Unravelling my Capricorn puzzle …as it turns out to be a sellout organisation


My sweet liberation war memories include song and dance, abundant beef supply and the sound of combat fire.
The war brought new songs and dances. Jenaguru (moonlight song and dance) spring nights gave way to pungwes (all night political gatherings).
Social music gave way to revolutionary emotion charged music. In 1978 going into 1979 a meat glut hit the village; there was an oversupply of makabichi, beef masters raided from the neighbouring white ranches.
War political teachings were great; we quickly believed in the invincibility of our comrades. We celebrated the sound of gunfire, signalling another battle victory for our dear comrades. In a distant battle at Dhangwa we cheered birds in battle-like formation, all of us convinced these were Zvapungu (bateleur eagles) sent by the ancestors to thwart enemy air power.
Capital punishment tops my sad memories of the war. Summary executions were not uncommon and indeed a few took place in the village. Rhodesians were quick to pull the trigger against those suspected of collaborating with the freedom fighters.
We lost an age-mate in the village that way. We also knew that selling out to Rhodesians or practising witchcraft attracted the ultimate punishment from the comrades; certainly in my village and am sure elsewhere at the front.
I recall lyrics of one song, “Capricorn chenjera…chenjera chenjera, mutengesi chenjera…chenjera chenjera…..vanamukoma vanodhaya…”
In Nature Study at Unyetu Primary School I had come across the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and wondered why a mere line on the map of Africa would signal high treason. It was a puzzle I never shared with anyone.
I had almost forgotten about the puzzle until a couple of years ago when I came across the article that gave context to the war time Capricorn lyrics. The article is reproduced in full from Time Magazine, July 2 1956:
“While Africa strained under the growing pressure of racial tension, a strange and polychromic group of idealists, white, black and brown, gathered last week on the southern shore of Nyasaland’s windy and beautiful Lake Nyasa. From every corner of east and central Africa, by every means of transportation, they travelled to a wooded rise perched above the surf-tossed shores where lions and gazelles had roamed only a few weeks before. With them they brought an idea that they hope will change all Africa into a land without racial barriers or bitterness. …
“The site of the Capricorn Africa Society’s first convention was proof of the difficulties they face. In order to ensure that its 150 delegates could talk, eat and live together, the Capricorn Society took over the site of an abandoned British hotel on the lake, hundreds of miles from a major white settlement. There, workers constructed a small city — Capricorn town — complete with refurbished hotel, thatched huts, marked-off lanes, a huge grass-thatched bwalo (meeting hall) and symmetrical rows of small tents.
“Free and Equal. The society’s real aim is refurbishing ideas. It was founded in 1949 by Colonel David Stirling (40) a hard-driving bachelor who led a commando unit in daring raids against Rommel behind German lines in the western desert. Settling in Rhodesia after the war, Scottish-born Stirling was shocked by the rising racial hatred he saw everywhere. He decided to do something about it “before total catastrophe overtakes both white and non-white societies.” His plan: a society of all Africans, regardless of colour, in which each would have equal rights and as he fulfilled certain requirements a basic vote. Today, Capricorn’s 5 000 members about equally divided between coloured and white confine their work to the British lands between the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn (the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland, Kenya and Tanganyika). But they have designs on the whole continent.
“For the first time in their lives, Capricorn’s delegates sat in free and equal congress last week to consider their common problems. Sir William Murphy, ex-governor of the Bahamas and Lady Murphy sat side by side with three Kikuyu tribesmen who had defied Mau Mau threats of assassination to travel from Kenya. Peppery little Author Alan (Cry, the Beloved Country) Paton came in from Natal, mingled with white doctors and teachers and black farmers. At night, over beer and sandwiches, everyone lounged together and talked, while tall, lanky David Stirling strolled about, arguing, urging, explaining.
“The convention’s chief work was the approval of a “Capricorn contract between the races, which would replace racial loyalties with African patriotism. Since it had already gone through eleven drafts, the resolution passed largely without dissent. Some of its provisions: 1) common citizenship in each territory; 2) single voting roll for all citizens, but more than one vote for specially qualified citizens; 3) gradual release of all land to buyers, regardless of race; 4) improved educational standards so that children of all races can eventually be taught in the same schools. The Capricorn Society’s idea for multiple votes (up to six for anyone with such qualifications as higher education, property holding and military service) derive from Nevil Shute’s novel In the Wet. The society’s next step: getting these provisions enacted into law in each territory.
“The Opposition. Blacks have criticised the Capricorn Society because they feel that its multiple vote is merely a device to preserve white supremacy; whites who think Capricorn’s sponsors are dilettantes out of touch with reality bitterly refer to it as the “Leprechaun Africa Society.” To show their determination, members are ready to run for office to get their ideas adopted. The idealists left Lake Nyasa’s shores knowing that theirs is an uphill struggle: in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, as the party sheepishly separated to return to segregated life, they were eyed with a mixture of scorn and antipathy. But, asked Alan Paton: “If this has no chance in Africa, what chance has anything in Africa?”
At face value Capricorn sounded as a progressive effort in dismantling colonialism. Indeed many would-be radical nationalists jumped onto its bandwagon but thanks to Rhodesian intransigency Capricorn was made irrelevant as nationalists saw the light and abandoned it for the armed struggle.
Capricorn had been the work of smart white visionaries who foresaw the fall of colonialism to the armed struggle. They sought to avert impending disaster of black nationalist rule by assimilating these nationalists into white civilisation. Preaching Christian values and the common loyalty to earned non-racial citizenship they sought to build a generation of upper class black nationalists who, in return for the promise to become black whites, would sign away the political aspirations of their majority poor and uneducated brethren.


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