The Commonwealth’s burden

Dan Turner August 6 1979

The Commonwealth’s burden

Dan Turner August 6 1979

The Commonwealth’s burden


The main question before Joe Clark and other heads of government attending the Commonwealth conference in Lusaka next week will be whether black and white members of the ex-colonial club can agree on how Zimbabwe Rhodesia should best make its transition from white minority to black majority rule. Most black African leaders are dead set against recognizing the newly elected government under Bishop Abel Muzorewa and will be arguing their case with leaders from Canada and New Zealand and—most important of all—Margaret Thatcher of Britain. Essential to the issue, reports Maclean’s Africa bureau chief, is the question of what role the white man has in post-colonial Africa.

Dan Turner

The spelling was slightly off, but Zulu chief Gatsha Buthelezi didn’t have to turn to a dictionary to get the message, nor to a doctor to tell him his blood pressure was rising. “Stay, Makulu,” begged the elderly black man, depicted in the advertisement spread across the South African edition of Reader’s Digest. “For nowhere in the world will they need someone like you as much as we do.”

Makulu—properly spelled Makhulu— has always been a title of respect within traditional Zulu society, but it has also become a term used by blacks to show deference to. white authority figures such as employers and policemen. The advertisement, published last March, pointed out that 43,000 whites had left South Africa for other countries in the preceding 21 months. An apparent plea from the country’s black community asking whites not to abandon them, it was, in fact, placed in the magazine by worried whites.

“I view the whole tone of the advertisement with great distaste,” fumed Buthelezi, “insofar as it plays up white supremacy as if we blacks liked the system.” Yes, he agreed, the departure of whites with badly needed skills was to be regretted. But he would rather that they went than that someone should have to plead with them to stay “to remain top dogs and we blacks remain underdogs.”

The role of the white man is an urgent and controversial question not only in South Africa—the last bastion of full-

fledged white minority rule on the continent. It is also a sensitive subject in black-ruled countries from Zambia to Nigeria—most of them with their own contingents of resident or visiting whites to deal with. And nowhere does the issue come into fuller focus than in Zimbabwe Rhodesia, a country where a war of bullets and words is being fought to determine which is most important to the nation’s—and the continent’s— future: white skills or black pride.

The Commonwealth conference will write a critical chapter in Africa’s history, as 30-odd heads of government wrestle with the issue of whether the outside world should recognize the newly elected government, led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa, in Salisbury.

Zambia itself is part of the Zimbabwe Rhodesia battleground. President Kenneth Kaunda has turned Zambia into a military target by providing refuge for more than 10,000 troops of Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) which, in conjunction with Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), continues to wage a brutal guerrilla war against the Salisbury government, although elections in April transferred formal leadership from the white minority regime of Ian Smith to black majority rule under Muzorewa.

No country Tías yet recognized the new government or withdrawn from the UN-imposed trade blockade against it. But Britain—still officially Zimbabwe Rhodesia’s colonial master—and the United States are flirting with both possibilities. Speaking for the television cameras, politicians such as U.S. President Jimmy Carter (who has so far refused to bow to congressional pressure for withdrawal of sanctions) cite the major issue as being whether the outgoing white government conducted “free and fair” elections. In fact, the elections appeared as free and fair as anyone could expect given a war situation and the intimidation from both sides that goes with it. They certainly came considerably closer to the Western concept of the democratic process than just about anything blackor white-ruled Africa has yet produced.

Kaunda himself won his most recent presidential election last December only after eliminating all other candidates through a farfetched constitutional amendment. And the African pattern, for the most part, has been military take-overs and one-party government in black-ruled states, and the denial of the franchise to massive nonwhite majorities in South Africa and the old Rhodesia.

Far more relevant is that the election, though it transferred Rhodesia to black majority rule, was to many black African leaders a capitulation to the anathema of their political lives—white supremacy. The agreement Smith managed to negotiate gives the country’s 225,000 whites—four per cent of the population—28 per cent of the seats in parliament and constitutional guarantees of retaining control of the country’s civil service, judiciary, police and military for at least another decade.

Particularly galling to men such as Kaunda and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania is that the election never would have been held had it not been for the fierce pressure applied by Mugabe and Nkomo’s guerrilla forces—with the black leaders’ support. To be satisfied with a government so obviously the creature of a white enclave, despite their best efforts to install the men who cracked the foundation of white Rhodesian intransigence, would be yet another humiliation by the white world. I

The problems of Zimbabwe Rhodesia > illustrate in fine focus black Africa’s w terrible dilemma: what to do with its whites. On the one hand, as constant reminders of colonial domination and of black Africa’s continuing inferiority in the economic realm, they aggravate psychological wounds. On the other hand, they usually have a desirable degree of technical competence, a commodity in desperate shortage on a continent plagued with the double agony of rising expectations and economic deprivation.

There are five million white faces on the dark continent: five million among 500 million. Some are drawn by profit, some by adventure, some by love of God, humanity or the land. Some cling to the comfort of it all; some were born there and have nowhere else to go. Some, known as “expatriates,” are in Africa temporarily, usually on twoor threeyear contracts. If they come back often enough—as more and more are doing as jobs become scarcer back home—they qualify as “old Africa hands.”

There are about 500,000 of these. Many are citizens of the old colonial powers, including France (estimated at 150,000), Britain (100,000) and Belgium (15,000). But there are also nearly 40,000 Americans, 10,000 Canadians and sizable contingents from Scandinavia and East-bloc countries, most notably 40,000 Cubans lending military and development assistance in Angola, Ethiopia and, on a smaller scale, in several other countries.

Life for an Africa hand has its perils. The few hundred Europeans who have returned to Kolwezi in Zaire, where more than 800 Africans and 100 whites were massacred last year by Angolabased rebels, live in furtive apprehension. But the majority of expatriates are in no more danger than they would be in Victoria, B.C., and certainly enjoy more privileges than they could ever manage at home. In most African countries an expatriate can hire a maid for well under $100 a month, and it isn’t unusual to see someone who would have trouble scraping up the down payment on a bungalow in Calgary living with a retinue of three or four servants.

Says Charles Straw, a rugged old Rhodesian farmer who looks at shortterm expatriates in black-ruled countries with a mixture of amusement and contempt: “It’s simple, you come over here and you live like a lord.”

When Jomo Kenyatta took power from the British in Kenya, the outgoing governor said he would be “a leader to darkness and death.” Yet there are more whites in Kenya now than there

were at independence, and many who left after the Mau Mau terrors are sorry they did.

There are five times as many expatriates living in the Ivory Coast now as there were at independence. Even in Nigeria-considered a hardship post because of its humidity and squalor— there is enough oil money around to keep 100,000 foreigners in residence. Well over half the schoolteachers in Botswana are white. British experts run Malawi and Swaziland. French experts run Gabon.

This wasn’t the liberal dream when the wave of independence swept across Africa in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The hope was that, while a few whites might be needed to bridge the gap between colonialism and self-determination, the new countries would soon not only be able to run their own affairs but would actually run them better under such concepts as Kaunda’s “Humanism” and Nyerere’s “Ujaama” (co-operation) replacing the white man’s racist and capitalistic colonial heritage.

But Africa has not done well. Left with very little by the colonialists, it has turned it into less. Two decades after independence, most African countries are fragile imitations of either Westor East-bloc societies. Nigeria has a voracious consumer appetite and traders galore. Producers, unfortunately, are scarce, and most of its oil revenues have been spent turning it into a dumping ground for foreign manufacturers. “Everything here is discarded after three or four years,” said an Asian diplomat recently, shaking his head. “Nobody knows how to repair anything.”

If Nigeria is capitalism run amok, Tanzania is socialism walking aimlessly. Most peasants seem unappreciative of Nyerere’s elevated hopes for communal self-reliance and have resisted being forced into the socialist mould.

Economic forecasters are consistently bleak about black Africa. The technological gap between it and the industrialized world is widening. Africans certainly use the technology; they have a plethora of transistor radios and pocket computers. But they are neither developing nor producing it on anything but a minuscule scale. Progress has been confused with possession, as journalist Shiva Naipaul says in North of South.

Some countries, such as Malawi (a close friend of South Africa) and Ivory Coast (a close friend of France), have always been unabashed about leaning on the white world. Others, seemingly resigned that the technological initiative rests with the industrialized countries, are trying to find a way of using foreign skills without selling their African souls.

Tanzania’s Nyerere, who long ago kicked the American Peace Corps out of his country, is inviting it back. Sekou Touré’s Guinea, the only French colony unequivocally to tell France to keep out ^ after independence in 1958, played host | to President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing w this year and Touré expressed hopes for g economic help.

Samora Machel’s Mozambique, dedicatedly Marxist and hostile to the white minority government in Pretoria, keeps its railways and ports functioning with South African technicians. Glad as Angola and Mozambique were to be rid of the Portuguese colonialists at independence in 1975, they are advertising for technicians in Portuguese newspapers in 1979 and allow some of those who left to return.

Moreover, most liberals—black and white—concede that Africa’s transition to economic independence is going to take longer than expected. Twelve years ago, Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO) had a contingent of 125 volunteers in Nigeria, committed to teach their skills to Nigerians and then to get out. It hasn’t quite worked that way— CUSO now has nearly 200 volunteers in Nigeria. “We’ve learned that the old glib hope about phasing ourselves out is just not real,” says political scientist Gerry Caplan, who was, until recently, in charge of the program. “There’s a bottomless pit of need.”

Words like that are music to the white Rhodesian ear. Racists, many of

them may be. But white farmers, for instance, were efficient enough to switch from tobacco into other crops when sanctions were imposed and now, only a few years later, rank near the top of the world in per-acre production of maize, soybeans, peanuts and wheat.

To be useful is not always to be wanted, however. Zambia’s 350 white farmers account for 60 per cent of its agricultural production. Yet when a large group met to complain about harassment by Zambia-based guerrillas last fall, Kaunda told them: “If you think, like right-wing papers in Britain, that you are here only because you can grow maize, then get out. I don’t welcome you because of your skills.” 1

In contrast, many black Rhodesians want to keep their whites. They know that Zambia, self-sufficient in food at independence, now suffers chronic shortages, while Rhodesia’s 6,000 white farmers, working similar land, provide

half the country’s foreign exchange.

Whether a black African is willing to offer special privileges to whites to keep that kind of expertise around, however, can depend on a lot of things—from how bitter he is about his father having had to call a white child “Baas” to whether he has a job and is worried about losing it if his employer leaves. So while Thomas • Mazinga, a Salisbury taxi driver, is appreciative of the white presence, Alfred Opubor, head of the department of mass communications at the University of Lagos, is not.

“The white man brought civilization to Africa,” says Mazinga. “There are some things Africans aren’t capable of doing.” Replies Opubor: “The best thing about Nigeria is that we’re running it ourselves. We may be running it badly, but at least there are no white shadows pulling the strings.”

If the position of the resident white is ambiguous so is that of the expatriate. A secret government paper prepared in Lesotho recently complained that too many expatriates simply aren’t concerned enough about the country’s future to be effective. “I’ve seen your socalled expatriates running things in Botswana,” said a red-bearded Rhodesian army sergeant-major on patrol against ZANU guerrillas. “The expatriates I saw were hanging around because they made a little money being somebodies they couldn’t be at home.”

But the sergeant-major may have been ignoring one important factor: the expatriate exists on the black man’s terms and at the black man’s sufferance. “You can usually tell the difference between an expatriate and a resident by his attitude toward his dog,” says an African civil servant in Lesotho. “The expatriate apologizes profusely because his dog only bites black people and is nice to whites. The resident white man, in South Africa or Rhodesia, is proud of his dog for that very reason.”

Dr. Arn Palley, a veteran white politician in Zimbabwe Rhodesia, says the whites’ problem in his country is that they want “change without change”—to establish black men with white ideas. “This, however, is an incongruity in Africa.”

If all the black bravado in the world will not change the fact that white skills are still important, all the white Rhodesian protests about “fair and free” elections will not change the fact that the continent—give or take some serious stumbling blocks in South Africa for the moment—is going to be run on black men’s terms.

To date, black African leaders have been remarkably consistent about not recognizing Muzerewa’s government. The 49-nation Organization of African Unity at its annual meeting this month issued a warning couched in the strongest terms and Tanzania’s Nyerere bluntly told the Queen that he hoped not to have trouble from her ministers in Britain on the issue.

Meanwhile, British and American negotiators have been busy trying to convince Muzorewa to discard some of the special white privileges as the price for a change in this attitude. If the diplomats can come up with a formula that will satisfy both black African leaders and white Zimbabwe Rhodesians, the country may well overcome its black tribal difficulties and march into a bright future. If they don’t, the guerrilla war will undoubtedly continue. And Zimbabwe Rhodesia’s“Makhulu—who have been turning their backs on the country at a rate of 1,000 a month over the > past few years—will keep on leaving. £

In one respect the advertisement was ^ probably right—Africa does need ¿ people like them. But it missed the ¿ essential qualification: on Africa’s *