Magazine article The Spectator

It Is Ever Thus. Mandela and His Girondins Have Been Replaced by Mugabe and His Jacobins

Magazine article The Spectator

It Is Ever Thus. Mandela and His Girondins Have Been Replaced by Mugabe and His Jacobins

Article excerpt

My late father lost a fortune as a Bulawayo tobacco-farmer-cum-racehorseowner m the Late 1920s and early 1930s as well as founding and leading the Rhodesian Labour party of that period, in spite of having stood for the parliament as a staunch Conservative in Britain's `khaki' election after the first world war. So I have a more than an average interest in what is happening to his white successors in today's Zimbabwe, some of whom could well be my blood brothers, as, come to think of it, could some of their black killers.

Not that my father would have been at all surprised by what is happening since he never believed that granting universal franchise to white and black alike could conceivably satisfy the latter's social and economic expectations. After all, he would point out, the masses in Britain have enjoyed 100 years of universal franchise, and more than 200 years of a partial franchise, and still their social and economic aspirations for equality are unsatisfied, and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future, if not for ever.

But at least in Britain, my father would continue, there had always been a measure of upward social mobility, very slow at first but gradually gathering speed - he never lived to see the extreme acceleration under Mrs Thatcher - and this was because, from the very beginning, a bright lad with his wits about him, like Tom Jones, could always try, with some chance of success, to pass himself off as a gentleman, as could a pretty lass hope to pass herself off, rather more easily, as a lady.

At the time I recall having these conversations with my father, Nancy Mitford had just published her famous article on U and nonU, giving detailed illustrations of how cunningly the British upper class had succeeded in keeping ahead of the game. For no sooner did social climbers learn the existing correct code of behaviour - not to say `pardon', for example, or never to have soup at luncheon - than it would be superseded by a new one, very often the exact opposite of the old one - i.e. to say `pardon' all the time and always to eat soup at luncheon. As a result, all but the quickest-witted of aspirers would always be wrong-footed.

But in the case of the blacks, my father pointed out, the problems of assimilation into the upper reaches were 100 times compounded, since however properly they spoke, dressed, and behaved etc. they would always stand out by reason of the colour of their skin. So to all the barriers to upward mobility raised in Britain by class had to be added, in Rhodesia, those of colour, which would make progress by the masses towards social and economic equality there quite unbearably slow and arduous, more like what happened in caste-ridden pre-revolutionary France, where there was no safety valve, than the much more fluid, upwardly mobile situation prevailing at the same time in Britain. In short, whereas peaceful evolution towards a classless society had just been possible in Britain - in spite of some very tricky moments - there was not a chance in hell of moving in that direction, without bloodshed, in multiracial Rhodesia. At the very best, therefore, the privileged whites under majority rule might expect to be allowed to remain on sufferance but, like the Jews in central Europe, they would always be in danger of the occasional pogrom or worse.

Did this make my father a racist? I suppose it did, if by racist is meant someone who believes that blacks - even in multiracial black majority countries, let alone multiracial white majority ones - are always going to find it more provokingly difficult in a modem world created by whites in their own image to win anything like an acceptable number of places in the sun. …

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