announcement occurred 5 days after that of MK). The founders of the ARM were members of the non-racial Liberal Party, whose leaders had been arrested, detained, and banned in the state of emergency declared in the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre in March 1960.  Both the ANC and PAC were declared banned organizations in that same period.  These government actions led many reasonable people to believe that peaceful, democratic protest was no longer possible in South Africa.  The ANC, after all, had been engaged in peaceful public protest since its formation in 1912 and still found itself declared illegal.

The ARM operated between 1960 and mid 1964.  According to South African History Online, ARM members came from three distinct groups:  members of the Liberal Party, who were mostly white;  former members of the Transvaal ANC Youth League who had defected to form the African Freedom Movement, who were mostly black;  and, former members of the South African Communist Party, some of whom were Trotskyites who had been expelled from the party.  Jonty Driver estimates that the ARM had 58 members: 17 in Cape Town, 27 in Johannesburg, and 14 elsewhere (Durban, PE, Grahamstown, Europe and Canada).  I can find no list of members online, so decided to compile my own.  My sources are given below.

The clear policy of the organization was to not undertake any actions in which people could be hurt. All but one of the 25 actions undertaken adhered to this rule. Most involved attempts to bring down power pylons or similar state-owned infrastructure.  The final action, a bomb left in a suitcase on Johannesburg Railway Station on the afternoon of 24 July 1964, sadly killed one elderly lady, Mrs Ethel Rhys, and maimed several others, including her teenage grand-daughter.  Warning calls had been placed to the police and to two newspapers, but no efforts were made by the authorities to clear the platform.  It is still not known whether this inaction was deliberate or not.

The planting of a bomb in a station was contrary to ARM policy and practice, and was undertaken when almost all ARM members had been arrested or had fled into exile. It was the solo work of John Harris, who was subsequently tried and executed for murder. Harris was the only white person tried and executed by the apartheid regime for a political crime (although others, such as Rick Turner and Ruth First, were assassinated without judicial process).  Several ARM members received gaol terms, and I note these below.  Members of ARM also bravely assisted in spiriting people out of the country, both fellow ARM members and others wanted by the security police,  as did the  underground railroad that operated later in Rhodesia. One ARM member, Michael Schneider, went on to help spirit Jewish people out of various countries, including Bosnia, Ethiopia, Iran, Syria and Yemen.

The decision by any individual to embark on a campaign of violent resistance cannot have been an easy one, even given the already-evident violence of the state and its organs in South Africa.  Moreover, with organisations such as the ANC declared illegal,  ARM membership would likely have led to arrest, and arrest to torture or worse, as indeed it did.  Thus, ARM membership would have required considerable courage.

  • Monty Berman (co-founder)
  • Myrtle Berman
  • Alan Brooks (1940-2008) (4 years, 2 suspended)
  • Eddie Daniels (15 years)
  • Johannes Dladla
  • Raymond Eisenstein (2 years)
  • David Evans (5 years)
  • John Harris (1937-1965) (executed)
  • Dennis Higgs
  • David de Keller (10 years)
  • Baruch Hirson (1921-1999) (9 years)
  • Stephanie Kemp (5 years, 3 suspended)
  • John Lang (co-founder)
  • John Laredo (5 years)
  • Adrian Leftwich (1940-2013)
  • Hugh Lewin (7 years)
  • John Lloyd
  • Ruben Mowszowski
  • Hillary Mutch
  • Ronnie Mutch
  • Samuel Olifant
  • Rhoda Prager
  • Lynette van der Riet
  • Neville Rubin
  • Diana Russell
  • Michael Schneider
  • Stephen Segale
  • Milton Setlhapelo
  • Willie Tibane
  • Antony Trew (4 years, 2 suspended)
  • Rick Turner (1942-1978)
  • Randolph Vigne (1928-2016)
  • Robert Watson
  • Ernest Wentzel
  • Rosemary Wentzel.

I welcome any updates or corrections.


CJ ‘Jonty’ Driver [2002]: Used to be great friends. Granta, 80:7-26.

CJ ‘Jonty’ Driver [2015]: The Man with the Suitcase: The Life, Execution and Rehabilitation of John Harris, Liberal Terrorist. Crane River.

Adrian Leftwich [2002]: I gave the names. Granta, 78:9-31.

Hugh Lewin [2011]: Stones against the Mirror: Friendship in the time of the South African Struggle. Cape Town, RSA: Umuzi.

Gideon Shimoni [2003]: Community and Conscience:  The Jews in Apartheid South Africa.  Waltham, MA, USA:  Brandeis University Press.

South African History Online: African Resistance Movement


Postscript (Added 2016-01-17): In his apologia, the late Adrian Leftwich describes his behaviour as “shameful, harmful and wrong” (2002, page 25).  It is not clear to me if he is referring to his membership of ARM as a whole (which is the focus of the preceding part of that section of the memoir) or just his fast collapse under police interrogation, a collapse in which he gave up the names of his fellow members.  In either case, he was mistaken. Everyone in such circumstances will eventually succumb to torture and so there is no shame and no wrong in giving up names.  There was harm, but this arose from the speed of his collapse (he held out just a day, it seems) and the extent of his prior knowledge.  Membership of ARM was certainly neither wrong nor shameful – quite the reverse, in fact – and only for one action harmful. Where Leftwich appeared to have erred, at this distance of time and morality, is in tradecraft: he should not have known so much about the organization, nor its membership (ie, he should have had fewer names to give up); he should not have saved a field guide for selecting targets in a book in his flat; his girlfriend should not have stored explosives in her flat; he and the other members should have made plans to alert one another, via coded or secret means, of any arrests; they should each have had well-practised plans and places for hiding, or plans for escape abroad; etc.  In a sense, the poor tradecraft was an indication of integrity of intentions: anyone engaged in armed struggle for its own sake, or for the thrills it provided, would have been more professional in undertaking it. Leftwich, like his colleagues, remains a hero.

Chickens, roosting, home

Re-reading Ian Hancock’s fine history of liberal white politics in Rhodesia reminds me that the first politician in that sad country to harass and intimidate his political opponents was not Robert Gabriel Mugabe, but Ian Douglas Smith. Smith and his Rhodesian Front party arrested, tortured, silenced, detained, and killed black opponents of white rule.  As far as I know, no white opponents were murdered, but they were arrested, deported, silenced, shouted-down in public meetings, made the victims of malicious innuendo, traduction, and defamation, and otherwise intimidated if they dared oppose RF rule.  I know at least one opponent who committed suicide rather than kill his fellow citizens in defence of white privilege.  These actions, Smith insisted, were for the maintenance of Western, Christian, values. Bah, humbug! As early as May 1965, in Smith’s first election as an incumbent prime minister, he prevented any white or black opposition politician from gaining access to state-owned media.  In contrast, Smith himself was treated with great deference and respect, despite continuing to hold racist views that would have shamed a Klansman, after Mugabe came to power in 1980.  He should have been tried as a war criminal.  In a more just world, he would have been.

The terror that Robert Mugabe has unleashed on his homeland is different in scale, perhaps, but not in kind from that of Ian Smith.  The evil that men do may well outlive them.


Ian Hancock [1984]: White Liberals, Moderates and Radicals in Rhodesia 1953-1980. New York: St Martin’s Press.

All Africa within us

There is all Africa and her prodigies in us; we are that bold and adventurous piece of Nature which he that studies wisely learns in a compendium what others labour at in a divided piece and endless volume  . . . There is no man alone, because every man is a microcosm and carries the whole world about him.”

Thomas Browne [1928]: The Works of Sir Thomas Browne (Editor: G. Keynes), Volume 2. London.

I stumbled across this quotation in the Menzies Library of ANU one weekend afternoon in Autumn 1980, and it led me to embark on an African adventure, spending six years in Zimbabwe and Lesotho.

Transitions 2013

People who have passed on during 2013 whose life or works have influenced me:

  • Joan Child (1921-2013), Australian politician, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Commonwealth of Australia
  • Molly Clutton-Brock (1912-2013), British/Zimbabwean community organizer and anti-racism campaigner
  • Peter Geach (1916-2013), British philosopher and logician
  • Norman Geras (1943-2013), Zimbabwean/British political philosopher and blogger
  • Natalia Gorbanevskaya (1936-2013), Russian/Polish poet and political activist
  • Michael Heath (1956-2013), American USNavy SEAL and businessman
  • Fr Stan Hosie (1922-2013), Australian/American priest, teacher, swimming coach, life member of the Far North Coast Amateur Swimming Association, and co-founder of the third-world development charity Counterpart International
  • Doris Lessing (1919-2013), Zimbabwean/British writer and political activist
  • John Makumbe (1949-2013), Zimbabwean political scientist and democracy activist
  • Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African freedom fighter and political leader
  • Teresa Toranska (1944-2013), Polish journalist and writer.

Last year’s post is here.

Courage and luck

A dialog from Nadine Gordimer’s novel, A Guest of Honour (page 222):

‘Why does playing safe always seem to turn out to be so dangerous?’

‘It’s unlucky . . .

. . . because you’re too scared to take a chance.’

‘It’s unlucky to lack courage?’

‘That’s it.  You have to go ahead into what’s coming, trust to luck.  Because if you play safe you don’t have any, anyway.’

‘It’s forfeited?’


The death of Enos Nkala

The death has occurred of Enos Nkala (1932-2013), co-founder of ZANU, former Zimbabwean Senator, and ZANU-PF Minister in the government of Robert Mugabe (1980-1989).  As Minister for Home Affairs, he was chief prosecutor of the Gukurahundi, the brutal genocidal campaign waged by ZANU-PF against supporters of PF-Zapu and the people of Matabeleland.    This prosecution was undertaken despite Nkala being Ndebele himself.   In a more just world, he would have died in prison.

The Telegraph obituary of Nkala is here.  The writer says:

Nkala became Mugabe’s most feared enforcer after the collapse of an uneasy coalition between the ruling Zanu-PF party and Joshua Nkomo, the leader of the Zapu party. This was essentially a truce between Zimbabwe’s two largest tribes: Mugabe’s majority Shona people and Nkomo’s Ndebele. The deal fell apart in 1982 when Nkomo was ejected from the cabinet and accused of planning armed rebellion.

This supposed plot was almost certainly an invention, but Mugabe retaliated in January 1983 by sending a special army unit to Matabeleland, the home of the Ndebele in western Zimbabwe. The Fifth Brigade’s task was to wage war on the population, eradicating Zapu and enforcing support for Mugabe by terror and violence.”

Well, either Joshua Nkomo was plotting against the government of Robert Mugabe while he was a Minister in that government or he was not.  At the press conference he gave in Salisbury (as it still then was) in February 1982 upon his dismissal, Nkomo was reported by Newsweek (February 1982) to have  admitted that he had indeed sought the assistance of the apartheid Government of South Africa to stage a coup and to overthrow Mugabe.   South Africa had, apparently, refused his request.

The crimes of the Mugabe regime against the people of Matabeland were genocidal and deserve to be punished as crimes against humanity.   It does not diminish these crimes in any way to say the truth – that Mugabe’s government was also right to be suspicious of plots by PF-Zapu and Nkomo to overthrow by illegal, unparliamentary means the legitimately-elected, majority government of Zimbabwe.   Later in 1982, somebody – and this was no paranoid invention of a crazed megalomaniac – blew up most of the planes of the Zimbabwean Air Force while they were parked on an airforce base at Gweru.  The plots and enemies of ZANU-PF were real.


Influential Books

This is a list of non-fiction books which have greatly influenced me – making me see the world differently or act in it differently.  They are listed chronologically according to when I first encountered them.

  • 2009 – J. Scott Turner [2007]:  The Tinkerer’s Accomplice: How Design Emerges from Life Itself. (Harvard UP) (Mentioned here.)
  • 2008 – Pierre Delattre [1993]:  Episodes. (St. Paul, MN, USA:  Graywolf Press)
  • 2006 – Mark Evan Bonds [2006]: Music as Thought: Listening to the Symphony in the Age of Beethoven. (Princeton UP)
  • 2006 – Kyle Gann [2006]: Music Downtown: Writings from the Village Voice. (UCal Press)
  • 2001 – George Leonard [2000]: The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons from an American Sensei.
  • 2000 – Stephen E. Toulmin [1990]:  Cosmopolis:  The Hidden Agenda of Modernity.  (University of Chicago Press)
  • 1999 – Michel de Montaigne [1580-1595]:  Essays.
  • 1997 – James Pritchett [1993]:  The Music of John Cage.  (Cambridge UP, UK)
  • 1996 – George Fowler [1995]:  Dance of a Fallen Monk: A Journey to Spiritual Enlightenment. (New York:  Doubleday)
  • 1995 – Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch [1992]:  Thinking Body, Dancing Mind.   (New York: Bantam Books)
  • 1995 – Jon Kabat-Zinn [1994]: Wherever You Go, There You Are.
  • 1995 – Charlotte Joko Beck [1993]: Nothing Special: Living Zen.
  • 1993 – George Leonard [1992]: Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment.
  • 1990 – Trevor Leggett [1987]:  Zen and the Ways.  (Tuttle)
  • 1989 – Grant McCracken [1988]:  Culture and Consumption.
  • 1989 – Teresa Toranska [1988]:  Them:  Stalin’s Polish Puppets.  Translated by Agnieszka Kolakowska.(HarperCollins) (Mentioned here.)
  • 1988 – Henry David Thoreau [1865]:  Cape Cod.
  • 1988 – Rupert Sheldrake [1988]: The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature.
  • 1988 – Dan Rose [1987]:  Black American Street Life: South Philadelphia, 1969-1971. (U Penn Press)
  • 1987 – Jay Neugeboren [1968]:  Reflections at Thirty.
  • 1982 – John Miller Chernoff [1979]: African Rhythm and African Sensibility: Aesthetics and Social Action in African Musical Idioms. (University of Chicago Press)
  • 1981 – Walter Rodney [1972]: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.  (London: Bogle-L’Overture Publications)
  • 1980 – James A. Michener [1971]: Kent State: What happened and Why.
  • 1980 – Andre Gunder Frank [1966]:  The Development of Underdevelopment.  (Monthly Review Press)
  • 1980 – Paul Feyerabend [1975]: Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge.
  • 1979 – Aldous Huxley [1945]:  The Perennial Philosophy.
  • 1978 – Christmas Humphreys [1949]:  Zen Buddhism.
  • 1977 – Raymond Smullyan [1977]:  The Tao is Silent.
  • 1976 – Bertrand Russell [1951-1969]:  The Autobiography.  (London: George Allen & Unwin)
  • 1975 – Jean-Francois Revel [1972]:  Without Marx or Jesus: The New American Revolution Has Begun.
  • 1974 – Charles Reich [1970]: The Greening of America.
  • 1973 – Selvarajan Yesudian and Elisabeth Haich [1953]:  Yoga and Health. (NY:  Harper)

Traffic safety for Zimbabweans

The Mail and Guardian newspaper of South Africa has compiled a list of prominent Zimbabwean politicians who have died in car accidents, here.   Of course, there are other ways to die, as Rex Nhongo found.