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Critiques .....

WOZA : South African bestsellers : reviewed by ANTOINETTE BAIN

John Hammond's story is inspirational. Not only did he have to cope with the harshness of nature, battling intense heat, floods, malaria, typhoid and other diseases during his time as headmaster of Tjolotjo, but also having to battle a government and education department who did not take African education seriously. Hammond's insistence on discussing his ideas and ways of working with the local chiefs and headmen, his determination to incorporate as much of the African way as he could into the school system and to make the curriculum as relevant to his pupils' lives as possible were just some of the methods he employed which would keep him almost constantly at loggerheads with the African Education Department but which would in the end also earn him a lot of respect from both black and white.

Respect, honesty and integrity were values which John Hammond regarded very highly and which he tried to instil in his pupils and staff. Many of John Hammond's pupils became leaders in their fields of expertise. Where pupils failed on a personal or professional level, John Hammond would see it as a personal failure; an attitude which would ultimately end his career in education due to a heart attack. Although the subject matter is serious, the book reads easily and moves along at a sufficiently fast pace to keep the reader interested without losing sight of the importance of the issues concerned. The story is further enriched by Nancy's accounts of how she came to know and eventually to love Africa. Arriving on African soil for the first time in her early twenties, knowing only the comforts of a middle class English life, she had a lot to get used to.

Beloved African is a book filled with thought provoking material. In a time when Africa's history is being re-written to reflect a more balanced view, this book should be a valuable addition to the reading lists of historians, politicians and concerned citizens alike. I really did enjoy this book. For some reason, I have never taken to biographies and autobiographies, but this book really was fascinating.

 

Cape Times : Roz Wrottesley

The most surprising thing about this book is that it's a good read, even when it deals with the theme I was most dubious about "the wonderful tale of the continuing love story and partnership between John and Nancy"

Nancy embarked on the adventure of life in the colonies in Tjolotjo, a tiny, hot isolated village in an area riddled with malaria. It was tough for a sheltered English girl and she never really did adjust to the heat or stop longing for England ...

John Hammond comes across as benevolently authoritarian, but sensitive to the cultural conflicts created by colonialism and motivated by a genuine sense of urgency to equip his pupils for leadership. He was well aware of the pressure colonialism - and education specifically - were putting on the delicate balance of tribal hierarchy and custom and tried hard to include chiefs and parents in the life of the schools he ran. Education might have been part of the problem, but in a country that had been kicked into the future, he also knew it was the only solution.

 

Natal Mercury : Anthony Stidolph

As a headmaster, John Hammond attempted to introduce something of the Plumtree ethos developed by his famous and influential headmaster father, Bob Hammond into Tjolotjo, Mzingwane (among the many pupils whose lives he touched there was a bright young land named Joshua Nkomo), Goromonzi and Domboshawa schools. This affectionate and sometimes moving tribute to John Hammond, the author's father, is based largely on the recollections of his wife Nancy.

Life could not have been easy for this genteel young English bride who found herself dumped in the middle of a harsh, alien landscape and the book stands as a poignant testimony to her love and devotion to her Mr Chips-like husband.

 

Zimbabwe Tobacco News : Dusty Miller

John Hammond was clearly not the bleeding heart liberal many of his contemporaries dismissed him as, but a man with a calling and a vision. Fifty five years ago, he wrote: "Only an educated people can make democracy work and where there is an uneducated race, the only effective means of government is autocracy. If we are to leave the Native with his present freedom to work or play, only the minority will elect to work. This is bound to have .... a markedly bad effect on the Native population now growing up. It can be checked by a more autocratic form of government with a curtailment of present liberties - or by the expansion of liberties to include the freedom to starve. This has been the greatest disciplining force in the world in all past ages."

Ms Baker's book is priceless to the professional and amateur historian and researcher and contains some wonderful insights into humdrum as well as world shattering events of q long and full life. Beloved African is well written, highly readable and superbly printed in an attractive typeface.

 

Tom Henshaw - Out of Africa

YOU forget things after so many years away from Africa. The smell of woodsmoke in the evening air, the stillness of mid-afternoon on a hot summer's after noon when nothing, but nothing, moves . . . and the sizzling crack of a thunderbolt as it strikes so close you can smell the burning ozone. Jill Baker's description of such a storm brought the memories flooding back.

Beloved African describes Rhodesia seen through the eyes of her mother, Nancy, the genteel daughter of an English country vet who followed the love of her life - John Hammond - to Rhodesia in the 1930s. It was a rude and rustic introduction to life in Africa. Hammond not only educated Africans, he built the schools with their help and home was more often than not a mud-brick and thatch affair. In one, a 1.5 metre boomslang came visiting - up the drainpipe and into the kitchen sink!

Beloved African is more than a tribute to her father , a pioneer in African education - it is a trip down memory lane for anyone growing up in that country during the mid-to-late 1900s. Familiar place names - Plumtree, Domboshawa, Bulawayo, and Nyamandhlovu are sprinkled throughout the book along with names of people ingrained in the memories of anyone who knew that part of the world. Joshua Nkomo, former pupil, who helped in the woodwork class, head boy Ushewokunze at Goromonzi, church minister, Gar field Todd and Ian Smith among many. Hammond's desire to educate was tempered with the desire to maintain tribal tradition and custom. He could see the damage traditional European-style education was doing to tribal disciplines.

 

... and a selection of many heart-warming letters

I have just finished reading Beloved African and was so moved I wanted to write and say thank you. I have never before written to an author and hesitate...but feel more that I am writing to a friend, long out of touch - than to a stranger as your voice in all the various roles you played in broadcasting, was a daily part of my life for many years. Even though I was a child with limited understanding, I was aware of the nationalistic tensions before UDI. Only now do I understand ... the joys of building, of the good years, the terrible pain of the setbacks and meddling betrayals and neglect from "higher up" were all evocative for me. I laughed some and cried more as I found familiar types and places and scenes in your pages from Domboshawa to FishHoek. I found myself wishing I had been tutored or worked under a headmaster of your father's caliber. Then I was forced to realize, perhaps I was and I wish I had had the maturity to realize it. What higher tribute can I offer than that I felt lifted by your book to be a better person than I had been before and without it. LJ Canada

I have just finished reading your book and I felt compelled to write and tell you how much I thought about it. It expressed and told a piece of history which had not been told and shed a new light on the picture of Africa at the time. ... this was the inspirational story of a man who understood the importance of education. You told the story without making him into a hero, but highlighted that he was a remarkable man in often impossible situations. The last few chapters gave me a new admiration for him -his strength of character yet the depth to which he felt the actions he had to take were heartwrenching. You showed your mother's importance to him in a way that I hope that one day I can find the same comfort and stability and companionship in one person. AC - Australia

Last night when I should have been working, I sat on the couch reading Beloved African and kept at it until all hours - it just became un-putdownable. It's a wonderful story and I think you've laced it together beautifully. I cant get over one thing - that your Dad was thinking and saying the same things we are saying now about integration - it's unbelievable that 65 years later the same issues are still there and the vast majority of people are still behaving the same way! CB - Zimbabwe

A beautiful tribute to your parents and their great contribution to African Education. It is equally important in that the book is a most valuable historical record of what dedicated educationists contributed to the development of Rhodesia - a factor which nowadays is largely ignored, or if mentioned, is derided. JC - Zimbabwe

I've just finished reading Beloved African and I was so moved by your narrative that I must express my appreciation of your detailed research and of the story you wrote. I felt for John in his frustration with departmental bureaucracy as his vision and ideals weren't all realised and one had to admire his strength and persistence ... I wish I'd know then, what a remarkable man was sitting so quietly on our settee that afternoon five years ago. MD - Australia

One knew about parts of John's life and work, but your book gives coherence to the whole of it, with its intimate, touching and, in places, distressing account of what happened. What a fortunate thing it is that you have all those records of what John thought and wrote. Even one word in a diary or letter can revive a submerged memory NE - UK

I have recently read your lovely book Beloved African and I want to tell you how much I enjoyed it and to congratulate you on its appealing lucidity, lack of affectation and sincerity. It made a great impression on me. LG South Africa