HOW MY POLITICS WERE SHAPED
By Ginny M
I was four when I arrived in Livingstone, Northern Rhodesia. My family consisted of grandparents, parents, a brother and sister. My father was a Master Baker and owned his bakery. Needless to say fresh bread was a daily fare, sausage rolls, pasties and pies were a treat, and my birthday cakes were spectacular. When I began playing the piano, he baked me the most beautiful grand piano I have ever seen before or since. I loved and respected my father with all my heart; I was definitely a daddy’s girl. He took me fishing and boating on the Zambezi River. He showed me off to anyone who would come by. We went on picnics every Sunday with many families, avidly watched wildlife in the game reserve, fought off crocodiles and hippos and explored the Victoria Falls. Life was a blast and our family unit was the most secure place a little girl could find herself. This all came to an abrupt end when I turned eight. My precious Dad died.
I hadn’t noticed it but the winds of change had blown over our town with White refugees flooding in from the Congo and Kenya. They told horrific stories of what was happening up north. The upheaval was attributed to a demand for freedom from the White man. I can’t say I understood this concept because we lived happily amongst Black people; we worked, schooled and shopped together.
One balmy, summer day, a man named Kenneth Kaunda came to town to give a speech. My siblings and I noticed a huge crowd on our way back from the movies. Kaunda was talking about how the White man had made Black people poor and that they had to wrest the country for themselves. The crowds cheered him and banged on their drums. My sister was behind me, walking haphazardly with a stick in her hand. She plunged it into a piece of paper lying on the ground and skipped past me with her “flag”. Suddenly the crowd turned on us; she was unaware that the blank piece of paper had a picture of Kaunda on the other side. My brother urged us to run home and he stayed behind to give us time to put some distance between us. My uncle came out of our house when he heard my brother’s yells and chased the crowd away. My brother had been beaten but he fought back. Over the next six months, there was never a time when we felt safe. We were surrounded and harassed on the way home from school, crowded out and robbed in the bakery where we worked and on the street outside our home. Before long my mother became frantic and sent us to boarding school in South Africa. We came home every six months and felt every bit of the tearing apart of our family unit.
Very slowly, my mother moved her business to Southern Rhodesia. The Zambian authorities allowed her to emigrate with ZK400. She had to liquidate all her assets and place the funds in the Bank of Zambia (almost half a million kwacha). They promised they would pay her annually, as foreign exchange became available, until she had exhausted the account. Two years and ZK1300 later she received a statement from the bank letting her know that she owed taxes and fees to the Zambian government which happened to equal the balance in her account.
The border which had always been open between the two countries was shut and we became persona non grata in the country we called home; they renamed it Zambia. My grandparents, sister and I returned to South Africa permanently and my brother was drafted into the army. Later both my siblings married and I became engaged to the love of my life; soon he was also drafted into the air force.
Rhodesia and South Africa formed an alliance against the ever growing terrorism that surrounded us and was engulfing both countries. To the north guerillas were supported by China, to the east in Mozambique, Frelimo was aided by the Russians and Cuba joined with the Angolans against us. In South Africa, the ANC which formed in 1912, became militant, were banned and began operating from outside the country. War became a way of life for us with troops going off to war after nine months of basic training. This was increased to two years and thereafter service was expected for three months out of each year.
One day my fiancé phoned me saying he had been called to service for a special mission but would see me in a week to celebrate his birthday. That never happened. He was killed in action in Rhodesia. The war had reached into my heart and ripped it out.
There were many deaths and injuries which took place and the enemy did not distinguish between Black and White. Who can forget the day the ANC dropped pamphlets into the Black areas declaring “Rape a White Woman, Kill a White Child” day. Just like the mau mau in Kenya, they threatened their own kind with death if they did not kill Whites. A friend of mine went out to lunch one day to buy a dress for her dream date. The next time I saw her she had one leg. She escaped certain death because a Black lady was walking next to her when the bomb went off in a trash can; my friend was the sole survivor. My mother, who had fled Rhodesia and moved to South Africa, had just rounded a corner when a car bomb exploded. She was hurt but alive. I was sitting at my desk at work one day and I heard this deafening boom. Within seconds I fell off my chair and was lying on the ground dazed. They had blown up the fountain in front of our building. Responsibility for every bombing was gleefully accepted by the ANC. They wanted the country and to heck with everyone; they now rule it.
At that time Ronald Reagan was President of the US. He understood what we were going through and we were thankful for his support. When Jimmy Carter came to power, our worst fears were realized and suddenly we were being blamed for the unrest. They said apartheid was wrong. I wondered why they couldn’t see that apartheid was our affirmative action since we were outnumbered 11 to 1. We could have committed genocide to even the score like many other countries, including the US, but we didn’t. We tried to create states for each of the tribes since there were not many of them who saw eye to eye with each other. Bophuthatswana was created and supported to statehood. I had to apply for a work permit before I could work there. Bush Sr was more supportive than Carter but by then the whole world was boycotting us. By the time Clinton served, we were fighting for survival. We were not only being attacked inside the country, the universe was closing in on us from the outside as well.
Our world began to unravel in little pieces. The first thing I noticed was a failure in the legal system. Looking back, we were being groomed to accept defeat. All of a sudden, Mandela who headed our archenemy, the ANC, was being lauded as a hero and savior. He was imprisoned because he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of commuters in a railway station. As far as I was concerned he should have been given the death penalty (just like Timothy McVeigh). To add insult to injury, they begged him to give up violence and he had to think about it. I guess they rewarded him with a Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1985 I moved to the US. I was shocked by the lackadaisical attitude of the people here. They did not seem to have a care in the world; they planned events way into the future. This was alien to me. We lived in a world where death could visit at any moment. We didn’t take anything for granted and had forgotten what carefree meant. In 1995, I was allowed to vote in the US for the South African Presidency. I knew the Whites didn’t have a prayer. If we had to have a Black, without a doubt I wanted to vote for Gatsha Buthulezi but couldn’t find him on the ballot. I was told that if I wanted to vote for him, I needed to write his name down. Why did Inkatha not have a voice? The international press did not even acknowledge him; he is Chief of the Zulus and currently Chief Executive Councillor of the kwaZulu Government!
The call came and shattered my peace on a cold evening in Canton. My mother was frantic and the whole family had mobilized to Johannesburg. My sister and her husband owned a coffee shop in Hillbrow. There was a huge crowd in attendance for the boxing match on TV and their two sons had been helping out. Business was brisk and folks celebrated the South African who won. Slowly the crowd began to leave. Meanwhile a man and two women had been sitting at one of the tables and abruptly departed leaving a brown paper bag on their table surrounded by beer bottles. The waiter thought they had forgotten their package and placed it near the chair my older nephew was sitting on at the till, in case they came back to claim it. My younger nephew strolled over to talk to his brother and suddenly they were both catapulted in opposite directions, slid across the ceiling and came crashing down to the ground covered by the ceiling. My sister and her husband were on their way to the front desk and were instantly covered in shrapnel. All that was visible of my oldest nephew was his hand; someone saw fit to steal his watch. We found out later that the limpet mine was attached to a timer set to go off when the place was crammed with people. It failed to detonate at the intended time. For three weeks my sister hovered over her boys as they lay in hospital, severely injured with little hope of recovery. Gradually, with surgery and love, they beat death and both began to heal. There was a very long interval where there was a concern that neither one would be able to procreate due to the devastating injuries they suffered to the lower abdomen. The older boy matriculated while he lay in his hospital bed and the younger one missed so much school he dropped out and joined the army. I was too poor at the time to afford a ticket home and found solace in alcohol.
I have tried to reason this whole issue out. What has been gained by all this freedom that has been granted? Personal knowledge of events stretching from Kenya to South Africa has confirmed that life is far worse in those countries today. Africa as I knew it was the land of plenty of fertile soil for agriculture, gold, diamonds, uranium, plutonium and has since been reduced to rubble. Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, was the Garden of Eden, lush and blooming with wild flowers; it is now a dusty wasteland. Several years ago, I wanted to visit my Dad’s grave in Livingstone. Hours after I searched and could not find even a wild flower, I bought some plastic ones from a local florist. I eventually gave up finding his grave since the area was so overgrown, I ran out of road to the cemetery. Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, the home of the best beef in the world, is hungry. White South African farmers have been killed and had their land stripped for squatters. AIDS is rampant and poverty abounds. I think of my own interaction with the Blacks who were friends with me yet regarded me as the enemy. One such avid supporter of the ANC couldn’t wait for the change. We debated at length on the situation but in the end agreed to disagree. I went back some time ago and ran into her. I asked her the question that had been plaguing me, “So how’s life for you with the change?” Her reply was pitiful. She said, “I’m finally free…..to be about as poor as I want to be.” She is so busy trying to survive; she doesn’t have time to be angry. Most people I spoke with were just thankful that a bloodbath didn’t occur.
I have been told over and over that apartheid was a pernicious system and the cause of the destruction in that country. I say that apartheid was necessary for a country dealing with first and an overwhelming majority of third world occupants. There was no way for the minority to support a majority otherwise. We had exactly one millionaire who ran Anglo-American. The rest of us were, by American standards, middle and poorer class. The other side of apartheid was not exactly a failure either. The market was huge and savvy Blacks and Indians realized their dreams out of reach of the White community. The idea that the wealth had to be redistributed did not sit very well with the wealthy non-Whites.
Rhodesia did not have an apartheid system, Blacks fought alongside Whites in the war and everyone was free to follow their pursuits. What happened there? Well, Prime Minister Ian Smith declared independence unilaterally (UDI – just like the US did) but the British deemed it illegal and as such Rhodesia still belonged to the Commonwealth. Since it was part of Great Britain, they demanded that elections take place for independence. The UN was in attendance and violence still prevailed. In the end, Robert Mugabe was installed and he turned into a dictator. Zambia is also cesspool of poverty, corruption and bankruptcy just like every other country in Africa.
I have learned that the world doesn’t have a Black / White, Muslim / Christian problem; it is plagued with looters looking for riches and power.
I have learned that freedom is attained, not granted.
I have learned that propaganda is exceedingly more vociferous than the truth.
I have learned that the third world thinks that prosperity grows on trees.
I have learned that the western world is too comfortable and is negligent with their safety.
I have learned that if I am to survive, I must put aside my humanity and fight fire with fire.
I have learned that if I show weakness, I will be devoured.
I have learned that some people do look at you in the face and lie with a smile.
I have learned that God helps those who help themselves.