Post-colonial Africa cannot turn back


"Last Days in Cloud Cuckooland," by Graham Boynton. Random House. 289 pages. $24.

The whimsical title belies the dread that courses through this chronicle of the transfer of power in Africa during the latter part of this century. It is the white dread of black rule, which the author finds depressingly well-founded.

Graham Boynton's authority for dealing with such historic change in his adopted continent comes not from his academic background - he graduated in economics - but from recurrent personal encounters with Africa's modern history.

As a boy in 1960, he watched the Belgian refugees from civil war in the Congo arrive in sorry state in his hometown of Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia, arousing both sympathy and consternation among the local whites. As a youth a decade later he fled to South Africa to dodge the draft in Rhodesia and become a journalist, only to be expelled by the Afrikaner apartheid government for his leftist leanings; he returned to witness the amazing 1994 transition that brought President Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress to power.

Taken to Africa in 1951 by his emigrating parents, lured south by "the sunshine and cobalt-blue skies instead of overcast,

damp-to-the-marrow old Britain," he now considers himself "a white African."

He roots the character of white Africans in their historic 'u experiences. For Rhodesians he points to the imagery of the white Shangani Patrol, their ammunition spent, standing shoulder to shoulder singing "God Save the Queen" as they are slaughtered by the warriors of King Lobengula of the Matabele tribe on Dec. 4, 1894.

For the Afrikaners of South Africa, he delves further back to the Dec. 16, 1838, pledge by 350 Boers of allegiance to God if he allowed them to triumph over an army of 10,000 Zulus at what became known as the Battle of Blood River because the waters of Ncome River ran red with the blood of 3,000 Zulus. Not a single Boer was killed.

It caused him to wonder, as change reached the southern tip of the continent, how the Afrikaners would handle the final reversal of fortune, the apparent snub from the God they had made a pact with 150 years ago.

If Boynton is hard on the white colonialists for failing to prepare the black majority for Africanization - be it in the Congo or South Africa - he is equally hard on the black Africans for failing to use power effectively - be it in Kenya or Zimbabwe. "Africa's decline has been staggering," he says.

He recounts his recent return to crime-ridden Johannesburg, "sweating the white man's sweat' as he lies awake "waiting wide-eyed for my executioners to arrive," contrasting it with the secure orderliness of his childhood and youth in colonial Rhodesia.

"Suddenly, vividly, the white African's inglorious past appeared to me as a glorious memory," he confesses.

Nevertheless, he argues, it is up to South Africa, "liberation's final frontier, to prove there was life after the white man and that Africa could rule itself.'

Clearly, Boynton is no optimist. He sees "a negotiated arrangement' whereby Europeans run bureaucracy and business and blacks hold political power as "mildly feasible.' Hardly. South Africa's black politicians and intellectuals are currently debating the parameters of their brand of Africanization. The focus is on non-racism, but there is no talk of any type of re-colonization, however benign.

Nevertheless, he wonders: "Would the expats do a better job?" His answer: "They could not do any worse than the black governments have done."

Gilbert A. Lewthwaite is The Sun's South African correspondent. He is a veteran of overseas reporting, having served in the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Central America and Europe. Before joining The Sun in 1971, he worked for the London Daily Mail.

Pub Date: 8/24/97

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