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Published:November 6th, 2006 04:02 EST
The power of words: maffick

The power of words: maffick

By Krzys Wasilewski

The verb maffick has over a hundred-year history. Little do we know that when we are mafficking, that is, when we are "celebrating boisterous rejoicing and hilarious behavior," we go back to South Africa 1900 AD. Like hardly any other word, this one, tells a story of war, courage, determination and victory.

Let's go back to the first months of the 20th century. When Europe and the United States are enjoying their “Golden Age” - La Belle Époque - far away, in British South Africa, a war has been harvesting its bloody sorrow for almost a year. As it often happens, nobody could tell why the war actually broke out. Liberals said that by imposing taxes on the colony the British had violated sacred rules of free market. Socialists, on the other hand, painted the Boers as fighters against merciless English capitalism. Businessmen, who do not believe in any isms, gossiped about enormous amounts of South African gold and diamonds waiting to be picked up. Only poets believed it had been the fight for independence and freedom. After all, history knows more prosaic reasons for much greater wars. Whatever the reasons, no colony, back warded Boers in particular, could divorce from the loving bosom of London.

To prevent the British Empire from collapsing, His Royal Majesty army goes aboard, and, through the Atlantic and Indian Ocean, arrive in the Cape of Good Hope. Hope, however, fades when it turns out that the enemy has an overwhelming superiority in numbers, and, what is more, they are excellent shooters and know the terrain a great deal better than the British. The Army High Command needs time to deploy more troops; in other words, the Army High Command needs a miracle. And the miracle comes.

Paraphrasing one famous movie title, Robert Baden - Powell was the Empire's new hope. Having spent several years in South Africa, he knew the country as well as the natives. Now days, he is famous for founding scouting, the movement that engages children all over the world. But then, in 1900, Baron Baden - Powell comes back to South Africa as the youngest colonel in the British Army. There is only one task put before him: engage the Boer forces as far from the coast as possible, for as long as possible, until the king sends reinforcements. And here comes the city of Mafikeng, the predecessor of the verb maffick.

Founded by British colonizers, Mafikeng (meaning in Tshwane "place of stones"), was far from a convenient place to defend. “In character it resembles one of those western American townlets which possess small present assets but immense aspirations. In its litter of corrugated iron roofs, and in the church and the racecourse, which are the first-fruits everywhere of Anglo-Celtic civilization, one Sees the seeds of the great city of the future,” as Arthur Conan Doyle (the author of Sherlock Holmes) wrote. Devoid of natural covers, Mafikeng was highly vulnerable to any attack. Yet, with a little more than 2000 soldiers, among them boys as young as 12 years old, colonel Baden - Powell manages to withstand the siege for 216 days. One old cannon, several improvised searchlights, a dozen of fake landmines, and the shrewdness of Baden - Powell proved to have been enough for the 8000 strong Boer army. When on 17 May 1901 Mafeking was free again, for many it was indeed a miracle. Great Britain was delighted. "Baden - Powell: 216, Kruger: 0," newspapers referred to cricket games played by the defenders and attackers on Sundays. The British Boer war was probably the last conflict where both sides respected ceasefires. "With his gallant little band of eight hundred men, they made the Boers fly from Mafikeng like sheep escaping from a pen," a poet praised the brave colonel and his soldiers. Streets of London, Liverpool, and other cities were thronged with jubilant people letting of fireworks, dancing and singing till the late hours.

The war ended one year after Mafikeng was relieved. It claimed over 70,000 lives, including women and children, most of them starved in infamous British concentration camps. The first war of the 20th century was a tragic prelude to what was awaiting the world.

Robert Baden - Powell was promoted to Major - General. The Empire was saved again although the war proved that its end was soon and inevitable. The Boers lost their republics and had to wait for independence until the end of the Second World War. In 1948 apartheid was introduced. Those who so bravely fought for freedom half a century earlier deprived millions of people of basic rights. Another 50 years had to pass before all South Africans, despite the color, could freely maffick on the streets of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Mafikeng. This time, however, there were no losers, only winners.

Nowadays Mafikeng is the capital of the North West Province, and “a gateway to Africa,” as its Mayor proudly admits. Being given the title of The City of Goodwill in 2005, Mafikeng shows other, better ways to appear in history almanacs than war.


Please send comments to: krzys_wasilewski@yahoo.com