He became very much part of the life of South Africa where people of European extraction had lived for over 400 years. When he died and was buried in the Transvaal, he left behind a family who all went on to live and work in South Africa, my Grandfather going on to play a very significant role in the country, speaking Afrikaans like a native and a friend and colleague to many prominent South Africans in all spheres of life.
My father, started work in the Cape but when the Great Depression struck the country, he moved to Rhodesia in 1933 and remained here until he died. In fact, he never held any other passport than that of what was Rhodesia and then Zimbabwe. He never left Africa for any purpose. I was born in 1940 and have lived in Zimbabwe on a continuous basis ever since. All my education was here and my entire working life has been in Zimbabwe. We know no other home.
Yet when I was growing up, even though 95 per cent of the population was of a darker complexion and had a cultural background totally different from my own, to me the only truly indigenous people I knew were our domestic workers. Even then they were just shadows without personality or character – just servants who from the age of about 2 would call me Inkosaan and take orders from me. As a young white African I grew up in a segregated world with little or no contact with the majority population and certainly not at a personal level. When I married my wife at the age of 23, she, although totally raised in Africa, including Zambia, had never shaken hands with a black man.
It was only when I went to the University of Rhodesia and Nyasaland that I encountered people of a different colour to myself who were my equals in every way. It was a shock but I quickly adjusted and made friends from all quarters of the country. It was an encounter with a young radical, who had just returned from Training in Algeria, that my transition was made complete. Through his eyes I saw the conditions under which the majority were living and understood the pain of second class citizenship and discrimination in every sphere of life. He became a Christian and I became a radical. Quite a swop.
The rest is history – struggle, conflict, international intervention and transition. We emerged out of this period as Zimbabwe with a new democratically elected Government where the local population of African extraction was, for the first time since 1890, in charge.
By this time the white populations of Kenya and other African States that had come to Independence from their former colonial masters, had shrunk to insignificant levels. The great majority of people with foreign passports and origin had returned to their home countries or migrated to countries where the majority of the population looked like them. In Zimbabwe this process was well underway by the time we came to Independence in 1980, it hesitated for a short while and then resumed. By 1990, less than third of the people of European extraction remained in the country.
In South Africa the situation was very different – there was a much larger population of people of so called “mixed race” and of European extraction. They had been there for nearly 600 years and were deeply entrenched. Half spoke an African language, Afrikaans, that is only spoken in South Africa and is a mix of many languages. Today, even 26 years after Mandela came to power, there are perhaps 5 million “white” people and even more people of mixed race.
We generally fall into two broad categories – those that remain because of ties to the land or assets and those who chose to remain. I fall into the latter and we as a family made that decision (it is a decision) in 1976 after our first family holiday to Europe where we found, to our surprise, that we were not at home there, we were strangers.
We are remnants of the colonial powers efforts to dominate and control and exploit for their own benefit, the resources of the new World. They ruthlessly carved up Africa and subjugated the people, bringing with them all sorts of things that were totally foreign to Africa. Education, health services, law, constitutional government, limited forms of democracy, Christianity, racial restrictions and exclusions, foreign languages, literature, modern arms and organisation. Suppressing the indigenous languages, cultures and religion and making all decisions – often with little or no consultation with the majority population. A sense of racial superiority and implied inferiority.
Now with Independence we had to face the reality that in African culture things are done differently, that we had failed in our most important responsibility – that of preparing the majority for their responsibilities when they came, as inevitably they would, to power. The result has been a total mess. We tend to forget that in many African countries the colonial powers left behind situations where only a handful had education and even fewer experience in how to run a modern economic system. They have had to gain those things by making mistakes – of which there have been many.
But gradually, actually the process is quite fast by historical standards, Africa is growing up and increasingly able to stand on its own in a very tough and competitive world. Africans have more confidence in themselves and are starting to take their place in the global economy as players.
But what of the White Africans? Actually we are anything but white – pink or brown would be more apt. We are still here and still a bit lost but finding our feet. Last night Janet Cawood died on her Ranch, Kleinbegin in the Beitbridge District. She and her husband Sam, settled in the District many years ago and were in every way outstanding examples of men and women who had made their homes here. Both spoke Venda fluently, both had families with deep roots in Africa going back hundreds of years, both loved their land and their country and its people. They were deeply respected by the local tribal leadership and played a key role in the general welfare of the Community. Building schools and clinics and providing care and services to all.
Many people of European extraction live like that and in no way can anyone argue that they are not Africans – they are and should recognised and treated as such. But we have much penance to pay for our past, but also should be recognised for what we achieved in such a short time. We have to accept we are a minority without power, only influence. We still have a role to play but we need to accept that we are no longer decision makers or in control. Like minorities anywhere in the world and throughout history, we have to look after ourselves and our families. If you cannot do that, you cannot live in Africa, if you can, we still have a life to live and the ability to contribute and in many ways we have a better quality of life here, than almost anywhere else in the world. Most of all, this is, in every way, home.Post published in: Featured