Arrogance and injustice aren’t monopolized by white men in Africa today. This is a report on where many of the Negro leaders are going wrong

November 2 1963


Arrogance and injustice aren’t monopolized by white men in Africa today. This is a report on where many of the Negro leaders are going wrong

November 2 1963



Arrogance and injustice aren’t monopolized by white men in Africa today. This is a report on where many of the Negro leaders are going wrong

IN THE FEW remaining parts of Africa that are still under white rule, it is easy to believe that the failure of racial partnership is all the fault of the whites. Nowhere in Africa has the dominant white minority, so long as it was dominant, treated the black majority in a way any white man would accept as tolerable.

Southern Rhodesia, where whites still rule a country that is ninety-six percent black, has done the most talking about multiracial partnership. On the strength of such talk, the British Colonial Office, against the advice of black African leaders, allowed the creation ten years ago of the Central African Federation (the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland) which is now going

out of existence. Southern Rhodesian government spokesmen readily concede today that majority rule there is inevitable, merely a matter of time, and that the first step must be the inclusion of black Africans in the government and the promotion of “qualified” blacks to equality of status.

Yet only two months ago a white university professor called the Rhodesian railway office to reserve berths for himself and a colleague, a PhD who happens to be black. When she heard the African name the white clerk said, “You'd better tell your friend to call back on the day you're traveling. There’s such a rush just now, I’m not sure we'll have a berth for him.”

It had obviously never occurred to this white girl that a black man should have a berth if a white man wanted it merely because the black man had booked it first. This particular tale has a happy ending — the white professor instantly called the minister of transport, whom he knew, and raised enough fuss to get his colleague’s booking confirmed. But the incident

rankled, as well it might. It was absolutely typical of the gap between lip service and practice in Southern Rhodesian “racial partnership” — a relationship once described by a former prime minister, in a memorable though indiscreet phrase, as “the partnership of the rider and the horse.”

It was once against Rhodesian law for blacks to be admitted to a white hotel. The law was repealed six years ago by the liberal Premier Garfield Todd — but the hotels went on excluding blacks anyway, just as they had always done. Blacks are still excluded, even now, from the best hotel in the capital city of Salisbury. (The second-best hotel had to desegregate in rather embarrassing haste three years ago, in order to permit a British Royal Commission investigating “racial partnership” to hold its hearings there.) Black civil servants, regardless of rank, are barred from membership in the civil servants’ club. It is still against the law for a black African to own property in a white area — and all cities and towns are located in white areas.

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Neither racial partnership nor democracy are likely to have a painless birth in Africa

Even in African countries whose history reveals no grievance of black against white, the grievance nevertheless exists. Nyasaland, for example, was founded not by white traders or settlers but by devoted Scottish missionaries with whose help the native blacks defeated the Arab and African slave traders who had plagued them for centuries. Historically, the white man has done the black Nyasalander nothing but good. Yet the actual treatment of blacks by whites in Nyasaland, even today with a black government actually in power, can still be grossly and incredibly rude.

I don't think the whites even realize they’re being rude. One morning in Blantyre I heard a hotel manager ordering his staff to go look for a mislaid watch (mine, as it happened) in the tone an ill-tempered farmer might use to a team of oxen. He wasn't angry — he had nothing to be angry about, yet — but he spoke like a man who expected to be angry before long. A sergeant major confronting an awkward squad of recruits might get away with such manners. Any employer who so addressed his staff in any white country would have a strike on his hands in five minutes, and would be lucky to escape a punch in the nose. In Blantyre, it was quite obvious that both the manager and his staff accepted this as routine behavior.

“All races are welcome here,” said a member of the Nyasaland government, “but they must accept that we are the masters. This is our country, they are our guests. The customs of our people must be respected and appreciated.”

Customs such as what?

"Respect for elders, for one thing. We shall no longer tolerate hearing elderly men called ‘boy’ as they have been, and sometimes still are, called by white people. Any white man with that frame of mind has no place here. But a white man willing to behave like a human being is welcome.”

The speaker, a coal-black man whose beard and bearing were like those of a Sikh colonel, fairly quivered with indignation as he laid down these rules. After the hotel incident the same morning, I could understand and sympathize. Indeed, personal experience is not necessary. It’s enough to talk to some white men in Africa to realize what the blacks have endured in constant petty humiliation, how little like human beings they have been treated.

For the visitor it is tempting to assume that if only these arrogant whites could be replaced by gentler, more civilized types, all would be well — multiracial partnership and African democracy would arrive and flourish together. Unfortunately, there is already too much evidence that it won't be as simple as this. Neither partnership nor democracy is likely to have a painless birth anywhere in Africa.

It was not a white man but a black one. Billie Chipwana, who was sen-

tcnceil in August to a year's imprisonment for "using insulting language” about Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the onetime L.ondon medical man who is prime minister of Nyasaland. The nature of the insulting language was not disclosed nor was the trial public

— the sentence was disclosed from court records two weeks after the event. Chipwana had originally been sentenced to six months, had appealed and had had his sentence doubled by the court of appeal.

The same release of court records revealed that two other black Africans had got six months each for refusing to buy membership cards in Dr. Banda’s Malawi Party, the political group that holds a decisive majority in the Nyasaland parliament. Nyasaland. like many African countries, is on the way to adopting a one-party system — the feeble opposition party is not likely to survive even the partial independence that is coming next year. However, there is no law that says Nyasalanders must be members of the Malawi Party. Neither have the socalled 'Malawi Police,” who are the party’s strong-arm squads, any legal status or authority. In these cases the local courts had simply accepted the party’s will as the law'.

Traffic stops for Dr. Banda—or else

Shortly before I arrived in Nyasaland there was an incident which is still reverberating in central Africa. Three Europeans were roughly handled by the "Malawi Police” — one was beaten badly enough to be taken to hospital, though he w'as released after treatment — because they failed to stop their car while Dr. Banda and his entourage went by. These Europeans were innocent strangers, caught by sheer accident in a local dispute

— the Malawi Party determined that traffic should stop for Dr. Banda as a mark of respect; some local whites resolved on a private-of-the-Buffs refusal to kowtow in any way to a black man. prime minister or not. Neither side regarded this as a trivial matter, and one can sympathize with the black Malawis’ resolve that whites must make this gesture of deference to a black minister’s authority.

But at the time, the stopping of traffic w'as no more than the prime minister's wish, and the men who enforced it had no legal warrant whatever. No law obliged traffic to stop while Dr. Banda passed. This omission has since been rectified, but the debate introducing the new law was not reassuring. The minister of iocal government, one of Dr. Banda's more voluble lieutenants, said anyone disobeying the new law would do so at his peril; if any were acquitted by sympathetic magistrates, “we shall have an appointment with them and an account to settle.” Even after full discount for political bombast, this is rather disquieting talk.

True, Dr. Banda is not taken very seriously outside Nyasaland. African officials and politicians in other countries speak of him with scant respect. British journalists who knew him in London in the old days, before he went back to lead his native land to freedom, remember him even then as a rather vain and pompous little man. But the cult of personality in free

Africa is not limited to Dr. Banda’s domain. It is flourishing equally in other countries, around men of far greater stature and consequence.

The day I arrived in Kenya, Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta was touring the coastal province which for him is hostile political territory, a stronghold of the opposition party KADU. The Sunday Nation, an independent but pro-government weekly, described Kenyatta’s welcome there as “warm but subdued” — a euphemism, I gathered later, for the rather cool reception he got.

Thereupon Tom Mboya, ablest and soberest of Kenyatta’s ministers, staged a public denunciation of this newspaper report and burned a copy of it on a political platform, while his audience shrieked, “Ban them, ban them.” Next day the minister of information issued a formal statement, against the strenuous advice of all his British civil servants, warning the press that “any attempt to provoke disunity or to slight our prime minister in any way will not be tolerated.” He summoned the editors of the Sunday Nation to a personal tongue-lashing at which, for the first time, they learned what all the fuss was about. They had supposed their sin must have been to intimate that Kenyatta’s welcome at the coast had been “subdued.” Not at all. Their crime was quite different: they had put Tom Mboya’s name in their headline, instead of Jomo Kenyatta’s.

At this “slight” Kenyatta had been furious, so furious that his temper tantrum amounted to a cabinet crisis. He was prime minister, he had made the principal speech (the same one

he’d been ma.'nng for weeks, whereas Mboya’s brief speech had news in it, but no matter); how dared any newspaper base its main story on someone else’s speech, and its headline on someone else’s name?

In most independent African countries such questions do not even arise. Except in Nigeria where criticism is free, lively and often effective, the press of black Africa is either controlled or voluntarily docile. This is not just a result of ignorance and poverty, either. Ghana is the richest of the independent African countries and, with Nigeria, the most advanced in twentieth - century skills. Ghanaians have a relatively high living standard, a relatively stable self-propelled economy, a relatively large body of educated, competent men — the beginnings, in fact, of an African middle class. Yet the press of Ghana reaches unique extremes of absurdity in its adulation of President Kwame Nkrumah, whose title Osagyefo can mean anything from leader to saviour, depending on who is doing the translation for whom.

NKRUMAH SAVES THE WORLD was a headline in Accra during the Cuban crisis last year. Apparently Osagyefo had issued an appeal to the great powers to resolve their differences without war, and lo, they did so; cause and effect. Recently the nuclear test ban has been explained as a direct result of the Accra Assembly, a convention of private individuals who met last year to pass resolutions in favor of peace and disarmament. This sort of thing is more effective than you might think. Even

enemies of the Nkrumah regime (of whom there are many — he still goes in fear of assassins who on several occasions almost succeeded) get a wildly exaggerated notion of Nkrumah’s importance in the councils of the world. One opponent angrily scolded me, as a western journalist, for “building up this dictator of ours into a great world figure.” I had a hard time convincing him that neither I nor anyone else had done anything of the kind — that Nkrumah’s status

as a great world figure did not go beyond the borders of Ghana.

In Tanganyika, where President Julius Nyerere is a more modest man personally, an editor assured me there is no official censorship of the press, but “I must admit there is very careful ¿¿//-censorship.” He went on to explain that any newspaper giving serious offence would quickly go out of business, an end the government was able to contemplate with no regret whatever. Therefore the newspapers

tried to anticipate every punch, and roll with it.

“For instance, when there were stories last year that Europeans were being beaten up on orders of some African regional commissioners, we didn't print them. We would have carried the story if anyone had taken the responsibility of stating it publicly — if, say, the chamber of commerce had issued a statement. But if nobody else would take the responsibility, we weren't going to, either.”

Why not have sent a reporter to find, ano interview, the people who were said to have been beaten up?

The editor looked out the window for a minute, then said, “We're rather short of staff. We really are not equipped to do that sort of thing.”

He was certainly not imagining the danger that threatens any publication or any journalist who offends the government. A few days before I got to Dar-es-Salaam, the Reuters correspondent sent out a dispatch that displeased the minister of foreign affairs. He was summoned to the minister’s office and told that he had twentyfour hours to leave the country.

This reporter is not a white man, incidentally. He is a black South African refugee, a man with no homeland to which he can return and therefore (one would think) a man with some claim upon the sympathy and help of any independent African state. If any such claim existed, it was not enough to save him from instant deportation, which is the normal penalty for any criticism or affront by any outsider in an African country.

Reuters News Agency did not carry the report of its own man’s expulsion at the time, and African newspapers also refrained from printing it, though the story was known to all. The reason was that Reuters hoped, by a direct appeal to President Nyerere, to have the sentence reversed and the man brought back — and everyone knew this would be impossible if the story were published because then the foreign minister's face would be involved.

Saving face in Tanganyika

It is customary in Tanganyika to say these regrettable incidents occur without President Nyerere’s knowledge. that he deplores them but has to condone them for political reasons. This excuse is not always true — at least one deportation, on astonishingly trivial grounds, was carried out at Nyerere’s personal command. But even when it is true, it is not exactly encouraging that even a leader as firmly entrenched as Nyerere should be so at the mercy of his own party henchmen.

One incident that President Nyerere did deplore took place last summer in a resort hotel near the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. President Sékou Touré of Guinea was there on a visit, and came to the hotel for lunch. Because no flags were out, and no official greeters welcomed him, and especially because the other guests in the lobby did not stand up when the presidential party entered, the African regional commissioner abruptly ordered the hotel closed and its licence canceled.

Later, the hotel manager said the presidential party had arrived an hour ahead of schedule and that was why no greeters were on hand. As for the other guests, the reason they didn't stand up was that they had no idea who it was who had just come in. No matter; the hotel stayed closed for seventeen days and several hundred lucrative reservations had to be canceled, with lamentable effect on the tourist trade which earns a lot of foreign exchange for Tanganyika. It was finally reopened with a face-saving formula — the hotel manager was to

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be transferred, with a reprimand (though in fact he merely got a different title). No reprimand was given to the regional commissioner who had flown off the handle in the first place, and started all the trouble. This particular official, by apparently universal consent, is an incompetent party hack. Before independence he was a minor functionary on the state railway. After independence, because of his record of service to the party, he became a parliamentary secretary. His minister found him utterly useless and managed to get him “promoted” to regional commissioner in the interior. But even he was considered immune from presidential rebuke.

The compulsion to appoint party hacks instead of competent men is a threat to the future of several African countries. In Tanganyika, for one, British civil servants prepared for their own departure with care and foresight. In almost every department African lieutenants were trained to take the places of their British superior officers, and when independence came they naturally expected promotion. Some got it. Others were dismayed to find that they continued as Number Two Men while the top jobs went to newcomers who were technically incompetent but politically deserving.

The effect of this sort of thing will not be dramatic. It is the nightmare of every new African state that it might become “another Congo” — the phrase crops up repeatedly in parliamentary debates and newspaper editorials — and just because this calamity is so feared it’s unlikely to happen. A greater danger is that the new nations might crumble away into a lot of grubby little Liberias, each with its petty dictator and its ruling party supported in squalid ease by an ignorant, exploited peasantry.

That’s why these petty annoyances to white men in Africa are serious. Not, God knows, that the white man has earned any deference from newly independent black men. No white man has suffered or is likely to suffer, in any African country, such humiliations as are still imposed on the blacks of South Africa, and once were commonplace elsewhere. If scores are being settled, the white man is still the debtor.

But the trouble is, Africa still needs the white man. It needs financial aid in massive quantities. One third of Nyasaland’s ordinary current budget is still donated by the British Treasury. Tanganyika looks abroad for three-quarters of its development program. Kenya’s needs are still being worked out but they will be a substantial drain on the British taxpayer for years yet. In other countries the extent of need varies, but all need and get help from some white nation or from international agencies spending white nations’ money.

Even more than white men’s money, Africa needs white men’s skill. It may be a reproach to colonial regimes but it’s a cold hard fact that no African country, not even Nigeria or Ghana, has enough skilled men of its own to run a modern economy. Multiracial partnership is no mere catchword of woolly liberalism, it is a stern necessity if independent Africa is to be brought into the twentieth century.

Oddly enough, despite its sins of

omissioi. and commission, the place where partnership is most likely to develop is Rhodesia.

Northern and Southern Rhodesia are so closely linked, after ten years in a now-moribund federation, that neither could prosper without the other. Northern Rhodesia has the copper mines that are the major source of wealth for both countries. Southern Rhodesia has the coal, the hydroelectric power, the financial and managerial know-how to serve the mining area and get the most out of it. Up to now Northern Rhodesians have felt with some justice that their resources have been milked for Southern Rhodesia’s benefit, and this will certainly not continue. If it did come to a trial of economic strength, a kind of local cold war. Northern Rhodesia would probably win. But the contest would cost both countries dear; economically, co-operation makes the most sense.

Northern Rhodesia has majority (i.e. black) rule, but it also has in Kenneth Kaunda the most moderate and conciliatory of African leaders. Unless political pressure from his followers makes it impossible, he will be willing to co-operate with white owners and managers to keep the wealth pouring out of the copper mines. They won’t have things as easy as they've been used to, but they can still make a deal.

Why some whites are optimists

Southern Rhodesia has a government which, when it was elected, had a program so far to the Right that it sounded almost like apartheid. In practice it has been relatively libéral, by the standards of Southern Rhodesia’s past. Premier Winston Field, an honest farmer who has the respect of all parties, is on excellent personal terms with Kenneth Kaunda; they understand each other perfectly. Also, by a stroke of ironic good fortune, black Africans in Southern Rhodesia are in a state of disunity and disarray. Their leader for several years has been Joshua Nkomo, a timid soul who exasperated most of the colleagues who worked with him. A few months ago one of them broke away, a Protestant minister named Sithole; first he tried to depose Nkomo and when that failed he formed a new party. Sithole has the backing of Rhodesian intellectuals, the men who would have sat in a Nkomo cabinet had there ever been one: he also has the backing of African leaders in other countries, like Kenneth Kaunda and Julius Nyerere. But he has hardly any mass support at home yet — the black Rhodesian man-in-the-street still backs Nkomo and distrusts anyone who opposes him. Therefore. African leaders in general, even though they wouldn’t like to say so, won’t be too unhappy if events are allowed to move slowly in Southern Rhodesia for a while.

White liberals in Salisbury are fairly optimistic. Said one: “I expect about twenty thousand whites will leave Southern Rhodesia, the diehard racialists. They'll go to South Africa, or maybe leave Africa altogether. The other two hundred thousand of us will carry on, work out some sort of compromise with the black majority and make it work. We’ve all got too much at stake to do anything else.” ★