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The past remembered

Author’s note
I believe that this book would have been greatly enhanced by direct input from my father-in-law, Pat Forsyth Thompson. However, although he is sadly no longer with us there are, among his memoirs, some entries on life in Mbabane from the mid 1940’s and 1950’s.

Pat Forsyth Thompson
Pat "Siquga" Forsyth

When we arrived at the border (on 31 July 1946) - there was a trading store and they
assured us this was the border - there was not a sign of a customs or immigration post and we merely drove on into Swaziland. We had been told beforehand that we would be staying in the Central Hotel and arrived there before lunch. After lunch I went to report to the Secretariat across the road (now the Deputy Prime Minister’s office). I was posted to the District Commissioner’s office, Mbabane at a salary of 400 a year under Denis Silburn who, with his wife Audrey, were to become our very good and close friends.

We were in the Central Hotel for two months before we moved into our first home, a little thatched cottage below the Anglican Church (All Saints Cathedral) in Mbabane. Comparatively speaking things were rather primitive. Our water supply was from the main Mbabane furrow and only the centre of town had piped water.

We soon met a lot of people and started playing tennis, hockey and cricket on the town courts and the oval, which eventually became the centre for the Mbabane Club.

On my first day in the District Commissioner’s Office, the Resident Commissioner E.K. Featherstone came around saying goodbye to everyone. He was soon to be replaced by E.B. "Ted" Beetham.

The old Secretariat, now the Deputy Prime Minister's Office

The 1950’s
(Following stays in Piggs Peak, Stegi, Bremersdorp and Tristan da Cunha - an island in the Atlantic) We were allocated a house in Edwards Street which the government had bought from a Portuguese builder who had built it "on spec" during his off-periods. Richard and Jane went to St. Mark’s Primary School just down the road from us and I was appointed Swaziland’s first Labour Officer.

I worked in an old building behind the Secretariat which had been Police Headquarters and Mbabane Charge Office all rolled into one. John Purcell was Secretary for Swazi Affairs and I worked for him. I really did not know quite where to start but I visited all the major employers in the country and recorded the conditions of service such as pay, leave and benefits for the different categories of workers. I gather that those who came after me found this information quite useful.

I was also involved, from time to time, with the weekly meetings of the Standing Committee of the Swazi National Council and later was appointed Secretary for the lengthy discussions held with the Council on the return of land to the Swazi Nation.

Joy and I played tennis and I played cricket at the Mbabane club.

Pony Trekking
Brian Marwick was Resident commissioner at this time and decided to do a pony trek from Mbabane to Malandelas, the hills well to the east of Mbabane. He invited me to join the party which included his wife Riva, Bunny Teale the Mbabane vet, a veterinary assistant and a police constable. We set out from Mbabane via Msunduza then turned north through Dlangeni where the Gama people live. It was here, as a young man, that Brian had lived to do his field work on an ethnographic survey of Swaziland called ‘The Swazi’.

We went on towards the leper settlement overlooking the Mbuluzi River where we were to spend the night.

The next day we called on the Masilela Chief, Ndlalankulu. He was a very tall man with a deep voice and the more he drank the deeper and louder it got. He had paralysed legs and could not walk but he could ride a horse if put on it. His brother, who is still alive (late 1980’s) is so tall they call him Ten Feet.

During this time Joy and I were talked into taking part in the amusing play ‘Doctor in the House’. I was one of the students and Joy was a nurse. Poor Joy had to sit through nearly three acts before she came on to say about three lines and she was usually a wreck by this time. The play was well received in Mbabane so we took it on tour.

Mike Fairlie founded the Mbabane Choral Society which had a large membership of whites and blacks. Apart from choral pieces, such as Handel’s ‘Messiah’, we ventured into the field of Gilbert and Sullivan. Our first effort was ‘HMS Pinafore’. I was cast as the admiral and later as the major general in ‘Pirates of Penzance’ - both patter songs for which I never quite got through without a hitch.

We staged ‘The Messiah’ at Guilio’s theatre in Manzini and King Sobhuza and his party came to listen to it. He apparently enjoyed it immensely, especially the Hallelujah Chorus which became one of his favourite pieces thereafter."


C.C. Watts Archdeacon of Swaziland (Later Bishop Watts)

Many records exist which paint a picture of the early days of Mbabane.
In Transvaal Travels of an American Insurance Agent, Jas. A. Cavanagh describes Mbabane in the late 1890’s.
'My horse became lamed and as there was no other animal in sight, I was forced to start out for a place near Darkton where a horse could be had. ............(Darkton (kaDake), of course, is not far from Mbabane on the Oshoek road). 'I next mounted my purchase and proceeded to Darkton, which is a town of one house,

ruled by Grosvenor Darke who for several years past has been doing a prosperous business with the natives and is a close friend of the Swazi king.

‘About the time we arrived, the mail coach came in from Bremersdorp on which was one passenger as drunk as the proverbial "boiled owl". ..... Regarding the tight passenger, I must say that Swaziland offers good material for the temperance people to work on. Everyone seems to get full and it appears to be one long drunk on the part of the white folks.

Later, proceeding from Carolina, Cavanagh states:
"We again set out on bicycles over a very good road to Bremersdorp, the capital of Swaziland. As we moved on, the road became tougher and after we passed Embabaan (sic), it converted itself into about the worst on earth bar none."

And later:
In the afternoon we started from Embabaan on a hired cart; finding the Usutu River swollen to such an extent that the horses swam and at the same time pulled the cart. ....The river here at its deepest part is about twenty five feet deep. We landed safely on the other side. At Embabaan we discharged the cart and driver and again took to our bicycles, travelling to Ermilo (sic) by moonlight.

In 1922, Dawn in Swaziland by C.C. Watts was published. Watts, who was Archdeacon of Swaziland and Principal of St. Mark’s School, makes several references to Mbabane.

Entering Swaziland from the west he notes that "... one sees on a shoulder of the mountain side large plantations of trees and here and there the white roof of a European house. This is Mbabane, the capital of the country and its seat of government. As we enter its clean and well-kept street with trees planted on each side, we notice the Union Jack of Old England floating from a lofty flagstaff outside the Government offices........... The town itself is a mere hamlet consisting of 200 European residents and contains six little stores or shops........

‘The traveller has hardly had time to notice that the streets and houses are lighted by electric light and that the post and Government offices are good substantial building, when some native wedding party or a group comes dancing and singing down the street. Shining with health, good nature, and bursting with animal spirits, they pass upon their way leaping and shouting in very joy of life!

‘But "toot, toot" down the road comes the big modern motor of some Government official. Inside is seated a European lady dressed in the latest Paris fashions. She will call at the Government office to get the latest news from Europe by Reuter’s wire and take her husband off to tennis.

‘One can leave Mbabane on horseback and in an hour leave all traces of civilisation behind."

Watts tells how:
"Sixteen years ago ....... the little Church of the Transfiguration was altered from a dwelling house to a church in memory of one who had given her life whilst nursing another. And what a world of good has sprung from a husband’s memorial to his wife! ......... What would Mbabane have been without its church?"

He writes at length about St. Mark’s school which was founded in 1908 when four children gathered in the ten by ten foot room of the priest in charge of Mbabane, forming the nucleus of ‘what is now a flourishing boarding school with over eighty pupils, a staff of five teachers, a large building and with several successes in the Cape Matriculation Examination to its credit.


Citizens of Mbabane welcome the Prince of Wales in June 1925

During his African tour of 1925, The Prince of Wales visited Swaziland, accompanied by G. Ward Price who kept an account of events in Through South Africa with the Prince.

‘Mbabane, the chief town, turned out to be a picturesque little place of wooden verandahed bungalows which gave it a rather Wild West air. It stands on hilly ground and just beyond is a sharp fall in the general level of the country, and standing on its edge you can look for many miles over the far-stretching lowlands of Swaziland lying three thousand feet below.

‘He (Paramount Chief Sobhuza), with three thousand of his tribesmen, was waiting for the Prince on the grass-covered slopes outside the town’.
With Sobhuza, who is described as a young man of twenty four, was his mother Lomawa.

A later publication dated 1968 is Usutu by Harry Filmer and Patricia Jameson. Harry Filmer first visited Swaziland in 1908 and worked on the tin mines, returning in 1912 to farm Filmerton, his ranch across the Great Usutu River, 17 miles from Bremersdorp.

‘"Look Harry, there’s something that will interest you," said Mr. Armstrong. "Do you see that collection of sheds and those water races running along the sides of the hills? They are for tin mining......... They are ten miles long. You’ll see them at the Usutu Tin Mines when you get to Mbabane."

‘Darkness had fallen once more when we suddenly turned a sharp bend in the road and there before us was the little town of Mbabane. It consisted of a straight road, which ran between houses and shops, and two small wood and iron buildings, brilliantly lit up. These were Mbabane’s two hotels - we had arrived!

‘(The next day)We watched the Swazis sluicing tin in the valley below the town. We explored and found the houses of Robert Coryndon, the Resident Commissioner; Colonel Gilson, the Head of the Police, and Mr. Knight, the General Manager of the tin concessions. We also discovered the Mbabane Club, a little building, displaying newspapers.

Filmer’s work at the tin mines brought him into contact with many people whose names have become legendary: The tall, fair and flamboyant Reilly who left his mark by building a causeway across the Little Usutu River and, long afterwards, a dam was marked on a map of Swaziland as "Reilly’s Dam".

There was Mr. Smethly, a solicitor who, despite frequently receiving a cow or an ox in lieu of a fee, always seemed to have plenty of money to spend. He was later discovered to be responsible for the armed hold up of Zeederberg’s stage coach and making off with the month’s salaries of the entire civil service and police force. It transpired that Smethly bribed Benjamin the driver to the tune of 100 but omitted to tip the Swazi whip-boy who recognised him and reported him to the police.

In her book The Uniform of Colour, Hilda Kuper notes that in 1940 (according to the Union Year Book of that year) Mbabane had a population of 220 Europeans.

An idea of the tempo and life style in Swaziland’s towns during the mid 1930’s is given in Kuper’s description of Mbabane:

‘Mbabane lies surrounded by pleasing avenues of trees with rugged mountains to the north and west, and the valleys of the midlands rolling south and east. The whole commercial and administrative section is scattered along a wide main road with an old-fashioned tavern at one end (the old Tavern Hotel, now the MTN Office Park) and an old-fashioned gaol at the other. Off the main street are rough roads to the European homes. About a mile from the town, past a cattle dip, and set in a lovely rambling garden, is The Residency, the home of the Resident Commissioner.


The First Government building on the corner of Allister Miller and Warner Streets

‘At odd points in the township, without any apparent planning, are placed a few churches and schools (owned mainly by the missions), and two hospitals, one controlled by the Government and the other by the Berlin Lutheran Mission.

People move slowly along the shady avenues, knowing there is little point in hurry. An occasional club match, garden party, wedding or funeral, a weekly bioscope, a race meeting, an annual agricultural show at Bremersdorp (which became the Trade Fair), the election of the Advisory Council, the visit of a high official - these are the outstanding events for Europeans in the capital of Swaziland.

‘A somewhat erratic electricity plant, run by private enterprise, illuminates the little town and when I was there, water was supplied from a furrow four miles long, open to infection along its whole length and leading into a dam (now Drew’s Dam) from which a pipe drew the unfiltered stream to most of the stands.

‘A telephone service connects the districts, a few private families, the hospitals, the larger schools and in 1937, a line was laid to connect the "office" erected by the administration at Sobhuza’s village.

Hilda Kuper writes that ‘Swazis predominate in the main street of the town. The men move barefooted, dressed in kilts of cloth and loin flaps of animal skin, they have beads around their necks and ornaments in their hair. They carry shields and sticks and sometimes, despite a plea to Swazi authorities to discourage the practice, a shining spear. A khaki overcoat or a waistcoat is a modern extra imposed for town wear. A few dandy warriors break into a march song, raising their weapons in rhythm to the tune. Girls walk around in gay patterned prints, tied at the shoulder and falling loosely over material swathed into short skirts. Their hair is done in many fancy styles and their bead ornaments are as decorative as those they work for their lovers.

A native policeman swaggers by. Someone comments on how his heavy boots will please the thief he tries to catch, and his friends applaud the wit who looks innocently away; a girl, iswanki, saunters along and is greeted by repeated calls to love. ..... A mother sits unselfconsciously on the pavement to suckle her naked child.......... A neat clerk in a lounge suit walks along ..... and a small group shows off its English with a loud greeting: "Hello, Boy. Where you off?"

On the borders of Mbabane is a small isikomplaas (location) in which the natives employed in the town are able to buy land and build houses. These houses reflect the economic and educational standards of their owners very much more than any homestead in native areas and they range from the well built and well furnished cottage of the best paid clerk in the administration, to the tin shack of an old road worker.


In Sobhuza II, Ngwenyama and King of Swaziland, Hilda Kuper relates that in 1934, accompanied by Professor Bronislaw Malinowski of the London School of Economics, she travelled to Mbabane ‘a small country town’ where they were met by A.G. Marwick, Acting Resident commissioner who had come to Swaziland at the end of the Boer War. Known as Ndlavela (of the regiment of Mbandzeni, Sobhuza’s grandfather), A.G. was a friend and ally to Sobhuza. Marwick’s nephew Brian (later Sir Brian, who eventually became Resident Commissioner himself) was also present, together with his Swazi informant, Mashiphisa Fakudze.

King Sobhuza II

Kuper notes that Sobhuza tended to avoid Mbabane which was regarded as the seat of an alien administration. It seems that in those days, visits across the "colour line" were not the norm and despite the friendship between A.G. and Sobhuza, it was the Resident Commissioner who was expected to take the initiative. In any case, the 12 miles to Lobamba was along roads that were "rutted and corrugated and twisting up and down steep hills" - a slow trip which was hazardous in wet weather.

Mbabane is mentioned later in Kuper’s biography when she records that in October 1957, Brian Marwick began formal discussions on the constitutional issue. The first official joint meeting of Swazis and Europeans was held on 4 November in Mbabane. King Sobhuza did not attend, and later explained to Kuper that it was "not appropriate". He sent some of his councillors as delegates, keeping others with him to scrutinise their reports.

A number of people who were prominent in early Mbabane are mentioned in Huw M. Jones’ Biographical Register of Swaziland to 1902.

Arthur Camp
Arthur Cecil Camp arrived in Swaziland in about 1896 and opened a store at Mbabane in February 1899. The company sub-leased rights for a bakery and butchery on the premises for an annual rental of 36. After the second Anglo-Boer War, Camp started a successful store, hotel and wholesale liquor business in Mbabane. As one of the town’s representatives, he attended a meeting on 15 April 1904 to protest about lack of development in Swaziland but in 1906 he was convicted of stealing tin and declared insolvent. Camp’s descendants reside in Swaziland today.

Jokovu Dlamini (c1830-1908)
Jokovu succeeded his father in 1875 as chief of the area of Nyakenye in the Mbuluzana River valley north of Manzini. While he appears to have played only a minor role in national politics, he was present at several important occasions. These include a meeting in 1907 at Mbabane called by R.T. Coryndon, the Resident Commissioner, to ensure the choice of Sobhuza as King Bhunu’s heir.

William Ayliffe Cheere Emmett (1859-1935)
Born and educated in Swellendam, South Africa, Emmett join the Swaziland Police after the South African Republic established an administration in 1895 and later replaced his brother-in-law, L. Botha, as native commissioner in Mbabane. He was also inspector of the road from "Babane" into the Zulwini valley and was still owed money for the incomplete road when the Anglo-Boer War broke out in 1899.

James Forbes Jr. (1866-1922)
Apparently acting for the ‘Mbabane Syndicate of London and South Africa’, Forbes obtained a concession covering 26 sq. km. in the Mbabane area in April 1887. This was a 50 year lease
with right of renewal for a further 25 years. This was later sold to H.L. Eckstein. Forbes is recorded as being present at a lunch held in Mbabane to mark the visit of Lord Milner.

Clara Harris
A member of the South Africa General Mission, Clara Harris lived in Pretoria and was described by Mohanda Gandhi during his stay in 1893 as ‘an elderly maiden lady’. Harris learnt siZulu in preparation for taking up missionary work in ‘darkest Swaziland’, arriving there in December 1893 with M.H. Coates (after whom Coates Valley in Manzini is named) and Georgina Gabb. The two women started a mission station at Hebron and in December 1897, Harris founded the Ezulwini mission station with a Miss Brown. Following the Anglo-Boer War, during which Harris was evacuated from Swaziland, she returned to Zulwini and later started a mission station in Mbabane. A fundamental evangelical Christian, she wrote in 1897 that ‘The great difficulty is to make the people realise they are sinners’.

Mbabane Madvonsela Kunene
Kunene was the indvuna (chief) of the Mdzimba inhlonhla (cattle ranch). His homestead was in the area where Allister Miller built his home, Dalraich, after the second Anglo-Boer War. He had died by 1914 when he was succeeded by his son Maloyi. A petition to the Special Court of Swaziland in January 1924 was based on the Kunenes’ rights and their erosion during Mbabane Kunene’s lifetime by Miller. The Mbabane stream may have been named after Mbabane Kunene and he is probably the source of the name given to the town of Mbabane.

Michael (Micky) Wells
On 24 April 1888, Micky Wells - a.k.a. Bombardier Wells - acquired a land concession, a 50 year lease with right of renewal for an annual rental of 5, on the site of the future town of Mbabane. It appears that at the time he was manager of J. Thorburn’s hotel at Mbekelweni. Towards the end of 1888, Wells was the only white resident in the area and had built Wells Royal, also known as Halfway House Hotel, comprising three grass huts and a grass kitchen. There was never danger of fire in the kitchen because, averred Allister Miller, Wells never cooked anything, never having anything to cook. His excuses to customers were along the lines of dogs having stolen his last leg of buck. Wells was involved in gold extraction and was listed in Captain R.S.S. Baden Powell’s 1889 list of shopkeepers as the only storekeeper at ‘Babaan’. According to Allister Miller, Wells was last seen in Swaziland in 1903, heading towards Durban.




Laying the foundation stone of All Saint's Church, May 1946 and all Saints Anglican Cathedral as it is today


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