A Brief History of the Society
From 1949 to 1952 two civil servants, Harry Archie Cripwell of the then Native Department and Brendon William Lloyd of the then Native Education Department, based in Masvingo found that they shared an interest in books on Rhodesian and South African history and they met from time to time to discuss and share information on their common interest.
In 1953 they were both transferred to Harare.
Cripwell and Lloyd soon met in Harare and reviewed their discussions on matters historical and decided to pursue the possibility of establishing a Society similar to the Van Riebeeck Society of South Africa. After obtaining a copy of the Constitution of that Society they sent out notes to all those who they knew to be interested in books about Rhodesia inviting them to a meeting at the Presbyterian Church Hall “to discuss the collection and preservation of Rhodesiana”.
Seven people attended the meeting on 8th May 1953 and it is appropriate to record their names: H.A. Cripwell the Provincial Commissioner Mashonaland, B.W. Lloyd of the Native Education Department and his wife Mrs. Mary Lloyd, G.H. Tanser a senior official in the Ministry of Education and Rhoda Ellis also of the Ministry of Education, Father Hannan a well-known Jesuit priest and Jan van Heerden a local architect.
Those present unanimously agreed to form a Society and a Sub-Committee was appointed to draft a Constitution to present to a subsequent meeting.
A month later on 12th June 1953 at the Ministry of Education Audio Visual Centre the Rhodesia Africana Society was formally established “to further the interests of collectors of Rhodesiana and to assist in the preservation of books and documents relating to the Rhodesias and Nyasaland”. Ten people were present and they included the seven who had been present in May as well as Messrs Aitken-Cade, Cawood and Packham.
The first Committee comprised Messrs Cripwell (Chairman), Lloyd (Secretary), Van Heerden, Tanser and Father Hannan SJ. The annual subscription was one guinea.
The emphasis at the beginning was on books and their acquisition through purchase or exchange and members were invited to inform the Secretary of duplicate and unwanted books (with prices and condition of book to be stated) as well as of books sought. Newsletter No. 1 dated 9th November 1953 reported on a visit to the Africana Library at the Chishawasha Seminary on 18th October 1953 to view the many rare and valuable books preserved there. It was also stated in the Newsletter that it was hoped to organise meetings to discuss and view private collections of Africana and members willing to allow their books to be viewed were asked to notify the Secretary.
By November 1953 there were 19 paid up members who included the original ten except for Rhoda Ellis plus Dr. D.M. Blair, A.M. Ewing, F.R. Nobes, Mrs. C. Priest, Sir Robert Tredgold, two Bishops namely Bishop Chichester and Bishop Paget, Patrick Duncan of Basutoland and two booksellers namely C.J. Sawyer of London and Miss Jeffrey of Maskew Millers in Cape Town.
The Committee decided at an early stage that talks on appropriate subjects should be given as often as suitable speakers became available and in the first two years talks were given on Early Hunters in Africa by Major W.R. Foran, on Dr. David Livingstone by B.W. Lloyd, on Bushman Art by Mrs. E. Goodall and on Northern Rhodesiana by W.V. Brelsford.
Newsletters were issued two or three times a year but the Committee realised the importance of publishing a journal on a regular basis if the Society was to survive and as early as 12th June 1954 Newsletter No. 2 recorded “The Society, as you know, was formed not merely for the interests of collectors, but with a view to publishing when funds permitted some suitable manuscript which might otherwise remain unknown”.
A Publication Committee comprising Messrs Cripwell and Tanser was appointed to seek material for publication. Eventually two manuscripts were obtained and sent to London in 1955 for printing under the supervision of Chas. J. Sawyer, the well known and long established bookseller in London, who had joined the Society in 1953 not long after its establishment. The galley proofs were checked and in February 1957 Rhodesiana No. 1 arrived. There were 75 specially bound and numbered copies as well as about the same quantity with soft covers and copies were sold at 7s. 6d. per copy.
The first issue contained the texts of two talks, namely, the Address given by Sir Robert Tredgold as Acting Governor of Southern Rhodesia on the unveiling of the memorial at Mangwe Pass and the talk given by Mr. W.V. Brelsford on Northern Rhodesiana.
The journal has continued to this day with 40 volumes of Rhodesiana being published between 1957 and 1979. Originally the journal Rhodesiana was published annually but from 1963 to 1978 biannual volumes of 50 to 90 pages were produced.
When the country’s name was changed in April 1980 the name of the journal was changed to Heritage of Zimbabwe. Volume 1 of Heritage appeared in 1981 and Volume 35 was published in 2016.The first few volumes were about 80 pages in length but recent volumes have been about 200 pages in length.
Apart from its publications, the life blood of the Society is undoubtedly the Society’s Branches for it is the Branches that identify closely and directly with individual members by arranging functions, outings and events in the Branch area. Branches were established in Matabeleland in 1967, in Manicaland in 1968 and in Mashonaland in 1969. The Matabeleland Branch was very active for twelve years and then collapsed in 1980 whilst the Manicaland Branch was never very active and closed in 1979.
The Mashonaland Branch, however, has been extremely active since its formation. Two hundred members and their guests attended the first Branch outing to Hartley Hills in September 1969 and 250 attended the visit to Fort Martin in July 1970.
The Mashonaland Branch continues to be very active and the current Chairman, can be contacted on email
NAME AND OBJECTS CHANGES
The Society changed its name from the Rhodesia Africana Society to the Rhodesiana Society in 1958 and to the History Society of Zimbabwe in 1981. Similarly, the objects of the Society changed in 1969 to the following:
- To unite all who wish to foster a wider appreciation and knowledge of Zimbabwean history;
- To publish a journal or similar publication to further this aim;
- To hold meetings and to arrange field expeditions and take part in any other kind of relevant activity;
- To co-operate with the National Archives or any other Society or organisation with similar objects to those of the Society;
- To promote and further the interests of collectors of books and items of historical interest relating to Zimbabwe;
- To give support to any proposals for the preservation of buildings of historical significance.
BACKGROUND TO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE SOCIETY
In order to better understand the motivation of the founders of the Society a brief look at the events and profound changes taking place at the time both locally and internationally gives a better idea of the need felt by the Society and its founders to preserve the past before it became too late.
The first formal meeting of the founders of the History Society was on Friday 12th June 1953 and took place against a background nationally of great optimism, exciting changes and memorable events.
On the wider world stage Queen Elizabeth II had been crowned with traditional ceremony in Westminster Abbey on 2nd June 1953. New Zealander, Edmund P. Hillary and Sherpa Tensing Norgay climbed for the first time, the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest on 29th May. The news of the feat came through on the eve of the Coronation. Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of Britain, General Dwight Eisenhower President of the United States, and the war in Korea after a lull while the opposing parties tried to negotiate a truce had flared up again.
In Africa the Mau Mau emergency in Kenya had started with attacks on security patrols taking place in the outskirts of Nairobi. In South Africa the National Party under Dr. Malan was re-elected in a general election with an increased majority and this was seen by some as an endorsement of the policy of apartheid which his government was in the process of introducing.
In Southern Rhodesia a referendum had been held on 10th April 1953 to allow the electorate to express its view on the desirability of a federation between Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Sixty three percent of those who voted were in favour of federation. Earlier in March 1953 members of the British House of Commons had voted 304 to 206 in favour of a Bill to give effect to a federation between the three territories. The Federation which was formally inaugurated on 3rd September 1953 was to have profound economic and political consequences in later years. At the time its supporters forecast great benefits and this added to the feel good factor of the period.
Another exciting event taking place in Southern Rhodesia was the Rhodes Centenary Exhibition staged in Bulawayo from Saturday 30th May 1953 to 31st August 1953. The exhibition celebrated the centenary of the birth of Cecil John Rhodes, and was officially opened by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother on 3rd July 1953.The Queen Mother accompanied by Princess Margaret toured Southern Rhodesia from 1st July to 16th July 1953.
At that time the Queen’s official birthday was celebrated as a public holiday. A military parade was therefore held on Thursday 11th June 1953 at the Drill Hall. The parade was commanded by Lt. Col. G.H. Hartley of the Royal Rhodesia Regiment. Col. Hartley was later to become Speaker of Parliament. Sir Robert Tredgold, the Chief Justice was inspecting officer and a 21-gun salute was fired by guns of the Southern Rhodesia Artillery.
The Southern Rhodesia Air Force had a memorable and exciting weekend, for on 13th and 14th June 1953 the first air rally was held at the new Salisbury Airport. The Commander of the Air Force was Colonel E.W.S. Jacklin, later Air Vice Marshal, and the display was under the control of Captain A.O.G. Wilson later to become Air Marshal Wilson. Participating aircraft from the SRAF included Tiger Moths and Spitfires. The Royal Air Force sent 266 (Rhodesia) Squadron from Germany with its Venom fighters. These were accompanied by a Canberra bomber, Meteor night fighter and Lincoln piston engine bomber. The South African Air Force sent 3 Vampire fighters, 4 Harvard trainers and a Ventura bomber.
The Royal Air Force Rhodesia Air Training Group was winding down its activities, but sent nine Harvard trainers from Thornhill Gwelo to join in the display. The display was however, marred by a tragic mid-air collision between two RAF Harvard’s, which resulted in the death of three, RAF aircrew.
The establishment of the first university had been the topic of debate for some time. The Report on the Commission on Higher Education for Africans in Central Africa was published on 20th May 1953. It recommended an inter-racial university college at either Salisbury or Lusaka. The inaugural board of the Rhodesian University project in Salisbury announced on 6th June 1953 that the university would be completely inter-racial. The board favoured the Mount Pleasant site and no time was lost as the Queen Mother laid the foundation stone on 13th July 1953.
The decade of the nineteen fifties was a period of great development and change in this country. This spirit was captured by the founding members who had the wisdom to realise that the changes taking place about them were profound and it was necessary to record the past before it faded into memory and subsequent oblivion. Present and future members of the Society owe them a deep gratitude in that so much of our heritage has been recorded and hopefully preserved for future generations.