This is an excerpt from The Horns: Book One of the Zambezi Trilogy by Jill Baker, published by Porcupine Press.
“What excuse do you think these nations had found that allowed them to feel entitled to just walk in? Something else that happened around the same time?”
“Wanting to better themselves…”
“I’m sure all of those came into play, but they were hardly excuses.”
Carol faltered as she looked at her list. There was only one phrase left. She couldn’t believe what she was about to say. “It wouldn’t have been Darwin’s theory of evolution, would it?”
Angus spoke reflectively. “1859 Darwin’s theory of evolution. The perfect ingredients to establish what became almost by default over the next couple of decades, a demeaning clash of cultures. With the abolition of slavery, they were presented with the excuse they needed to justify almost any expansionist action. I mean, after all –” Angus made an arrogant face, “Darwin’s theory simply endorsed the need to develop these primitive people by the passing on of experience and excellence in governance.”
“I don’t quite understand the excuse bit.” It was Aidan speaking – losing for the first time his cheeky Irish nature. He was anxious. Puzzled.
“According to a popular, fast-growing but inaccurate interpretation of Darwin’s theory, more primitive people – by inference non-European people – were lower down on the evolutionary scale. In fact, for the real hard-liners and excuse-seekers, it might never have been actually said, but it was certainly popularly agreed, that they were only a step removed from chimpanzees.
“By the 1880s, this was widely and unquestioningly accepted,” he continued resignedly. “People forgot – and still forget – that it’s only a theory.”
“I don’t believe it.”
The full import of what Angus was saying hit Jabu with a clarity he had never had before. His pointed stars, identifying instances of discrimination that he needed to remember for the future, were identifying something much more fundamental in the present. Africans were seen as less evolved than Europeans. This was the excuse: the excuse for lower wages, for less access to education, for the deliberate stares and sneering looks he’d felt more and more as he dared to encroach on white man’s territory at work.
He got up suddenly and walked away, drawn to what he knew might have been the King’s thinking and indaba space – the goat kraal. As he reached the ruin of Lobengula’s palace, he threw his head back and roared out his hurt in all the clicks and alliterations of his language.
“King Lobengula, this is my promise once again. I will avenge your death. I will make the white man crawl till he understands we are all one. I will make him beg us to take our country back.”
Angus sat quietly, eyes shut. Understanding. Dismayed by every word.
Carol knew enough – to understand in part.
Themba and Prune were stunned.
Aidan looked at Angus. “May I go to him?”
“I don’t think like that Prune, Themba…” Carol spoke quietly, her voice breaking, horrified by what she felt she’d started.
“Hey! We know that! Come on, that was nearly 100 years ago. Things have changed.”
“Mmm . . . perhaps.” She gulped. “But Jabu doesn’t think so.”
She too rushed down the path.
“Jabu, Jabu! I’m so sorry!” Her voice trailed away as she stopped short, shocked to see this strong young man – yet still so much a boy – with his head in his hands, his chest heaving. Her voice trailed off. “You know I don’t think like that … lots of us don’t think like that.”
There was no response. She looked pleadingly at Aidan.
He looked away. Silence.
Silence punctuated by the rasp of Jabu’s wretched breathing.
When they finally came, his words were pinched, distorted by his emotion. “I know that … but lots of you do.”
She thought back to the bully girls and knew he was right. In fact, if she was honest, not many of her friends thought like she did. Not many had ever even met black people, not socially anyway.
“There’s trouble coming.” He looked directly at her, commanding her attention, his eyes glistening. “Please. Don’t get caught up in it.”
“What do you mean – trouble?”
He shook his head. Carol felt chilled.
“Come on, let’s get back,” Jabu stood up abruptly. “I need to hear more about this scramble for Africa to remind myself of exactly what did happen and when.”
Carol caught Aidan’s eye.
He looked away again.
She felt devastated.
They could hear Angus talking as they walked back.
“The Moffat Treaty was finally agreed upon almost a year later, in 1888, proclaiming that ‘peace and amity shall continue for ever between Her Britannic Majesty, Her subjects and the Amandebele people’. Moffat acknowledged in his report back to the British government that ‘the Matebele may like us better, but they fear the Boers and Germans more’.”
“That Treaty tied the British even closer to the Matebele, ready for the final thrust of the spear…” Jabu called out. The emotion was gone, replaced by a flat resignation. He went on, “Lobengula made an apt comment: ‘The chameleon gets behind the fly, remains motionless for some time, then advances slowly and gently, first putting forward one leg and then another. At last, when he is in reach, he darts his tongue and the fly disappears. England is the chameleon and I am that fly.’”
“And that,” Angus said sadly, “is one of the most poignant statements on record, coming from a man who became the victim of heart-breaking world events.”
“But Dad, Lobengula was not a weak man or a victim!”
“He himself was never a victim, but he was certainly a victim of circumstance, of what was happening around him.”
“He was indeed the true Bull Elephant of the Matebele people. I’ve changed my thoughts on Lobengula. He was a great leader,” Jabu spoke up defiantly.
“Did they ever find those who took the gold?” Prune asked again as everyone else seemed stupefied.
Angus responded. “Written records of the meeting between Mtjaan and Dr Jameson report that Jameson was upset and angered by Lobengula’s death. He asked why the King hadn’t replied to his message and come to talk to him. Of course, Mtjaan told him a reply was sent. When Mtjaan told him Lobengula had included gold in good faith, Dr Jameson was furious. He understood exactly what had happened and was in despair. Nobody wanted the King dead.”
Carol and Prune were taken aback by his cold anger as he spoke. “Those bastards had no idea how their greed and selfishness changed the whole of this country’s history.
Themba turned to Angus. “Thanks Mr Davidson. I had none of that insight before. In my A-level paper, I had intended to dismiss him as weak and irrelevant.”
Carol spoke up. “I agree Themba, this has been a real eye-opener to me too. The tragedy has to be that there were two bull elephants – both extraordinary men. They either had to respect each other’s strengths or kill each other.”
Jabu looked up as he realised what she was saying. “The other bull elephant was Cecil Rhodes. Of course!”