Black History Month – Lynn’s Story

Amongst many other things, 2020 is the year that Worcester has discovered its black residents.  Following the tragic events in America, we have had two carefully organised and widely supported Black Lives Matter protests.  The experiences of being black and living in Worcester were eloquently expressed by a variety of voices.  Now the city is marking Black History Month (BHM).

I was contacted by the Reverend Canon Dr Edwards at the end of July 2020.  He wanted me to help connect the Cathedral up with BHM events in Worcester.  However, there were no events being planned.  A couple of Zoom meetings and a lot of emails and networking later – BHM Worcester 2020 has a programme of activities throughout October.  We have found enormous energy and enthusiasm from many different local groups to explore black history and culture and learn more. 

One of the BHM coordinating group members has posed a number of questions including ‘what do you know about Black British History?’.  I am a scientist, not a historian.  However, by the time you reach my age, you discover you have lived through history.  So this is a personal contribution to BHM. 

Going to university is generally about leaving home, expanding your horizons and meeting new people.  As a fresher, I fell in love with a stunningly handsome guy, who lived in the same halls of residence, played the guitar and was full of fascinating stories from a different world.  How did a boy from an African village end up marrying a girl from the outer suburbs of London?  It’s history.

Job Takavarasha came to England as a refugee from the apartheid regime of Ian Smith.  Rhodesia was a pariah state then and any travel in or out was extremely difficult.  Job managed to cross the border into Botswana and was then helped to get a British passport. He was supported by benefactors to come to the UK.  He was eternally grateful to these people and years later we visited a Scottish academic, Dr. Waterstone, who had worked in Botswana and helped Job to get here. At that time, black Rhodesians were regarded as British citizens escaping an unacceptable political regime and were welcomed here. 

Job was born in Takavarasha village, so named after his grandfather Takavarasha, the person who gave rise to the ever-expanding Takavarasha clan.  Education was the prized route to advancement for a bright African boy.  Job moved to the township, Shabani, and then passed the entrance exam for Fletcher High School, a boys boarding school.  Under the stern eye of the Headmaster, Knottenbelt, he received an English public school education. Job left with A levels, a bit of Latin, and a taste for the finer things of English life.

This is the black history that I learnt as a young woman and still remember.  Much Black History is oral history and it is retained by repetition and sharing.  Job could go back several generations before Takavarasha but I have not retained that.  

Cecil Rhodes made a fortune from diamond mining in South Africa and founded the De Beers company.  He then moved on to spread the benefits of the British Empire to the area that became Rhodesia in the late 1890s.  The spectacular waterfall, on the Zambezi river, existed long before he named it in honour of Queen Victoria.  He allegedly loved the country but caused enormous insult to the Shona people by insisting on being buried in one of their most sacred places.  His grave is on the rock hilltop known as World’s View, now in Matobo National Park.

The suppression of the majority African population by Ian Smith and a tiny minority of privileged white people became increasingly unacceptable.  The original ‘ex-patriots’ were less and less connected with their multicultural ‘homeland’ and declared UDI* in 1965.  The growing African refugee community, the international sanctions and guerilla warfare built up the pressure for change.  How many people know that the underground ‘freedom fighter’, Robert Mugabe, visited West Bromwich in the 1970s?  

A peace agreement was eventually signed at Lancaster House in December 1979, leading to the creation and recognition of the Republic of Zimbabwe.  The reclaimed and reborn country was named after Great Zimbabwe – the ruined stone city in Masvingo that was built by Shona ancestors in the 11th century. 

*Universal Declaration of Independence

Lynn Denham (formerly Takavarasha)

Picture of Job William Chademana Takavarasha

2 comments

  • Very interesting Lynn, makes me want to learn more and feel like you could write a lot more about this and the life of Job and yourself. I suspect there was racism that you both came across in those days and various forms of treatment, but good times too. So there is a lot more to write about I’m sure, this flavour was very interesting. Thank you x

    Like

  • Lynn, bless you for writing about this part of your history.
    Now it all makes sense.
    Joan

    Like

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