A blue plaque for a Zulu king
The plaque was unveiled on 30th October at 18 Melbury Road, London, W14, where he spent a month in 1882 following his exile from Zululand. During his stay, he met Prime Minister Gladstone and visited Queen Victoria. Although the duration of his stay was short, his visit made a significant political impact - very few African princes, and no other Zulus (save those accompanying Cetshwayo) had visited London at this time.
Ian Knight, a historian and author, said: "Everyone in London was curious to see this guy who had given the British such a bloody nose. As is often the case, the British secretly admired the pluckiness of an underdog. They lined the streets for a look, all expecting him to be a scowling savage in a loincloth but he turned out to be impeccably dressed in European clothes. He apparently made a great impression on Queen Victoria and everyone else he met and ended up being cheered wherever he went."
While honouring of Cetshwayo in this way has been generally welcomed, the historian and writer Kwame Osei had this to say on the website Black Britain. "It would be of more value if it were part of a wider programme such as apologising for enslaving Africans and reappraising how African people are viewed, portrayed and treated in British society."
The South African Times article on this event ends with a list of some other South Africans who have been honoured with a blue plaque:
- Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912): Composer of the 'Song of Hiawatha'
- Sol Plaatje (1876-1932): Black South African writer and campaigner for African rights.
- Olive Schreiner (1855-1920): Author.
- Ruth First (1925-82) and Joe Slovo (1926-1995): Freedom fighters.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor? I immediately thought of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he of the albatross, and was sure that he wasn’t South African so went to check on Wikipedia. I had the wrong man, of course! Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, someone I'd never heard of before, was an English composer born in Croydon to an English mother and a Sierra Leonean father. Huh?? So, why did the South African Times put him down as a South African? I did a bit of digging and found a really interesting article about him but this is all it mentions in terms of a South African connection:
Gwennie (his daughter) changed her name to Avril after her first divorce, as a symbol of a new beginning. As Avril Coleridge-Taylor, she had considerable success as a conductor and composer (the Ghanaian national anthem is by her); but, having moved to South Africa in the 1950s, and the colour of her father's skin being discovered, she was subjected to all the intolerance apartheid could muster, and unable to work.