It’s sad to say but there are not many people left who can remember that blissful period in Africa. I’m lucky to have seen a few bits of it when I was flown from Holland to Johannesburg in an old but well-functioning Dakota in 1949, I think. Being quite fed up with war torn Europe, I had applied for a miner’s trainee job in the south african goldmines and being matriculated, 6 foot tall at 145 pounds the Chamber of Mines had accepted my solicitation. About 25 of us youngsters, dutch and belgians were to fly from Amsterdam to Jo’burg and the trip was going to take about 5 days we were told. What an adventure for a young fellow after that rotten war time.

First stop was in Italy, Bari where we had time to eye the Ity girls but being broke as broke can be…enfin! Next day we left this wee harbour and landed up in Wadi Halfa, next to the Nile where a red faced englishman in shorts and a funny cork helmet bawled out a bunch of arabs to get fuel into the plane. Arabs could be bawled out in those days, they didn’t have all that oil money yet. It was a hot night with little sleep and next morning we were on our way to Juba. We had  south african pilots and they were good fellows . At times they flew really low to show us the game or a waterfall and we all had a great time. None of us had ever slept in a hotel and black, red-fezzed waiters that served us abundant food obsequiesly, made us feel pretty stupid after the hunger years of the war.

The highlight of this trip was the Victoria Hotel in Entebbe. A great white building with lofty rooms, surrounded by tall palm trees. Servants and waiters dressed in long white robes and those red fezzes, bringing us all that food, we had difficulty in believing that all that luxury was for us. The pilots decided how much beer we could have, they were not stingy. One elderly white lady appeared to be in charge of this magnificent hotel but we hardly saw her, these tall, stately black people  had everything under control. Never have I forgotten that place.

After a flight to Ndola we eventually arrived in Johannesburg and that was the end of our luxury treatment, from there on it was work with not much pay to start. Yet, I still think that the Chamber of Mines treated us well, and, as I found out later, the black miners the Chamber recruited, also received a square deal. These black fellows came from all over southern Africa, knew nothing and were often diseased. Their faraway villages had been taxed by the british for a long time and the only cash money to be made was by getting paid in the mines of Egoli. This was not a ‘slim’ invention by the brandnew ‘apartheid’ government, governor Milne, he who started the Boer War, had seen to that 50 years before.

The cleverest invention in the goldmines I found to be the invention of the language Fanagolo, a mixture of Zulu, Nguni, English and some Afrikaans. As all pidgin languages it must have developed spontaneously but the Chamber of Mines had officialized it in dictionaries and it was the first thing us whities and blackies were taught. Within 2 months, young, green europeans had conversations and got on well with green black people that had come from all over southern Africa. The Chamber saw to that and to my mind they were right. As many people in this country have a notion that the Chamber was the devil incarnate, I’d better belay my mining story but if someone is curious about that period in the mines, I can be asked.

However, I didn’t stay many years in the mines, I travelled and met people who had seen a lot of Africa. Soon the stories of change multiplied, Mau-Mau in Kenya and other anti-colonial actions all over the continent. My friend Laurie Bradley, future lawyer who you can meet in the last part of my book ’Sink The Birkenhead’ knew Scotty Smith, a fellow who traded every- and anything anywhere in Africa. He spoke most languages of the black people and was well respected by them. He told us already in 1952 that Africa was going to become a hellhole, something so terrible that no one had any idea as yet.

“It’s those effing russians, “ he told us, “they’re shipping these small machine guns in through the East coast and the Congo as well and they’re dishing them out like candy to who ever is black.” Laurie and I soon heard similar stories, black people trained in the Soviet Union were training africans to become free. “Free from whom?” asked Scotty, who had come back to south africa, “the sods almost killed me, me Scotty, that they have known for thirty years. This’ll be the biggest bloodbath Africa has ever seen and it’ll last for generations!”

Kalashnikofs or AK 47’s became the in-word in Africa and then the end-word, thanks to comrade Stalin who might have figured that he hadn’t murdered enough yet in his own region and ‘destabilizing’ Africa would suit him. He succeeded, no one today knows how many millions his AK 47’s helped to slaughter and there’s still no end to it.

And you know what? All these vast soviet weapons transports are today passed, as the french say, under silence, and that is very silent indeed. Google all the fights and struggles of the ex colonies, not a word is mentioned from where the black people derived their weapons to rebel, first against colonialism and then amongst themselves. What the soviets did to Africa is immeasurably worse then what the germans did to Europe. Who would want to keep this a secret?


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One Response to Anyone around who knew pre-kalashnikof Africa?

  1. Jack Dekker says:

    Don’t agree with you completely Nick. Most of the K’s were sold to the Africans by Western bloody dealers. Most of the landmines in Africa are made in the USA and Britain.
    But thanks for a good story and mostly I agree.

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