by Hannes Wessels
My infatuation with Kenya goes back almost 50 years to my early teens when I first read Robert Ruark’s African classics; Something of Value and Uhuru. Enthralled by the people, the places, the savagery, the beauty, the tragedies, the triumphs; these pages were life-changers for me and I was left as a young boy, hankering hungrily for a life of adventure.
Much has changed in that lovely land since Ruark wrote so captivatingly about it. Post-independence it has followed a familiar African pattern; disputed elections, poor governance, inter-tribal conflict, rampant corruption, massive inequalities in the distribution of wealth, crime and endemic violence. Add to that one of the fastest growing populations, in the world, a deepening poverty cycle and an incipient Muslim insurgency and the picture is not a pretty one. Yet, despite all this, much of the magical appeal that Ruark brought so magnificently to life in his writings, remains.
On a recent visit I came away with mixed feelings; happy for the Kenyans and sorry for myself and my countrymen. Somehow, Kenyans, of all races, seem to be making a success of what is to all intents and purposes a mess but they appear to have the energy, entrepreneurial acumen and positive attitude to rise above the ever-present challenges and they do it with good cheer and a friendly vibrancy. A significant European population remains an important an important cog in most sectors of the economy and all the whites I spoke to were acutely aware of the challenges that persist but all were overwhelmingly optimistic about their future in the country and confident that they have a lifelong place in the east-African sun.
I tried to understand why they were so buoyant and we in the south are so bleak. Kenya seems to have got a few fundamentals right: They are unashamedly capitalist; they have never flirted with the Marxist philosophies and policies that were so loved by the ‘Liberation Movements’, they are secular and they are almost proudly pro-West which has attracted multi-faceted support from Britain, America and Europe. But most importantly, despite a history of bitter ethnic conflict, it seems the anti-white rhetoric beloved by African politicians, has largely disappeared from the public discourse and for me looking on, having a history in Zimbabwe and South Africa, this was refreshing but also saddening.
I was happy for the Kenyans to know they have moved into a better place and it was a relief to be in this world apart but sad to be reminded that my homeland was effectively destroyed by the destructive malevolence that follows state-sponsored persecution of people based on the colour of their skin. Zimbabwe was effectively wrecked by a racist by the name of Robert Mugabe, and while there were other motivating factors, he ethnically-cleansed the European farming community simply because he was possessed of a psychopathic hatred of white people and wanted the worst for them. He got his wish and crashed an economy.
Now I sense the same agenda in the air in South Africa where race is effectively the only political game in town and it’s being fuelled with ferocious determination by a reckless and vindictive media that seems to care less about the colossal collateral damage done in the process. Just recently, a white lady by the name of Elena Barkhuizen, a primary-school teacher in the small country-town of Schweizer-Reneke who by all accounts is devoted to her pupils and dedicated to her work, instantly became one of the most reviled people in the country. This because of a photograph innocently taken to illustrate the success of this multi-racial institution that showed black children sitting at a different table to their white classmates. The fact that these children were not actually in her class and that this was done largely because of language difficulties (the school is An Afrikaans medium facility) helped not a bit; she was immediately suspended and spotlighted as just another white ‘racist’ having her woeful way humiliating little black kids. The signal strongly sent here is if you white get out of the education game with all possible haste because it may only be a matter of time before you become the victim in what is a witch-hunt.
Dominating the political dialogue leading up to an election in May are tropes about the ‘theft of our land’ by the whites and ‘white ownership of the economy’ which are read and heard on almost a daily basis and the poor and under-privileged, many of whom are not terribly well educated, are largely convinced by their political leaders that their woes are the consequence of the selfishness and avarice of an undeservedly prosperous European minority. Thus the political stage is almost set for the purge that will be entirely mobilised on the basis of race and this will have catastrophic consequences but very few in power seem to care a damn.
If only we in South Africa could find the gumption to embrace the ‘Kenyan-way’ and give everyone a chance on the basis of who they are and not their ancestry this country would probably be on the cusp of greatness rather than on the brink of conflict but alas, it’s being ravaged by the politics of race; just what we were promised was a thing of the past.