A selection of African historical facts and commentary

Zanzibar, and the East African Slave Trade

June 22, 2014
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Download article as PDF The recall of the Zambezi Expedition in 1863, and the failure of the Universities Mission to Central Africa, largely as a consequence of mounting costs, not least in human mortality, and the failure of the expedition to find the practical highway into the interior that it sought, was a significant blow to David Livingstone’s personal prestige, his reputation, his self confidence and his fundamental sense of purpose… ‘By the failure of the Universities Mission my work seems in vain.’ He wrote soon afterwards in a personal correspondence. ‘Am I to be cut off before I can do anything to effect permanent improvement in Africa. I have been unprofitable enough…’ He returned to England in the aftermath […]

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The Turning Point Strategy

July 22, 2013
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This entry is part 20 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 20 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele1976 also witnessed important political developments that once again put a stranglehold on the various advocates of a total solution in order that a negotiation process neither invited nor wanted by any of the warring factions. This again was a peace process forced upon the protagonists by their sponsors, and this time involved to a large degree the United States in a world post-Vietnam, and vary cautious about international power play in a sphere increasingly dominated by Marxist or communist liberation groups. Most notably was the gathering interest and involvement of the Soviets and Cubans in Angola, threatening a valuable communist foothold in […]

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Images from 209 Squadron RAF Coastal Command

July 15, 2013
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Download article as PDF These images were shared with me by Australian Denis Saunders, whose father, a pilot with the RAF, served with 209 Squadron off the coast of East Africa for much of WWII. RAF 209 Squadron began life in 1918 as No: 9 Squadron Royal Naval Air Service in 1918, being renamed 209 Squadron in March 1930 when all former RNAS squadrons had 200 added to their flight numbers. The Squadron saw service in both world wars, as well as the Malay Emergency and the Korean War, being effectively disbanded after 1968. From March 1942 until July 1945, No.209 was stationed in East Africa. It flew patrols over the Indian Ocean with detached bases in South Africa, Madagascar, […]

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Léopold Sédar Senghor, the Life of a French African

November 19, 2012
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Download article as PDF The life of Léopold Sédar Senghor spanned a century of change in Africa, a century during which the colonial occupation of the continent reached it’s zenith, began to topple and ultimately fell. An award winning poet, decorated scholar, pioneer of negro cultural autonomy and liberation icon, Senghor was, as he remains, one of the towering figures of the African liberation struggle. His voice, and the very phases of his life, marked the key navigation points of the black journey towards self-determination. His influence embraced not only the political kingdoms of Africa, but perhaps more importantly the intellectual, artistic and spiritual kingdoms so long submerged under the weight of foreign cultures. Although Senghor was not at his […]

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The Hidden Journeys Project – Travel Africa By Air

August 6, 2012
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Download article as PDF Royal Geographical Society’s Hidden Journeys Project The Royal Geographical Society is a highly august institution founded in 1830 by the learned gentlemen of London as a debating and dining society, but also to promote geographic awareness and to provide some intellectual and financial impetus to the exploration of a world that, although broadly speaking mapped and understood, was nonetheless still largely a mystery to the academic world. The Society began as the Geographical Society, but was awarded a Royal Charter in 1859. An enormous amount of study and exploration took place during this period of history, much of it driven by the British intellectual classes, but also much of it philanthropic, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, which […]

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Siege of Elands River: 4 – 16 August 1900

August 1, 2012
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Download article as PDF Map: Siege of Eland’s River Staging Post 4-14 August 1900 Map: Battle of Eland’s River 4 August 1900 With the capitulation of Johannesburg and Pretoria by early June 1900, the Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in South Africa, Lord Frederick Roberts VC, divided the Western Transvaal operational theatre into districts, with the sole objective of mopping up pockets of Boer resistance.  The Marico District, including the towns of Mafeking, Zeerust, Lichtenburg and Rustenburg, was assigned to Maj. General Robert Baden-Powell, his force including 1,100 Rhodesia Regiment troops, Southern Rhodesia Volunteers and BSA Police. Boer Generals Koos de la Rey and Christiaan de Wet continued to believe that victory might still be within the grasp of their respective […]

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The White Man’s Burden

April 4, 2012
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Download article as PDF Your new-caught sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child – Rudyard Kipling (…yes I know that is Hattie McDaniel & Vivien Leigh  in Gone With The Wind on the left) This is an excerpt of Rhodesia: last Outpost of the British Empire by Peter Baxter. The article it relates to is here Much closer to home was the complex relationship that whites had with their domestic servants. An almost obsessive determination on the part of white immigrants to make use of this most colonial of facilities, was born out of two factors. The first was that in the Victorian and post–Victorian period the goal of reaching the upper middle classes was best defined by the maintenance of domestic […]

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ZAPU in the Zimbabwe Liberation Struggle

January 6, 2012
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This entry is part 19 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 19 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleAs the armed wing of ZAPU withdrew to ponder lessons learned, the detained leadership within Rhodesia settled into what seemed likely to be a sustained period of restriction. For Joshua Nkomo the prospect was particularly dreary. Somewhere between the claims of his apologists of untainted zealotry, and his protagonists insistence on his innate corruptibility, lies the truth of what motivated Nkomo. At the very least he was a comfort loving soul. He was not a flint hard, ascetic ideologue like Robert Mugabe, nor a spiritually driven humanitarian like Ndabaningi Sithole, and for him to be transported with the rudiments of life to an […]

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The Emergence of the Zimbabwe Liberation Struggle

December 18, 2011
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This entry is part 18 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 18 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleThe immediate consequence of the split in the nationalist movement was violence on a level hitherto unseen. This was a fight to the death, an equalisation and an unequivocal exposure of the deep ethnic and personal fissures that had lain unseen beneath the surface as the cordial first phase of the struggle came to an end. One of the most beautiful understatements ever written about the Zimbabwe Liberation Struggle came from the pen of ZAPU historian Eliakim Sibanda when he wrote: ‘Zimbabweans have a long history of bitter and sometimes violent disagreements based on mostly non-ideological, ethnic, and very often personal differences among […]

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Black Political Awakening in Rhodesia

November 7, 2011
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This entry is part 17 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 17 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleIn the short history of Zimbabwe ZAPU, or the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union, has tended to be regarded as a predominantly amaNdebele party, which latterly has certainly been the case, but at its founding it was a continuation of the determinedly multi-racial and multi-ethnic nationalist credo that defined the formation of the revived African National Congress. This was reflected in the leadership, with Nkomo representing the amaNdebele and his deputy James Chikerema representing the Mashona element. Lower down the strata this continued with a mix of ethnicity that helped to define the common enemy that confronted all black people of the colony. Meanwhile […]

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Joshua Nkomo

October 15, 2011
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This entry is part 16 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 16 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleIn 1949 a meeting was held at the Recreation Hall in Salisbury at which a new president was elected for the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress. This introduced to the centre stage of local politics the founding father of black nationalism and the first authentic voice of the people of Southern Rhodesia. The event within itself did not mean a great deal, since at that stage Congress still held its position as a somewhat elitist and conformist organisation that did not compete in any way with such wider reaching organisations as the Voice, and Nkomo himself, then a 32 year old social worker […]

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Rhodesia: The Post-War Land Removals

September 14, 2011
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This entry is part 15 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 15 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleIn the post-war period the long delay in implementing the mass removals that had been implicit in the land Apportionment Act, and many unofficial conventions since, had steadily accelerated as the demobilisations that followed peace in Europe saw large numbers of European men and their families flooding into the colonies. Vast tracts of land in the Midlands and Matabeleland were affected with thousands of people who had for long lived on alienated land finding themselves increasingly under pressure to move. The Department of Native Affairs also came under pressure from a government anxious to welcome as many white immigrants as could be enticed […]

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A brief history of Rhodesia

August 13, 2011
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Download article as PDF The colony of Rhodesia was born on 13 September 1890 with the arrival in the vicinity of present day Harare, then Fort Salisbury, of some 500 hand-picked volunteers who made up the British South Africa Company Pioneer Column. This represented the culmination of several years of political manoeuvre and capital adventure in the great game known at the time as the Scramble for Africa. >>Rhodesian Parliament Golden Jubilee A brief background to the occupation of Mashonaland In 1885 all the major powers of Europe met in Berlin to discuss, among other issues, how best to partition Africa between them with a minimum of conflict and according to a series of predefined rules. The Berlin Conference decreed, […]

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The amaNdebele and modern African imperial history

August 12, 2011
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This entry is part 14 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 14 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleThe educated rather than the raw native very often becomes a nuisance to his white neighbours…Report of the Land Commission The end of the First World War did indeed usher in a change in British imperial policy. A general revaluation of the moral certainties of old coincided with the emergence of a class of educated natives worldwide who were the first among their respective peoples to actively deal with the challenges and seek the benefits of an open society. The global imperial map was rearranged under League of Nations Mandate which saw foreign territories fall under a Sacred Trust, a term that redefined […]

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The aftermath of the Matabele Rebellion

August 6, 2011
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This entry is part 13 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 13 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleMatabeleland should be treated as a portion of Mashonaland lately occupied by the Matabele – Leander Starr Jameson The trust placed in Cecil John Rhodes by the amaNdebele leaders was the trust of desperation, and it was by no means absolute, and bearing mind that Rhodes was a proven master of negotiation the terms of peace were as mixed as they were many. Underscoring the settlement, however, was the sense commonly felt among the rank and file of the amaNdebele, and one that Rhodes himself could not fail to acknowledge, that the amaNdebele had not literally surrendered, but had in fact agreed to […]

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The Matabele Rebellion

July 20, 2011
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This entry is part 12 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 12 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleHow can the white men punish them? Where are the white police? There are none left in the country.[i] The uprising was mooted to begin on the evening of the full moon of March 28 1896, no hint whatsoever of which reached the ears of white settlers and administrators in the territory. Even long time residents of Matabeleland such as the Rev. Charles Helm of the Hope Fountain Mission remained convinced that the defeat of the amaNdebele had been absolute. In a conversation with Frederick Selous, who had recently been appointed cattle inspector for the districts between Umzingwani and Insiza, Helm let it […]

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Rhodesia, the white man and the land

July 12, 2011
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Download article as PDF It is on the land that the African lives and it means everything to him. The African cannot depend for his livelihood on profits made through trading. We cannot depend on wages. We must go back every time to the only social security we have – the piece of land. The land stolen must be restored, because without the land the future of the African people is doomed. God will hear us because that is the thing he gave us – Eliud Mathu, the first African to sit on Kenya’s Legislative Council One of the most interesting things about getting behind a desk and starting the process of writing Rhodesia, Last Outpost of the British Empire, […]

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The Matabele War

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This entry is part 11 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 11 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleThe invading force of settler volunteers represented an unimpressive army which, without an unequal portion of confidence, would have been overwhelmed by the knowledge that it marched without supply lines, communications or support, and beyond any meaningful assistance or reinforcement. If it did not conclusively defeat the amaNdebele in the early skirmishes – about half of the fighting strength of the amaNdebele was mobilised in preparation – all involved stood an excellent chance of an early and unpleasant death. The amaNdebele were, despite the lengthy preamble to this confrontation, badly prepared for war. The army was disunited, notably among the ranks of the […]

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The End of the Matabele Road

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This entry is part 10 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 10 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleIn an atmosphere of great apprehension and mistrust the Rudd Concession was signed, upon which Rudd took to his horse and sped south to Kimberly where he placed the document in the hands of an immensely gratified Cecil John Rhodes. Thomson and Maguire remained behind in Matabeleland, although neither were held in particular esteem among the amaNdebele, and neither were able to stop or deflect any of the intrigue that immediately gripped the capital in the aftermath. Rhodes, meanwhile, was in celebratory mood and made no secret of his coup. The story was quickly seized upon by the press and a flurry of […]

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The death of Mzilikazi and the arrival of the white man

Thumbnail image for The death of Mzilikazi and the arrival of the white man May 14, 2011
This entry is part 9 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 9 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleThe Matabele Mission died in due course of depletion and internal discord, proving only that no man or woman in Matabeleland would dare to commit to anything that competed with the stern residue of Mzilikazi’s rule. However the political importance of the mission was that it introduced the younger generations of Moffat and Khumalo to one another, meaning that when Lobengula ascended to the amaNdebele throne, and when John Moffat took over the role of family patriarch, a continuum of the trust enjoyed between the fathers of these two men would play out in the later transfer of political power from black rule […]

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Lobengula

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This entry is part 8 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 8 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleThe young prince who had so narrowly escaped death at the hands of his father settled into life as a youth in amaNdebele society in a way little different from any other. The date of Lobengula’s birth is obscure, but if, as has been widely recorded, he was the subject of Mzilikazi’s wrath soon after the union of the two halves of the nation, he must have been born sometime in 1834 or thereabouts. This means that Lobengula would have been an infant as the tribe was routed from the Transvaal and sent northwards towards its new home. It is unlikely that either […]

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Crossing the Limpopo

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This entry is part 7 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 7 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleFor the victorious Boer horsemen the sight of the amNdebele streaming north through the mountain passes of the Dwarsberg must have carried with it more than a sense of simple satisfaction. In the tradition of conquest and counter conquest theirs was now the principal claim to a fine country, and the greatest obstacle standing in its way had been broken and cast asunder. This was manifest destiny. The future of their race and the fulfilment of a cherished aspiration seemed secure. It is also true that there would have been few among those who watched the evacuation that would not have been impressed […]

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Mzilikazi, the Zulu, the Griquas and the Boer

Thumbnail image for Mzilikazi, the Zulu, the Griquas and the Boer April 9, 2011
This entry is part 6 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 6 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele As Robert Moffat’s wagons slipped over the southern horizon and disappeared Mzilikazi turned back towards enKungwini to face arguably the greatest series of challenges to the long term survival of the amaNdebele that he had confronted thus far. The first of these was the long awaited settling of scores with the Zulu that came soon afterwards as Mzilikazi had always feared that it would. Two years earlier the short but shockingly violent reign of Shaka Zulu had been brought to a predictably bloody end by his assassination at the hands of his younger half brother Dingaan, and other disaffected elements within a […]

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Robert Moffat and Mzilikazi Meet

Thumbnail image for Robert Moffat and Mzilikazi Meet April 6, 2011
This entry is part 5 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 5 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleCoinciding more or less with Mzilikazi’s Bakwena Campaign approval was given by the government of the Cape Colony to a scheme aimed at extending the trade of the colony outwards to the scattered peoples of the interior. Licences were issued and help offered to those who wished to embark on trading expeditions north of the Cape, and one of the first to avail himself of this facility was a mercurial local character by the name of Andrew Geddes Bain. Bain was a man of many interests, amongst which his biographers list geology, palaeontology, engineering and exploration. The latter was his principal passion, however, […]

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Robert Moffat

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This entry is part 4 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 4 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleIn the year 1816 the rather anonymous arrival in Cape Town of a 21 year old missionary echoed similar daily arrivals and departures in a town that had by then been established as an international sea port for more than 160 years. Robert Moffat, a Scotsman and recent inductee into the service of the London Missionary society, arrived as many had before him, with a vague understanding of Africa, a rather generally directed vocation and a profound faith in the guiding hand of providence. He was one of an army of men and women of mixed denominations who followed the tenets of enlightenment, […]

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Ndebele Exodus from Zululand

Thumbnail image for Ndebele Exodus from Zululand March 25, 2011
This entry is part 3 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 3 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleIt was an apprehensive Mzilikazi who slowly emerged from the Ngome forests and cautiously led his people northwards out of Zululand. Incrementally the vulnerable body of women, children and fighting men probed forward, frequently pausing to take stock, fearing at the same time an attack from behind and a hostile reception from the fore. Slowly Mzilikazi found himself drifting beyond the known world and into the territories of groups and peoples that he knew nothing about. Remaining east of the northern Drakensberg Escarpment he initially maintained a north-westerly direction until he arrived somewhere in the vicinity of present day Piet Retief. From there […]

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Mzilikazi

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This entry is part 2 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 2 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleIt has often been proved by history that the formula for greatness lies in being born in the right place and at the right time, and such was certainly the case with Mzilikazi kaMashobane. Mzilikazi was a man whose particular symmetry of violence, statesmanship and ambition might easily have been consigned to irrelevance had his birth occurred either a century earlier or a century later. Such also had been the case with Shaka Zulu, whose rise to power and infamy was catalysed primarily by the nature of his times, times for which he has often been cited as the cause, but was in […]

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An introduction to the History of the amaNdebele

Thumbnail image for An introduction to the History of the amaNdebele March 18, 2011
This entry is part 1 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebele

Download article as PDF This entry is part 1 of 20 in the series History of the amaNdebeleOf the many great events of pre-colonial history in Southern Africa, perhaps the most dramatic has been the rise and dispersal of the Nguni line of the Bantu family. Several branches of this family exist, but of those that broke away from the main rootstock, and established satellite communities beyond the borders of South Africa, there are three. These are the Gaza people, or the Shangaan, who at one time ruled, and still currently occupy, a large swathe of what is at present Moçambique, the Angoni, or Ngoni, who at present reside in the modern nation state of Malawi, and the Matabele, or […]

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A parting of the ways

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This entry is part 9 of 9 in the series History of Malawi

Download article as PDF This entry is part 9 of 9 in the series History of MalawiThe day for Africa is yet to come. Possibly the freedmen may be an agency in elevating their fatherland. David Livingstone. John Chilembwe’s impending visit to the United States generated enormous interest among his friends, family and congregation. Booth had so emphasised the redeeming potential of black America that expectations were very high. Why Joseph Booth went to the personal expense (the expense for Chilembwe was not inconsiderable either, for he made a contribution, although small, which would have consumed all the little money he possessed) of inviting Chilembwe on what was, after all, a purely speculative venture, is difficult to discern. It is […]

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Some Great old Pictures of Salisbury

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Download article as PDF My friend Paul Naish of Durban SA send me this wonderful collection of old pictures of Salisbury, Rhodesia, many years ago. Its hard to imagine sometimes what life must have been like then. The nation was administered by a commercial company, and the institutions and traditions of a shortlived corner of the Empire were developing…

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