Why both sides will lose the white-black struggle for Africa
Ralph Allen's final report on a tormented continent
The tv hite exodus is beginning. But in victory, the blacks can only lead Africa back to darkness. Here is the evidence, as Maclean's contributing editor heard and saw it in most of the erupting countries south of the Sahara
IT MAY BE NO ACCIDENT that the most prophetic words ever written about Africa have been in the form of fiction. That lustrous, gleaming, tortured, terrible and magnificent continent is far larger than life. It can never be described by any mere recital of fact.
In his Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad speculated half a century ago on the, to him, inevitable death of the white man in a black world. Eugene O’Neill, in The Emperor Jones, and Joyce Cary in Mister Johnson. Aissa Saved and The African Witch, explored the death of the black man. The Emperor Jones was thrust abruptly into, and ruined by, the sight of power. Mister Johnson was a partly educated civil servant destroyed by sudden authority. Aissa was a simple girl who got Christ mixed up fatally with her tribal gods. The hero of The African Witch went to his doom trying to be half Nigerian and half European.
None of these gaudy, made-up figures is half so hard to believe as those that really exist. Jomo Kenyatta, the Burning Spear of Kenya,
hero of the Mau Mau and scourge of the British, is much too improbable to have been invented. So is Kwame Nkrumah, the little dictator whom his Ghanaian subjects proudly call Show Boy. So is stern, unwavering Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, the Saxon Lion of the North and chief custodian of whatever future is left for South Africa. So are a hundred other strongmen, semi-strongmen, would-be strongmen and departed strongmen ranging from President Sylvanus Olympio of Togo to the late Patrice Lumumba and the imprisoned Moise Tshombe of the Congo and their triumphant rival, Joseph Kasavubu. (There is a saying around Leopoldville that the reason Kasavubu lives in a villa beside the Congo River is so that he can look out the window and see the bodies of his enemies floating by.)
Amid this procession of fantastic men and fantastic events it is sometimes difficult to remember that Africa means far more to the rest of the world than its ceaseless wake of headlines. The real questions are not the day-to-day
questions: Will the British release Kenyatta? Will Kasavubu kill Tshombe? Will South Africa survive as a republic? Will Nkrumah organize a leftist federation? Will Angola dissolve in a hopeless bloodbath?
Important as these questions are, they beg much larger ones. Is the white man, whatever happens in the painful ebb and flow of immediate history, really and forever through in Africa? And if the white man is through, can the black man get along without him? Having had a taste of what passes for civilization, is the native African in a position to give it up forever? If the white man is expelled or if his flight becomes a total one, must A frica revert to the Heart of Darkness and its ancient legacy of superstition, ignorance, disease, poverty and hatred?
To a visitor the answers that seem most probable are all forbidding. In what surely is the human race’s crowning feat of lunacy, we are spending billions of dollars to send a single man to the uninhabited and invisible far side of the moon while at the same time we quibble furiously about the cost of ministering to the visible needs of the two hundred million Africans who occupy a fifth of our native earth.
“I’VE HAD LIONS ON THE FRONT LAWN; NOW I'M BACK TO SAUSAGES AND MASH"
The European — or, as the signs in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban spell it out, the Blanke — is already giving up on Africa. Everywhere south of the Sahara he is either in retreat or behind barricades. In South Africa and Rhodesia the weight of his clubs may give him another ten or twenty years, but since he has committed himself to the law of clubs, his defeat by this law seems more likely every minute.
Cioing into Africa, the planes are almost empty. Coming out, they are full, with long waiting lists. The people who fill them are already homesick before the takeoff run. The man who sat beside me on the long haul from Nairobi to Khartoum, Rome and London was peering eagerly out the window, taking his last lingering look at the place where he had spent his youth and had planned to end his days.
“I tell myself I’ll be coming back.” he said. “My wife has been in London for two months and I tell her the same. I tell our daughter she'll be coming back to Kenya too. You can't help hoping. My God, on a clear day I can see Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya both from my porch. I’ve had lions — real. live, wild lions — in my front yard, surrounded by bougainvillea and hibiscus. Less than a day from here I’ve seen four hundred elephants parading and trumpeting around a salt lick. And now I’m going back to Harringay and sausage and mashed potatoes.”
After we were above the clouds and he had seen the last of Kilimanjaro, the White Highlands and the moonlit plains of Africa, he began talking again.
“I’ve got two houseboys. I've been a good friend to them and they’ve been good friends
to me. But all
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“I must strike/’ the Indian said. “If I don’t, the Bantu may kill me. And they outnumber the police’’
over Kenya the Mau Man arc stealing sheep again, as many as in the earlier troubles. This means they are oathing again, using the sheep’s blood to swear they’ll have human blood. I’m sure my boys aren't Mau Mau, but I have no way of being sure they won’t be or haven’t been dragged away some night and forced to oath against me and my family. After that their choice is simple; they cither murder me and my family or they are murdered themselves. I used to sleep behind wide open doors, open to this beautiful African air and the great stars. Now I have two doors locked tight and when my old friend and servant knocks me awake in the morning I meet him with a key in one hand and a gun in the other. For all the good feeling among us he may be carrying a knife, or it may not be him at all. Twenty years ago I’d have toughed it out and trusted. Now I'm too old; my nerves aren’t as good as they used to be. I took the wheels off my car and put it on blocks, shipped my carpets and silver out and paid the houseboys three months’ wages in advance to keep an eye on things. I wish I could be certain I’d see them and the house again, but I’m not.”
Just behind us a young South African was heading for Canada. He’d spent most of his savings on a plane ticket from Johannesburg to London; in London he hoped to get his immigration clearance, go on to Toronto and earn and send passage money for his wife and daughter. His problem is unbelievably complicated. He was born in Italy and therefore has been issued with a card certifying him as a European or a Blanke. Hut he has a dark Mediterranean skin and every time he gets on a Blanke bus. sits on a Blanke bench or tries to go swimming on a Blanke beach, the cops demand his proof of Blankeness. "When the shooting starts," he said, "it’s not the real black man who gets it. It’s the Indians and the coloreds. They’re fair game for everybody—black and white alike. When the shooting starts this time I may not have time to show my papers.”
An almost identical dilemma, on the eve of the Republic Day strike, confronted an Indian I met in Johannesburg. This young man made it clear he had no politics and no vain aspirations. “Look, sir,” he said earnestly, “I don’t want the vote.
I wish they’ll stop talking about the vote. My family has been here for three generations; we’ve never had the vote and we’ll never have it. All 1 want is a decent place to live. I want my children to grow up in a clean house and that’s all I want.”
I asked him about the impending strikes. Would they accomplish anything and would he, himself, go on strike?
“The strikes,” he said, "will do no good at all. All the other ones have failed. The police have suppressed them before and they will suppress them again.”
Then he would not be striking?
“Of course 1 will," he said, plainly astonished at my naïveté. "I must strike. The Bantu have already warned me and I believe their warning. If I get off the train from my location and try to go to work they will beat me up or perhaps kill me. 'The police may do the same if I don’t go to work. All 1 can do is weigh the odds. I know there are more Bantu than police, so I’ll join the strike."
The only real optimist 1 met in Africa is a man whose name 1 can’t use. Fie is
deeply involved in one of the United Nations enterprises designed to bind, in a hurry, the wounds of a century, and his usefulness could be hurt if he talked for publication. He is an African, as black and fearsome-looking as anyone Conrad, Cary or O’Neill ever conjured up. He talks like a Cambridge don.
We met in the Congo. To avoid seeming to grill him on the details of the job he was doing there, I asked him for his forecast, as an African, on South Africa. Of all the people I talked to he alone seemed to think genuinely — and leaving wishful thinking aside — that it was not yet too late for a reasonably sane solution.
"It is a long tunnel,” he said, “and there will be further turnings, but it will end.”
“Peaceably?” I asked him.
“What is peace?”
“In this context, the absence of substantial or prolonged bloodshed.”
“I don’t know the answer then,” he said. “All I know is that there will be, there must be, a solution. How long it will take no one can guess but there will be a solution.”
Did the solution involve the departure of the Blanke?
“Perhaps. Hut we can still hope not. If we come to a total deadlock here, then the human race is at a deadlock all over. Some of our most enlightened Africans are setting timetables for the departure of the last European. But no one really knows when the European must leave; no one is certain yet if he must leave. With all his crimes the European has done an immense number of good things here.”
When you get down to cases, you inevitably end up looking at Union Minière du Haut-Katanga. With at least a hundred thousand stockholders and some of the greatest copper and cobalt mines in the world, the giant Belgian company has often been accused of being the real power and string-puller in the Congo. It is charged with putting the swaggering Moisc Tshombe into office in the great mining state of Katanga and making a unified Congo and a working economy almost impossible. It is charged with exploitation of the natives.
These accusations may all be correct. All I can report is what I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears. I went to the headquarters of Union Minière in Elisabethville and went over its audited reports and talked to its official spokesmen. Then I went two hundred miles back into the interior to visit some of their vast open-pit mines, their new mill and refinery at Liulu, some of their artificial lakes and power dams and their attractive new company town at Kolwezi. The officials of Union Minière are inclined to borrow the celebrated phrase of Engine Charlie Wilson of General Motors and insist, in effect, that what is good for Union Minière is good for the Congo. Having gone into their domain full of skepticism I came out again with my prejudices at least a little shaken. The homes of the 20,000 Bantu in Kolwezi are not nearly so spacious and ornate as the Californian bungalows of the 5,000 whites; but compared to the disgraceful hovels the black worker is herded into around Johannesburg they are palaces.
In the last thirty years the birth rate
among families dependent on Union Minière has more than doubled. The stillborn rate was more than one in ten in 1929. In 1957 it was about one in fifty. The infant death rate was another one in ten; now it’s one in a hundred. The schools are bright, airy and well equipped, and there are night classes for adult employees who want to improve their job ratings. The other company-town amenities include such western appurtenances as dancehalls, bars, churches, football fields, open-air theatres, family allowances and pension plans. A good aboveground worker can make 25.000 francs a month. At the official rate this is $500. (The Katangan currency, like almost all African currencies, is weak and growing weaker, and a more accurate equivalent would probably be about $300 a month.) It all adds up, depending on your point of view, to paternalism at its best or worst.
Whether Union Minière, leaving asfdc the individual good it has done to at least a hundred thousand Congolese, car. successfully be charged with doing the country collective harm is a conundrum that even a judicial commission might have trouble sorting out. There is of course a widespread belief that it has been guilty of gross political interference —that Moise Tshombe was the company’s stooge and that the company pressured him into his attempt to break mineralrich Katanga away from the rest of the Congo, so that he and Union Minière could divvy up its wealth between them.
Whatever slender expectation I had had of arriving at any new clues soon bogged down in one of the greatest cor-
Political posse in the Congo: the fast guns are all female
porate mazes in human history. Union Minière’s top officials insist blandly that they don’t really know who owns the company, except in a general way. The biggest blocks of privately owned stock are in the hands of the largely British Tangyanika Concessions l td., and of the Belgian Société Générale. (Who really owns these two concerns, who really knows?) The Belgian, central Congolese, and provincial (or Katanga republican) governments all control substantial blocks of Union Minière shares; in addition, they cut in—in various ways—on the huge tax revenues. The Roman Catholic Church is one of the medium-sized owners and there are about a hundred thousand individual shareholders all over the world (anybody can buy stock through the Brussels exchange). In addition to its mines, smelters and dams, the company has a whole complex of breweries, food factories, plantations, fisheries, oil plants and other subsidiaries, and it is a heavy investor in railways, riverboats, ranches, an insurance company and even the big Sabena airline.
“I’m sick of apologizing for our size,” said the Belgian official delegated to talk to me. “I’m also sick of defending our motives. Let’s save time by pretending for the sake of argument—although we're not—that we’re a great unprincipled octopus and that if it would improve our profit position we’d be quite prepared to wreck the Congo.
“But the thing our critics forget is that, even if w'e wanted to. we couldn’t afford to wreck the Congo. We and our affiliates have great investments outside Katanga. We have palm-oil plantations, banana plantations and coffee plantations elsewhere in the Congo and all these would be lost in a civil war. Moreover, although Katanga is rich in copper, cobalt, radium and zinc, it is far from selfsufficient. Our agriculture doesn’t begin to supply our needs and no matter how many tons of copper, how many millions of francs and dollars we turn out, you can’t eat copper, francs and dollars. Katanga just cannot afford to isolate itself from the rest of the world and the rest of the Congo. Union Minière wants a united Congo.”
But wasn’t it true that Union Minière had given great aid to Tshombe, whose chief goal (before the central government trapped him and locked him up) was a divided Congo?
"Yes,” the Union Minière man said frankly, “we supported Tshombe. We paid great sums in taxes to him and we made it easy for him to collect them. Katanga needed order and Union Minière needed order and Tshombe looked like the best bet to supply it. But he got very big very suddenly. He got bigger than the central government, bigger than the United Nations and a great deal bigger than we are. In the process he forgot that he still had two serious political rivals right here in Katanga, and bitter enemies all over the rest of the Congo.”
This interview took place a day after Tshombe had departed—perhaps for the last time—from his capital of Elisabethville. He smiled and nodded grandly from his convertible Cadillac while bands played, the populace cheered and his personal bodyguards followed him in open jeeps, resplendent in white riding breeches, knee-length leather boots, helmets and red tunics bought from a disbanded battalion in the French Congo. Tshombe isn’t back yet; perhaps it would be uncharitable to assume that Union Minière isn’t pining for him.
It may also turn out that not only the Tshombes but also the Union Minières and perhaps even the Verwoerds will be engulfed by the revolution of the next
few months and the next few years.
To forecast what might follow is no quick job for a tourist. But people who are qualified to judge are almost unanimously agreed that the swift and impending departure of the white man will create far greater problems than it can possibly solve. N. J. J. Oliver of the department of Bantu Studies at the University of Stellenbosch, who is national vice-chairman of the South African Bureau of Racial Affairs, cites at least a dozen pitfalls lying in wait for an Africa divorced from white tutelage and most of its w'hite population.
Many are economic—the lack of capital among the Africans; the lack of a managerial class; the lack of technical skill and trained workers; low purchasing power; low habits of consumption; low production of raw materials; uncertain foreign markets, and a doubtful capacity to compete in them.
Political instability. Dr. Oliver adds, must aggravate these economic handicaps. So must the low' stamina and working capacity of the African worker and his high rate of disease and malnutrition.
“Idleness carries no stigma”
Perhaps most significant of all, the black man really thinks the white man is as peculiar as the white man considers the black to be. In the cities he has been bullied or cajoled into at least pretending to accept the Europeans’ working hours and the rudiments of European standards of living. Many have gone just far enough that they can’t retreat without a total upheaval in their means of existence. But as Oliver suggests, if the Europeans’ example and incentives are withdrawn many Africans may find themselves suddenly straddling the worst of two worlds. The African has made some changes in his tradition, customs, tribal loyalty, attitude to security, work, education, motives in life, religion, and so on. But he is still neither fully adapted to the needs of modern civilization nor free of its nagging demands.
“In Western society,” Oliver observed recently, "work is regarded as a moral or social obligation, strengthened by the profit motive, and as an essential means of obtaining the better things in life. In the African tribal society, idleness carries
no stigma; the economy is a simple subsistence one, with the procuring of food and shelter the normal incentives. The division of labor—such as it is—is based on sex and age distinctions and is often undertaken collectively. Individual work for individual profit is restricted mainly to a few craftsmen. Adequate time for leisure receives high priority, and punctuality is not regarded as a particular virtue. Discipline and organization in this subsistence economy do not exist, except as a spontaneous collective reaction to the rhythm imposed by the seasons. There is an absence of conscious need, a contentment with little, and consequent improvidence. These mental and cultural factors will obviously be extremely important in the development of the African peoples.”
On liberation day a year ago in the Congo, King Lukenga Bope Mabinshe of the Bakubu tribe had to give up all but forty of his eight hundred wives, according to reliable reports. As the strains of the Independence Cha-Cha clattered through the fly-infested village bars, the more daring of the witch doctors were predicting that the dead would rise in celebration.
Joseph Conrad tried to put his own loose prediction into the early part of his first Congolese novel. “The voice of the surf heard now and then was a positive pleasure, like the speech of a brother. It was something natural that had its reason, that had a meaning. Now and then a boat from the shore gave one a momentary contact with reality. It was paddled by black fellows. You could see from afar the whites of their eyeballs glistening. They shouted, sang; their bodies streamed with perspiration; they had faces like grotesque masks; but they had bone, muscle, a wild vitality and intense energy of movement that was as natural and true as the surf along the coast. They wanted no excuse for being there. They were a great comfort to look at. For a time I would feel I belonged still to a world of straightforward facts, but the feeling would not last long. Something would scare it away.”
As Conrad foresaw half a century ago. the straightforward facts of both the white man and the black man are still being scared away in Africa. Even his great imagination was not equal to guessing what might happen next.