Thursday, 19 July 2012

THE AFRICA HOUSE - Christina Lamb, 1999

This is the story of Stewart Gore-Brown and his dream of building a Utopia in Africa.
Beginning as a way to have a life of luxury which he could not afford in England, and after falling in love with an area in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) when working for the border commission, Gore-Brown was undoubtedly a product of colonialism.  But he struggled. This book makes it clear that he struggled and he truly understood and respected the land rights of the native population. He wanted to bring prosperity to their area and share in a bit of their natural beauty. He overlooked it when they stole from him; he built towns and facilities which they would never have dreamed of. It is so easy to criticise him for assuming that he knew what the natives wanted, but we have only to observe what they claimed during his lifetime to see that he was justified in his assumptions.
The book is full of tragedy. It is full of unrequited love and unachieved ambitions but there is no doubting the integrity behind the dream – and how much it would always be beyond his reach. Gore-Brown was, however, the only white man to have a Zambian state funeral. It was led by Kenneth Kuanda, one of his own protégées in the drive for Independence.
As a postscript to it, I remember Michael Palin visiting Shiwa Ngandu as part of his Pole to Pole journey and the shocking revelation that the then current occupants Lorna and John Harvey, Gore-Brown’s daughter and son in law, had been murdered soon after filming.
By the time Lamb wrote this account the house had fallen into disrepair and she was able to trawl through the old library on the first floor and obtain the letters and diaries which really bring this story to life. It looks now, from the current online references to the house at http://www.shiwangandu.com/history.htm that the house is in the process of restoration.
It almost seems more appropriate that it should be a ruin.

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