Category Archives: Africa

Madiba, the Musical

Madiba, the Musical, programme cover

Madiba, the Musical, programme cover

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to see a new musical, ‘Madiba’, based on the life of Nelson Mandela. It was staged at the Comedy Theatre, not the obvious venue given the subject.

I well remember the release of Nelson Mandela, February 11th 1990. I’d gone to Chicago (my first trip to USA) and wasn’t following world news. But on that Sunday morning when I woke up intent on a full day’s sightseeing, the schedule had been replaced by live screening of Mandela’s release. I was just transfixed to see world history unrolling before my eyes so sightseeing was put on hold.

The musical follows Mandela’s life from his early career as a lawyer, his arrest in 1964 and conviction followed by life sentence, his release, his election as President in 1994, and the truth and reconciliation movement. It was a truly excellent and moving performance. Should you get the chance to see it, do so.

That said, what we saw in the musical followed western liberal thinking, but having made a few short trips to southern Africa I was reminded of the hypocrisy of some of this thinking.

We were reminded of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre – 69 protestors killed. But what about Mugabe’s Matabeleland massacres – 10,000+ killed – discussed in a piece on The Conversation website: “… The analysis also clearly proves that, even when in receipt of solid intelligence, the UK government’s response was to wilfully turn a “blind eye” to the victims of these gross abuses …“.

We were also reminded that Mrs Thatcher refused to implement sanctions against South Africa and was regularly lectured by other world leaders for her refusal to do so. One such leader was Kenneth Kaunda, President of Zambia. But what did I see on my short visits to Zambia in 1987-89? I was taken to a government-owned ‘hard currency shop’ (thus effectively open only to the elite and black marketeers). On sale, all sorts of luxury goods that you’d never have found in regular shops, sourced from South Africa. I was so exercised by this that on my return to UK I wrote to the Foreign Office asking for such two-facedness to be publicly exposed. Back came a letter who contents can be summarised as ‘We know. Please don’t tell anyone’. The Conversation’s piece explains all.

And having got international airlines to remove their South African services, Zambian Airways introduced a New York – Monrovia – Lusaka flight which just happened to provide a convenient connection with their Johannesburg flight – funny that!

All this serves as a reminder that real life is not as simple as we are sometimes told it is, and that we need to beware of news and political views shaped by an agenda.

Arrested for spying again!

Extract from Harare tourist map

Extract from Harare tourist map

Harare, November 1997, a city laid out as a grid with many fine buildings and beautiful parks and gardens. On consulting my tourist map, publisher The Surveyor-General of Zimbabwe, I decided to go and see the Prime Minister’s residence, just as in past times tourists to London would go to see 10 Downing Street.

I wasn’t the first British tourist to do this. Alexander Chancellor records “In 1982, when I was in Zimbabwe, I took a stroll down Chancellor Avenue in Harare. I made a point of visiting this particular street because Chancellor Avenue was called that after my grandfather, Sir John Chancellor, the first British governor of Southern Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was once called). I was surprised that it still bore his name, because it was already two years since independence and the new government had been busy eliminating the last vestiges of colonial rule.^

So one bright morning I took the short walk from the Bronte Hotel to Chancellor Avenue and peered through the gates – from memory the residence was well screened so not much to see. In next no time a couple of young men (cadet soldiers?) came over and arrested me. Fortunately I hadn’t taken my camera – this was still the era of colour slides so pics were carefully rationed. I wasn’t carrying any ID either, which was less helpful. Progressively I was passed up the ranks to soldiers with more and more stripes, one of whom then drove me back to my hotel to confirm my ID.

At the hotel my passport details were noted. I was told that I was free to leave the hotel during the day but must be back by 6.00p.m. in case they needed to take things further. By now I was a bit worried: could I please phone the British Consulate, I asked. No, need I was told.

So after a pleasant day I returned to the hotel. Shortly after six the phone in my room rang. “Reception here, there’s two gentlemen who want to talk to you.” Now I knew I was in trouble! I walked across the garden in some trepidation. Two well dressed men greeted me. “We’re from the Prime Minister’s office. We’ve been told what happened to you this morning and have come to apologise. We hope it won’t spoil your visit.” In reply I thanked them, also pointing out that the residence was shown on a government-produced tourist map that was on sale in the city. “Not any more!”, came the reply!

And, yes, I did enjoy my stay. I was fortunate to be visiting just before Zimbabwe really spiralled downhill.

My first arrest for spying!

My first taste of Africa was a memorable one. My good friends John and Mary had gone out to Zambia to work with the church and I offered to go and visit them. I decided to record my visit on slides (remember them) so I could give an illustrated talk on my return – John had grown up in the church which I attended and where his parents were still members so a good few people would be interested.

So – this was April 1987 – we land at Lusaka. As I walked down the steps on to the tarmac I took a photo of the airport terminal, thinking it would a good intro picture for my talk. At the bottom of the steps I was promptly arrested and taken off to an interview room. As we went through the terminal one of my escorts pointed out the ‘no photography’ notice, a bit late for me! Thankfully I had the presence of mind to pull the film out of my camera and hand it over – otherwise I might have had my camera confiscated. With a check of my passport and a warning, I was free to go.

Years later at a UK church gathering I met the person who had been responsible for looking after those sent to work in southern Africa and recounted my tale. “Ah, so it’s you!” she said, “That story has gone right round the mission circuit,” everyone no doubt laughing at the innocent tourist who didn’t know that in Zambia photography of all public and government buildings was strictly off limits.

After that I went back to Zambia three more times, fortunately staying out of trouble!

I’d always wanted to go on a Boeing 707 …

I didn’t make my first independent overseas trip until I was 32, though since then I’ve made up for it by flying more than a million miles. For years it was a matter of regret that I’d left it too late to be a passenger on the icon of the jet age, the Boeing 707. And then ….

In November 1997 I made a short trip to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The flight from London to Harare used a 767, and I was expecting a 737 for the short hop from Harare to Bulawayo. But no, to my surprise and delight this flight would be on a Boeing 707.

Air Zimbabwe’s Boeing 707

Even better, in contrast to the usual African prohibition of taking photos at airports, the security officer was more than happy for me to take pictures of the plane (this is a scan of a slide, and so not the best quality).

The question I didn’t ask myself was “Why is Air Zimbabwe using a four-engine transcontinental jet for a flight with a duration of about 40 minutes?” – I was too excited at my wish coming true.

I found out later (assuming my informant was correct). The plane had failed its airworthiness checks so Air Zim couldn’t take it out the country! Apparently a couple of weeks later the pilots refused to fly it. But at the time it seemed fine to me, one air trips I will always remember.