Peter Mackay Archive

Scope and Content

The archive provides a comprehensive record of Mackay's journalism, political activism, travel, photography and charity work. His journals, notebooks, correspondence, collections of periodicals and papers preserve a detailed account of his life as a writer and activist, while the large collection of photographs taken by Mackay during his travels around Southern Africa provides a stunning visual record of a continent during a period of great change.

Administrative / Biographical History

Peter John Sutherland Mackay (1926 to 2013) was one of the staunchest and most effective of the small group of Europeans who played an active part in the liberation struggles in Central Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. A member of an upper-middle-class Scottish family with strong links to Doune, where his grandfather was minister of the United Free Church for 30 years, Mackay was brought up in some comfort in Weybridge. He became head boy at Stowe public school, before, in 1944, joining the Scots Guards where he became the youngest captain in the Brigade and, in some views, a future General in the making. In 1948, however, he left the army and emigrated to Southern Rhodesia where he trained as a tobacco farmer. When the farm failed, he went into journalism, initially with Rhodesian Farmer and then as the editor of Concord, the journal of the Interracial Association.

Mackay's interest in politics began around 1952 when he became active in the pro-Federation United Central Africa Association. In January 1955 he became Executive Officer for the multi-racial, if somewhat paternalistic, Capricorn Society, headed by David Stirling, founder of the SAS, who also hailed from the Doune area. In that role Mackay played a major part in organising Capricorn's most successful event, the conference held in 1956 at Salima on the shores of Lake Malawi. Impatient, however, with Capricorn's limited perspectives, Mackay resigned from the Association in August and subsequently involved himself more actively in African politics. When states of emergency were declared in both Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1959, he became actively involved in providing support for detainees and their families from both countries. He also founded an anti-colonial journal in Nyasaland, Tsopano (which continued through to 1961). The next year, with Dr Banda now out of detention, he played a leading role along with Aleke Banda in setting up the Malawi News. In Rhodesia he helped to organise the march of 7,000 in Salisbury, a mass protest against the detention of nationalist leaders. With independence approaching in Nyasaland he worked closely with Yatuta Chisiza, first in ferrying Land Rovers, the gift of Kwame Nkrumah, from Salisbury to the Malawi Congress Party in Blantyre; then to carry out the research that led to the publication at independence in 1964 of the booklet, A Portrait of Malawi.

By this time, however, events in Southern Rhodesia were increasingly attracting Mackay's attention. In 1962 he founded a new anti-colonial paper, Chapupu, only for it to be banned after a few issues. The next year, he was imprisoned in Salisbury gaol for four months for refusing to register for military service. Following his release and the bringing of further charges against him, he moved to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, where he retained close links with the Zimbabwean African Peoples Union (ZAPU). From there, he drove long distances on the Freedom Road from Francistown to Livingstone ferrying first refugees and later military supplies and guerrillas.

There are many features of Mackay's later career that are still obscure. When he jumped bail and left Southern Rhodesia he did so at the request of the two leading nationalists at that time, George Nyandoro and James Robert Chikerema. Loyal to ZAPU, he continued to play an active role in its activities, including making contact with Soviet emissaries who supplied the party with arms. He also immersed himself in more orthodox activities, first, in Dar es Salaam between 1968-69 as advisor on a project planning the construction of a new Tanzanian capital at Dodoma, and then from 1969 to 1973, as the Oxford University Press representative in Lusaka. In the mid-1970s Nyandoro and Chikerema lost control of ZAPU's guerrillas, thus reducing Mackay's effectiveness. He returned to London briefly as organising secretary of the Justice for Rhodesia Campaign. But in 1978 he was back in Southern Rhodesia with Chikerema and Nyandoro who had joined Bishop Muzorewa in the Internal Settlement reached with Ian Smith. He was a member of the Patriotic Front delegation at the Lancaster House conference in 1979 and welcomed the arrival of majority-rule in 1980.

With the coming of independence, Mackay took up the cause of the impoverished people of the remote district of Omay on the shores of Lake Kariba. He brought in NGOs like Save the Children, provided support for blind and disabled people and encouraged girls' education. When he came to retire he spent some time in the cottage in the grounds of a remarkable castle owned by his friend Stanlake Samkange in Harare. Later, he moved to a little bungalow in Marondera where he constructed a fine garden, as he had in Salisbury decades earlier. It was there that he wrote We Have Tomorrow: Stirrings in Africa, 1959-1967, published in 2008 although completed some years earlier, a deeply charged account of his involvement with Central African nationalism in its most principled phase. He died on 17 April 2013, leaving the request that his papers, which had survived several robberies at his home, should be donated to Stirling University


Where possible, the original arrangement put into place by Mackay has been adhered to.

Access Information

This collection is open. However, the cataloguing of this collection is ongoing and, as such, it is advisable to contact the archive regarding your interest.

Acquisition Information

Acquired from the family of Peter Mackay.

Alternative Form Available

There are no copies of the personal papers.
There are copies of some photographs in multiple publications.
There are potentially copies of publications, their locations are unknown.

Conditions Governing Use

Custodial History

Following Peter Mackay's death in 2013, the archive was transferred from his home in Zimbabwe by his family to the University of Stirling Archives.


No accruals expected.

Related Material

Ranger, T., Writing Revolt, An Engagement with African Nationalism (James Currey, 2013)
Power, J., Political Culture and Nationalism in Malawi: Building Kwacha (Boydell & Brewer, 2010)
Mackay, P., We Have Tomorrow: Stirrings in Africa 1959-1967 (Michael Russell, 2008)

Location of Originals

The material contained in the collection is original.

Additional Information

The Peter Mackay Archive is currently being catalogued and digitised. This work has been made possible through the support received for our crowdfunding project. For updates on the progress of the project please check our Peter Mackay Archive project page.
To join us as we uncover treasures from the archive, have a look at our Peter Mackay Archive blog.