Men of Men (Ballantyne #2), by Wilbur Smith

Four stars

As the Ballantyne saga continues, Smith chose a new central focus on which the imperial white man seeks to hoard for himself; highly pressurised carbon. no matter the plight of the Africans currently living on the land. Just as the ivory hunt proved to be highly beneficial for European settlers, the mining of diamonds became a lucrative means to make substantial capital. Smith brings Zouga Ballantyne into the thick of the mining operation, alongside his family. As the novel opens, Ralph and Jordan Ballantyne are in camp with their parents and exploring as any teenage boy is wont to do. When Zouga’s wife dies suddenly, it is up to the Ballantyne boys to forge their own way in a world still rife with chaos. As Zouga mines for diamonds, he leads a camp full of locals until Cecil Rhodes arrives on the scene, ready not only to purchase all the diamonds, but to annex the lands and settle them for his own. Using Zouga as an emissary to the African tribes, Rhodes begins the creation of what will eventually be Rhodesia (and then Zimbabwe). Ralph becomes a hardcore worker, mirroring the sentiments of his father and grows up to develop a personality as hard as the diamonds he mines. Jordan, on the other hand, is a more delicate young man, much like his mother, but does find himself involved as Rhodes’ personal secretary. When Ralph travels to discover his aunt, Robyn Codrington (nee Ballantyne)’s missionary camp, he falls in love with his cousin, Catherine and they begin a whirlwind romance. Smith uses this encounter to bridge the two original siblings (Robyn and Zouga), as well as the fallout that befalls them when Captain St. John (the slave owning ship captain) returns to engage with Rhodes and his new territorial plans. Both Zouga and Robyn’s clans mesh together during the subsequent portions of the novel, which focusses largely on Rhodes use of soldiers and the British South Africa Company to rid the lands of the African tribes by force, read: slaughter them. Smith masterfully weaves this tale alongside the birth of Rhodesia, the white state that will, in decades to come, prove key in the black suppression on the African continent. A powerful second novel in the Ballantyne series not to be missed.

Smith continues with his storytelling abilities to depict the colonial nightmare that saw the sub-continent of Africa become the plaything of the British Commonwealth. Plundering its people, wildlife, and now natural resources, Smith shows how the entire area was devastated by those who thought they knew best. In this tale, Smith pulls no punches as he explores the colonial mindset, to rape and pillage those who will not kneel voluntarily, while killing those who seek to protect their tribal lands. Pitting the spear against the bullet and formal military techniques against those of tribal huntsmen, Smith shows how the European (read: British) mindset utilised this superiority to slaughter those in their way, with no comprehension for the traditional ways of life. Rhodesia’s creation was made on the backs of the African people, their blood and sweat imbedded in the land while the whites profited immensely. A novel not for the reader who is not prepared to digest horrible depictions, but full of examples of the deplorable way whites treated those with whom they saw as a hindrance. Smith is to be applauded for this book and the series to date, which has handled many of these topics in a historically accurate way. 

Kudos, Mr. Smith for this powerfully disturbing novel. You have left an ache in me to learn more and to be ashamed of the British Commonwealth at the same time. No wonder things became as volatile in that region, pitting race against race and tradition against colonial profits.