A recent debate started on the Facebook page of a South African politician has migrated to the op ed pages of the newspapers. Earlier this month, Tito Mboweni, a retired Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, proposed that the name of South Africa was inappropriate and should be changed. One suggestion was “Azania”, the fictitious name used by Evelyn Waugh for the East African country that was the setting for his 1932 novel Black Mischief. But that was rejected because it means “land of the slaves.”
A political commentator (Andrew Donaldson) writing in the Weekend Argus, a leading South African newspaper, notes that Waugh’s fictional Azania:
… is governed by Emperor Seth, an Oxford-educated idealist who embarks on a modernisation drive, which all goes hopelessly wrong, thanks to a French-supported coup d’état. Seth is assassinated and Azania becomes a League of Nations mandate, and there is some unsavoury evidence of cannibalism. Waugh was of course a terrible reactionary. His, you could well argue, was certainly an ugly head that reared…
According to the critic and journalist Christopher Hitchens, in the early 1960s, the exiled leadership of the then-recently formed Pan-Africanist Congress wrote to Waugh at his Somerset home, “asking if they could annex the name ‘Azania’, from his novel Black Mischief, for the future liberated South Africa! (The title ‘Azania’ survives now in lapidary form on the gravestone of Steve Biko.)” This, I may add, is from Hitchens’ introduction to Scoop, one of the more accurate novels about journalism.
Access to the Weekend Argus is available only by subscription but Donaldson’s story has been reposted on an African news blog called PoliticsWeb. Christopher Hitchens’ introduction to Scoop is included in his 2004 collection of essays entitled Love, Poverty and War. Hitchens doesn’t offer a source for the letter to Waugh from the Pan-Africanist Congress, but the following inscription does appear on Steve Biko’s tombstone: “One Azania One Nation”.