Rhodesia, 1922: “A Very Desirable Kind of Socialism”

The whole village had turned out to make bricks, as well as some other Bemba who, to [Stewart] Gore-Browne‘s delight, had returned to the lake on hearing of the ‘mad English bwana‘ and the chance to earn a few shillings. Having never seen a building made from bricks before, they were all intrigued by the process and everyone wanted to join in. ‘We had seen Europeans before and knew they liked building houses,’ recalls Paramount Chief Chitimukulu, who as a young boy worked as a brick carrier at Shiwa, ‘but we had never seen anything like this and it was wonderful to see right in the middle of the bush.’ Already the biggest employer in the whole Chinsali District, Gore-Browne had 110 people on the work register; men at 5d a day, and women and children at 2d. Two men cut the clay out of anthills and the river bed, then others took it to a pit where it was mixed with water brought from the river by small boys. The women mixed the mud and carried it from the kneading pit to the brickmaker who cut and levelled it into a rectangular mould. Once the bricks were made, the women then carried them on their heads to the drying floor, making a jolly sight, Gore-Browne noted in his diary, walking with that classic grace which English women seem to have lost. Behind them follow the old chief and his wife, rounding them up, everyone singing all the while. By midmorning the whole place is resonant with harmony as different work-gangs go back and forth in various directions, all singing. Some came with bundles of grass for thatching, others with poles and blocks of wood which they took to Cowie and Austin who were in charge of the carpentry, building the wooden frame for the house as well as furniture. Gore-Browne smiled as he saw a group of children, none of whom looked older than five, carrying spears, returning from an expedition to search for lime. They had obviously been successful and had chalked their faces with it, causing the dogs to bark in fright.

I feel like a missionary but without the hymn singing, he wrote, watching the scene. He assured his aunt and uncle that he was not about to start urging the natives to copy white man’s ways, and give up their beer-drinking, drumming and polygamy, though he had no qualms about dressing them in European clothes. In fact he hoped that in years to come the skills he was imparting would be passed on, so that the children and grandchildren of his workers would be building their own red-brick houses rather than primitive mud huts. He told Ethel:

It seems a wonderfully right state of affairs and a very desirable kind of socialism. I am cleverer and better equipped than these people so they all work to provide me with what I want, a roof and a garden, but I get them meat and protect their crops from marauding eland and find them money for their tax and few luxuries they can’t get otherwise. Also if an enemy came and burnt their houses or carried off their women, they’d expect me to take up their cause. It’s a fair arrangement and we don’t pretend we’re all equal which we obviously aren’t and when I pass through the village, they fall down and clap their hands and shout my praises. But I know that if I renege on my side of the bargain and take their crops or rape their women, they would soon rise up. In the old days they would have killed me, now I suppose they would go to the magistrate. Or maybe not.

SOURCE: The Africa House: The True Story of an English Gentleman and His African Dream (HarperCollins, 2004), by Christina Lamb, pp. 86-88

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