A Small Town in Africa


by Hannes Wessels


US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently lashed out on the campaign trail thus: “We have a racist society from top to bottom impacting health care, housing, criminal justice, education — you name it,” he proclaimed. This, despite massive efforts to bridge the racial divide in America through billions spent on social and educational development, affirmative action programmes and countless political initiatives at every level of the power spectrum.

Simmering resentment is sweeping Western Europe as the natives struggle to deal with the real consequences of multi-culturalism which are turning out to be at variance with the optimistic blandishments they have been hearing for decades from their politicians.

The Germans, too cowed by their past to be too openly anti-immigration, were recently shocked by the news that over 70,000 women in the country have been subjected to female genital mutilation and 17,000 teenage girls are presently at risk of suffering the same fate.

In the UK, crime is rising, prisons are overflowing, inner-cities are becoming crime-ridden slums, the National Health System is floundering under the weight of non-contributing members and at least 30,000 potential Islamic terrorists stalk the streets of British cities.

It seems the harder Westerners and their leaders try to make multi-culturalism the social miracle they proclaim it to be, the more divisive and fractious the Western world becomes; and underlying most of the problems besetting these countries is the issue of race.

The picture that presents is a disturbing one that leaves me struggling for understanding and my search for answers takes me back over 40 years in time to the little Rhodesian border town of Umtali where I grew up.

At that time there were no more than 8,000 Europeans, about 1,000 Indians, and roughly 350,000 Africans resident in the town and environs. Any white American urbanite looking at these numbers would almost certainly assume, that being outnumbered by more than 40:1 we whites were under siege but that was very far from reality. Black on white violence was almost unheard of, as was the converse, rapes were rare, crime rates were ridiculously low, and the police were unarmed. Our home was never locked, there were no fences and as children, our parents cared little about our whereabouts because they knew we were safe. Education was divided along racial lines, but every child was at school. My best friend and mentor was the big black man who looked after our garden and on weekends walked me into the surrounding mountains in search of wild animals.

Materially, most whites were better off but there was little resentment from the black populace because they were acutely aware of how much their standard of living had improved and in so short a time under a white administration, using white expertise and capital. The town was divided along racial lines but the main football stadium and some of the best amenities were outside the white area. When the British Royal Family visited the town, they were shown around the African residential area by the white mayor of the town who glowed with pride.

In an early form of ‘affirmative action’, whites were forbidden to operate commercial enterprises in areas set aside for blacks in a bid to enrich and empower blacks, grow their own economy and encourage black entrepreneurship. One of the richest men I knew as a teenager was a black bus-owner who flourished under the protection afforded him by a ‘racist’ government.

Few whites were very poor, most were comfortably middle-class and only a very small minority were relatively rich; when I use the word ‘rich’, they could afford a Mercedes Benz and had a big house and a boat on the Mozambique coast. So successful was the system, many of the blacks were prosperous enough to eschew formal employment, creating a labour shortage in a rapidly growing economy which had to be filled through the importation of migrant labour from neighbouring countries already impoverished having been recently ‘liberated’ from white rule.

My father was a medical doctor who cared deeply for all his patients, who would probably be disbarred and criminalised if he were practising today because he ran two separate surgeries; one for Europeans and Indians and another, at a separate location, for Africans; a perfect fit for a racist. But it was a system based on pragmatism and realism; he needed to position a facility closer to where the Africans lived, and he charged them a much lower fee for his services. Everyone was happy.

At the government hospital where he worked, there was a European wing and a separate African wing. It would be condemned today. I remember the African Hospital well because at Christmas, we, as a family would celebrate some of the day there with the African patients who were wheeled out on to the breezy verandas to enjoy the festivities. The Prisons Band played in the shade under the purple Jacarandas and the patients sang while we children delivered presents to them. When my father died black people travelled from afar, many on foot, to bid him farewell.

Of course, the town described above, no longer exists, it has been destroyed by powerfully backed political opportunists, but I look back on this place and time and wonder why it was so successful an exercise in creating a harmonious, multi-racial society?

Human behaviour changes little over so short a period so this tranquil town could only have happened if some important fundamentals were imbued in the citizenry. I can only think these were predicated on the general acceptance of the fact that while we are all equal, we are certainly not the same; mutual respect between different racial groups, recognising innate and inherent differences and wanting to be separate is not sinful; and there is an immediate danger when integrating groups of diverse people of varying ethnicities, religions and histories because cultures ultimately collide and then societies collapse. I fear this is what beckons for Europe and America.





About the Author