PR OL O GU E
DAR ’E SALAM.
The man at the podium had recently returned from Moscow. An African student of communism and strategic politics, he’d spent three years studying under a programme of indoctrination, developed and sponsored by the Kremlin. Standing at over six foot, his broad shoulders and tapered waist were complimented by an immaculately tailored business suit over a starched white shirt and red tie. A relaxed, economy of movement in the way he carried himself, emphasized an unspoken presence of command.
The venue was a shabby community hall in a slum on the outskirts of the city. Folding metal chairs in varying stages of disrepair were set out in rows on a warped wooden floor, the whitewashed breezeblock walls were faded and stained with grime, and the windows were bare and in need of cleaning. Suspended from a sagging ceiling on frayed electric wires, a scattering of naked light bulbs provided muted illumination. The audience listened in captivated silence, mesmerized by the man’s charisma and eloquence. .
“For four centuries’ he boomed, ‘the continent of Africa has been a pillaging ground for colonizing forces from Europe. The Portuguese, the French, Dutch, Belgians, and the British have all laid claim to our land. They have raped our resources and enslaved our people. They carved up the continent into borders and countries of their own expedience. They drew lines on a map through our traditional tribal territories and built citadels of white privilege and wealth on ground where the spirits of our ancestors rest. Through greed, deception and exploitation they have stolen our property and our freedom. Above all, they have cast us aside as objects of irritation when we have tried to reason with them on the subject of justice and opportunity for our people. Attempts at finding peaceful means of co-existence have proven to be an exercise in futility. Now the time has come to fight back! . . We will reclaim our continent!... Progressively, we - the Black Consciousness activists, the People’s National Revolutionary Armies of Africa - will intensify our struggle. We challenge the legitimacy of the colonizers. We are pressing our justifiable demand for self-determination, the return of our land and the rehabilitation of our freedom. The end of slavery’
He paused and stared at his audience as if defying them to challenge him. The hall was hushed, but the energy was palpable.
‘Comrades,’ he continued earnestly, ‘we are not alone! There is a global groundswell of support. There is an emerging international doctrine demanding freedom for the people of Africa. This mind-set is gathering momentum and has support among the sponsors of our liberation. In the corridors of power on the world’s political stage Africa and the injustice of colonialism is on every agenda. The grip of white supremacy in Africa is slipping! It is loosening under the pressure of our heroic Revolutionary forces, and our struggle can no longer be ignored.’
He spoke for over an hour, his zeal goading his audience, inciting them in a fever of indignity, kindled with anger, bloodlust and patriotic devotion.
‘The fight for the liberation of our continent must not falter. We must not slumber nor grow complacent! The struggle will continue and our victory is certain!’
Timing the climax with the assurance of a showman, his bald head glistening with perspiration, he raised a clenched fist high above his head. Switching to fluent Swahili, he bellowed:
‘Mzungu Aende Ulaya! Mwafrika Apate Uhuru! Let the European go back to Europe! Let the African regain his Independence!’
Switching back to English he concluded: ‘Our strength is our survival Comrades. Our will is akin to an ever intensifying storm that will soon overwhelm the trespassers and blow them away like clouds in the wind!’
A roar of applause went up in a crescendo of frenzied approval. The scholar turned militant raised both arms in acknowledgement of his audience. He turned from the lectern to resume his place among the VIPs on the stage behind him. Applauding, they rose from their seats in unison and each in turn embraced the orator, honoring their brother in arms.
Called to the dais, the guest speaker rose gracefully from his seat and strode forward in dignified self assurance, characteristic of a lifetime in positions of privilege and power. His surroundings in the ornate oak-panelled hall, the crystal chandeliers, heavy satin drapes and soft thick carpeting, symbolized the prosperity and strength of a successful and long-standing colonial heritage.
This was the eighth country the man had visited in ten days, and his keen blue eyes betrayed his fatigue. His features were handsome though ageing and a gaunt pallor was barely concealed behind the flush of colour from recent, unaccustomed exposure to the harsh African sun. During his tour he had been met alternately with reverence and hostility and these encounters had left him both enlightened and disturbed.
Thirty three years of political life had, three years earlier, taken him to the pinnacle of his career when he had taken office as Prime Minister of Great Britain. Experience told him that his message today would not rest easily with his audience of South African Parliamentarians. These bulky men in their dark double-breasted suits were the sons of Afrikaners who had, six decades earlier, fought the British with Musket and cannon on the battle fields of the Boer war, a conflict that remained an open wound in the flesh of Afrikaner heritage. They neither trusted nor liked the British.
‘Honorable members of this House, members of the press and all African members of the Commonwealth,’ he began, ‘I thank you for this opportunity to present my government’s greetings.’
The words were spoken in a clear and resounding timbre with a tone of unambiguous authority:
“In fifty years, since the formation of the Union, the people of South Africa have built a strong economy founded upon healthy agricultural expertise and thriving, resilient industries. No one could fail to be impressed with the immense material progress which has been achieved. That all this has been accomplished in so short a time is a striking testimony to the skill, energy and initiative of the South African people.
“Times are changing however, and since the end of the war, the world has seen the awakening of a national consciousness in people and nations, who for centuries have lived within the borders of their own land under conditions of servants and dependants to some or other colonial power or an entrenched nation of settlers.. . Countries of different races, beliefs and civilizations have pressed their claim to an independent national life and self-governance with demands for an end to colonial or foreign rule.’
He paused for effect, glancing with stern appraisal at his audience. Among them, were expressions of naked contempt. As far as the majority of these parliamentarians were concerned, they had already claimed their independence from the British Crown. They had already seized their right to sovereignty and self rule. What applied elsewhere in Africa did not apply to the country of white Afrikaner heritage. The ardent belief was that God himself had delivered this right to them in the South African general election of 1948 when the pro-British, Commonwealth Unionists had been toppled by the Afrikaner Nationalists at the polls. South Africa was and always would be their Vaderland.
‘Today,’ continued McMillan, ‘this is happening in Africa, and the most striking feature of all that I have witnessed since leaving London, is the strength and resilience of the African National Consciousness. In different places it takes different forms, but it is happening everywhere and it is obvious to me and my government that this awakening of pride and spirit cannot be ignored.’
His words came across firm and clear through the public address system and for the moment he held sway, but a quiet undercurrent of murmuring from the ruling party benches indicated irredeemably that this august gathering reserved its own views.They would not be ignored either.
He paused again, and then raised his voice for dramatic impact:
‘The winds of change are blowing through this continent ladies and gentlemen, and whether we like it or not this tide of national consciousness which is now rising in Africa, is a reality for which both you and we, and the other nations of the western world are ultimately responsible The awakening of the African spirit and their right to self determination is a political fact . . . an irreversible fact that our national policies, now and in the future, must take account of.’
He paused once more and stared in deliberate challenge at the defiant faces of his audience.
“As fellow members of the Commonwealth” he proceeded, “it is our earnest desire to give South Africa and the Southern African region our fullest support and encouragement in these changing times, but frankly there are some aspects of your legislation, the policies of Apartheid and racial segregation which make it impossible for us to do so.’
There was no mistaking the message beneath the diplomatic narrative. It was being suggested,... perhaps demanded, under a veiled threat that provision be made for the indigenous African population to be given an inclusive role in government.
Harold Macmillan resumed his seat alongside Prime Minister Dr Hendrik Verwoerd. The murmur from the benches had become a hostile drone, erupting into a hubbub of defiance. Macmillan’s and Verwoerd’s eyes did not meet but in a hushed tone, Verwoerd spoke to his guest:
“Sir, we will never surrender our sovereignty. We fought far too hard and sacrificed far too much to achieve it, and we will fight and sacrifice even more to keep it. We have created a prosperous country under competent management. We have no intention of relinquishing that to the blacks and we do not need the utterances of a former colonial master directing our domestic affairs.Take that message back to London with you”
It was clear the words from the leader of Great Britain had rubbed salt in old wounds. More, his words had struck against a people’s sense of destiny and conviction. He had fired a warning shot against a bastion of stone and touched a political nerve so profoundly painful as to be intolerable. His warning of a growing threat to peace and prosperity in the region would be cast aside with contempt.