Thoughts of a Capricious Boy: Wanderings in the Diaspor …



Terry and Barbara Bell, December 1969, with their three month old daughter Ceiren. (Photo: Supplied)

After a hair-raising trip, Barbara and I arrived in Zambia in October 1968 for a warm, friendly, yet bureaucratic welcome – and work with The Times and the Sunday Times of Zambia. We quickly began to plan for a long-term settlement there: apartheid South Africa was making diplomatic progress on the continent and the ANC was apparently in a state of chaos. But a little over two years later, deported from Zambia, we – along with a toddler, dog, cat and portable goods – traveled to Botswana where I was deported again. It was then that I hatched perhaps my most wacky business.

After arriving hot and sweaty on a dusty road through the bush, the well-built Zambian border post looked like an oasis, but of bricks and mortar. And the reception by officials in immaculate uniforms was the epitome of official politeness. “Hello,” the senior officer said as he led us through the door, “welcome to Zambia”.

But then the bureaucracy – and a measure to prevent corruption – stepped in. Without the K5 that my friend gave us at the Zambian consulate in Lubumbashi, we couldn’t go any further. “I’m sorry sir, but we are not doing any change,” replied the manager behind the counter when I offered our Belgian 50 franc note in exchange for the lesser amount of K5.

As we sat despondently on a bench, the senior officer told us not to worry. Sooner or later someone would arrive, traveling from Zambia to Lubumbashi, who would make sure to exchange our rating for the required K5. But it quickly became later and the post office was about to close for the day a single traveler arrived from Zambia and was only too happy to exchange our Belgian currency for the K5: we were officially free to travel. in Zambia.

But night was already near and I was looking for the most comfortable place to sleep when the senior officer informed us that no overnight stay was allowed. However, he and his team had contacted a Czech geologist working in the nearby bush and he would take us to the nearest border town, Chililabombwe, from where we made a single 140km ride that night to Ndola.

The next morning, I showed up at the offices of the Zambia Hours where newspapers were still understaffed. I was hired as a features editor. This meant that we would be able to keep our promise, especially to Barbara’s parents, whom I had never met, that we would reunite as soon as we arrived in southern Africa. Both groups of parents have agreed to come and spend Christmas and New Years 1968 with us.

By then we had settled in, made contact with other South African exiles, and began to find that things on the exile front were far from rosy. Not that we had a lot of details back then: it came in a trickle, sometimes several years later. What we heard was that there was concern bordering on mutiny in the ANC military camps south of Lusaka; that much of this stemmed from the disastrous 1967 Wankie and Sipolilo excursions to then Rhodesia. A memorandum was also circulating, signed by seven “MK fighters”, condemning the “rottenness” of the ANC and accusing management elements of nepotism and corruption.

At the same time, President Kamuzu Hastings Banda of Malawi had established diplomatic relations with apartheid South Africa and we learned that talks were underway between South Africa and a number of others. African states. This information was at least partially confirmed in April 1969 when 14 African countries voted in favor of the Lusaka Manifesto, which proposed a political solution – “talks” – to the problems facing southern Africa.

This news emerged just weeks before the ANC leadership called a major conference in Morogoro called to review “the movement’s policy, strategy, leadership structure and working style.” Officially, we, the exiles in Ndola, were kept in the dark about everything that was going on, but one of the major decisions in Morogoro was that people like Barbara and me or those classified by apartheid as “Indians” or “colored” could be ordinary members. of the organization in exile. As I had, since my recruitment, considered this question irrelevant – and acted accordingly – this did not change anything.

But we were all definitely gone for the long haul. And that could mean long-term jobs. Frene Ginwala, for example, who would later become the first president of the post-apartheid parliament, came to Ndola to review, with me, the Times before becoming editor-in-chief of the Tanzanian government newspaper. Other ANC members also occasionally stopped over and we managed, in general, to keep ourselves fairly well informed while avoiding the colonial social bubble that formed around a series of clubs dominated by expatriates.

Ndola circa 1968 (Photo: Supplied)

In any case, work on a daily basis Times and Sunday opening hours was often hectic as I not only edited pages, but also researched and wrote articles, helped with a training course for Zambian journalists, taught a short course in political philosophy to officials and coordinated a weekly radical discussion group. Our daughter, Ceiren, was born in September 1969.

A year later, with my contract at the Times having ended, I accepted the post of editor-in-chief of a Ndola-based publishing group that produced the country’s business and automotive magazines and the Zambian Medical Journal. Zambia, it seemed, was to be our home port for the foreseeable future: this was just the new contract accepted by the government. But then it was learned that the ANC families working in Zambia had not renewed their contracts and had 48 hours to leave. “You’ll be next,” said Qups, a fellow teacher as he and his wife packed their bags for Canada.

As a precaution, and on the advice of New Zealand journalist Vernon Wight, I wrote, applying for a job on the Auckland Star – and received a prompt response. I was offered not only a job, but also free hotel accommodation for a week, a “settling-in allowance” and $ 400 for “moving expenses”. It was a safety net beyond all expectation: I dropped it off, “just in case” while I waited for our application to become permanent residents of Zambia. Instead, the deportation order arrived, which we were able to delay for several weeks.

Jim Thorpe, owner of the publishing house, then came to our financial aid, handing me about six months’ salary in the form of banknotes in a large canvas bank bag. We had enough money not only to get to Botswana but, if needed, to New Zealand. ANC President OR Tambo and his close friend and comrade Jack Simons also confessed that the movement was powerless to help us stay.

However, reconstruction was underway at the international level. Our priority should be to settle in Botswana and establish a “safe house” for the ANC. If not, go to New Zealand and help build an anti-apartheid movement. An office “responsible for the Oceania region” had been set up in Delhi and, if we ended up in New Zealand, I was to file monthly status reports through this office.

Thus, with all our personal belongings, a 14 month old girl, a dog and a cat, we traveled, on often unpaved roads, the nearly 2,000 km from Ndola to Gaborone where I applied for the position for a long time. vacant at the time. magazine of the moribund news department. The job was mine, the chief information officer informed me. The only formality was presidential approval. Since Barbara was not banned, her parents took her, Ceiren, the dog and the cat, back to Johannesburg while I waited in a rented room for approval. What came instead was an outright refusal.

At the time, President Seretse Khama’s secretary was Joe Matthews, a member of the ANC and SACP, later deputy minister in the post-apartheid government and pillar of the Inkatha Freedom Party. I went to see him. “Sorry,” he said, “but it’s not just South African security. They are also the Zambians.

I was broken. It was near Christmas and Barbara had also told me that Ceiren had started walking late. Angry and frustrated, I decided on an even more insane project than taking on the challenge of paddling a kayak from London to Dar es Salaam: in disguise, I would drive through South Africa and spend the vacation period in Johannesburg with my wife and daughter. DM

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