The Africa House

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En route to the famed hot springs at Kapishaya you pass through an old estate which has a fascinating history and feels a bit like a time and place warp. Indeed I would recommend the trip more for the history than the hot springs although the hot springs were pretty awesome.

There are fenced paddocks and stone cottages reminiscent of the architecture of the English countryside and then a beautiful old stone and brick house set back off the road. A little dilapidated but that only adds to the charm. We later found out this was Shiwa Ng’andu, the estate of Sir Stewart Gore-Browne, a soldier, pioneer, white settler, builder, politician and supporter of Zambian independence in the early 20 th century. The house is often called Shiwa House. One of his grandsons runs the estate now and another grandson runs the lodge and camp with the hot springs.

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The estate entrance with a long walk up the tree lined avenue to the main house.

Sir Stewart's story began in Victorian England. Although from a moderately wealthy background he always had a dream to own his own estate and knew he did not have the resources to do this in Britain. He joined the army at the beginning of the century. In 1914 he heard the government was selling off land cheaply in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and he bought Shiwa Ng’andu for 2 shillings an acre after he trekked on foot through the area, following in the footsteps of one of Livingstone's journeys. When he came across the nearby lake he is said to have said “We suddenly came upon what I thought was the most beautiful lake I had ever seen. I was surrounded by hilly country, and along its shores were groves of rare trees, of kinds sacred to Africans. Friendly folk inhabited the one big village on the lakeshore and there were a dozen herds of different wild game. The surrounding land seemed to be reasonably fertile judging by the crops that were ripening there. I knew at once that I had found what I was looking for.”

In 1920 he retired from the army and armed with a copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, an army engineering manual, a model of the house fashioned after his childhood home, Brooklands, in England and the help of 1,000 local labourers, he set about building his dream.
He was energetic and larger than life by all accounts, and he devised ways to make different colours of brick and tile for the building as well as championing the education and skilling of the local people. He built a school and hospital. He tried many types of farming, most successfully the production of essential oils of citrus and eucalyptus. He had a firey temper and forceful manner, which led to his nickname of the Black Rhinoceros or Chipembele.

Even now this is a pretty isolated spot. In 1932 it took 3 weeks to trek there by oxwagon and horse, across swamp and rivers, and his nearest neighbours were many kilometres away. He was progressive and believed in African self determination and majority rule. He became a close friend of Kenneth Kaunda and was an honoured guest at Zambia’s Independence celebrations.

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The chapel
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Kaunda bestows the honour of "A Grand Officer" of the Companion of Freedom Second Division.

He is the only white man to have been given a state funeral and chiefs honours when he died in 1967. He was heavily involved in politics in the new independent country and was recognised by the British monarchy for his contribution to African affairs. In short he was fully committed to Africa his whole life even if part of that commitment, rather contradictorily, was creating an English country estate deep in the bush. In one of the rooms in the house there is an inscription above the fireplace which translates as " This corner of the earth smiles on me above all others." You know you would have loved to have met him.
The house offers tours every day for a fee and we were quick to present ourselves there.

There is also an opportunity to stay in the house which would be pretty amazing but was outside our price range.

The scent of eucalyptus was heavy in the air from eucalyptus plantations as we approached the house. We were met on the drive by a cheerful guy dressed in brogues and an old jacket with 6 or 8 dogs at his heels. It was the owner, and grandson of Sir Stewart, and he was returning from a night hunting poachers. Quite successfully it seemed, courtesy of an exhausted Brown Labrador panting by his side. The poaching here remains a problem but they catch them quite often and the sentencing is stiff. The trade is driven by the wealthy middle and upper classes in Lusaka rather than a local demand.

He walked us through the terraced garden and handed us over to the staff and pottered off for his well earned breakfast. After some years of neglect he has been slowly restoring the house and estate to something of its former glory.

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The inscription reads "This corner of earth smiles on me above all others", a sentiment we certainly share about Africa.
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The initials over this door stand for Stewart and Lorna, his wife. She was nearly 30 years younger than him and the daughter of a childhood sweetheart, also known as Lorna. Indeed Lorna's mother was widely thought to have been his true love. The great author and poet Thomas Hardy was so taken by the story that he wrote a poem entitled 'Lorna the Second'.

Although she played a large role in the running of the estate, becoming fluent in Bemba, and a fierce advocate for the local people, she ultimately had difficulty adapting to the isolation of life here. When he took her to see the carved initials for the first time she apparently reacted in horror, asking " What does that mean?, Does it mean we have to live here forever?" Eventually they separated and divorced.

LORNA THE SECOND

LORNA! Yes you are sweet,
But you are not your mother
Lorna the First, frank, feat,
Never such another! -
Love of her could smother
Griefs by day or night;
Nor could any other,
Lorna, dear and bright,
Ever so well adorn a
Mansion, coach or cot,
Or so make men scorn a
Rival in their sight;
Hence I have to mourn a
Loss ere you were born; a Lorna!

Thomas Hardy

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The house is filled with memorablia and old furnishings and fixtures, evoking a fabulous insight into bygone times and African exploration.

We were shown through the house which was a warren of corridors and rooms illuminated through arched windows and filled with fascinating things. Family portraits vied for space with Chinese silk hanging, animal heads, militaria and African artifacts. Beautiful Benin bronzes lined the hallway. The catholic chapel had stone walls 2 feet thick. Upstairs a library lined with book shelves was filled with dusty volumes of books, diaries and maps. It was a very evocative visit. Sir Stewart was a prolific diarist and photographer and has left a legacy of living history. To think this was almost lost is terrifying. Since 2000, starting with the mammoth task of fixing the roof, it is being slowly and lovingly restored for posterity, but there is clearly still work to be done.

As we left we were directed to their large area of wilderness adjacent to the nearby lake which is stocked with game. The name Shiwa Ng’andu is taken from the lake and means the Lake of the Royal Crocodile.

Livingstone's dog was eaten by a crocodile here and is buried behind the house. We spotted impala and puku and some waterbuck. The view over the lake was beautiful.

A history of this house and the life of Stewart Gore-Browne was written by Caroline Lamb and published in 1999 called The Africa House should you ever come across it. You are more likely to find it in an old book store than an ebooks site. This family has undoubtedly been a pivotal part of African and Zambian history. Even the subsequent generations have had their fair share of drama and mystery. His daughter and her husband were tragically murdered in Lusaka in 1992 by members of the ANC in exile. Whether this was a robbery, or linked to more sinister factors such as the ivory trade, is still controversial. Despite this history, and the burden of the practicalities of running the Shiwa Ng'andu legacy, the family are still making a go of it and preserving it for future generations. They are involved in the hot springs, guided touring, wilderness camps and ecotourism as well as farming.