MUD AND MOSAICS

Chapter 16

NORTHERN RHODESIA


THE kind Sisters at Elizabethville gave us ample provisions for our six— hour journey to Ndola in Northern Rhodesia, but all the same the journey was not very comfortable, because the train of one coach including the engine, had windows which for the most part would not open, and we were glad to leave it at Ndola. The White Fathers have no missions within miles of this place, so that it was a pleasant surprise to see a White Father at the Station to meet us. He explained that three of the White Father Vicariates of Northern Rhodesia use Ndola as a provisioning centre, and when they come here to "shop" they stay at the Franciscan mission, where he had been warned of our coming.

We went through the town visiting the shops where the influence of South Africa was evidenced by the assistants who spoke Afrikaans rather than English; that I was told, would not be the only sign of Afrikander infiltration which I should encounter.

There were both American and Italian Franciscans at the mission. When we left we said "au revoir" and not "goodbye", because we should be returning before long, and then we started on our journey to Fort Rosebery where we were welcomed by Monsignor Pailloux, W.F.

The next day, Sunday, July 21st, was a quiet day for me. I was taken for a few hours to the mission of Kabunda, about twelve miles out of the town. We went through a garden of oranges and, believe it or not, strawberries, as well as other fruit. The mission church, built by Brother Celestine in 1939, holds seven hundred people easily and one thousand packed and it cost only £450. It is built of brick, but clay and lime were used for cement.

We went across to the convent school to visit the White Sisters. They were building new dormitories for the boarding school, and expected to receive one hundred and forty girls two months later. School girls were making bricks, gardening, and being generally helpful. I must say that there is nothing in the missions more promising to see than the co-operation of the Africans themselves, men, women and children, in this kind of work.

The nuns gave us tea with homemade bread, and entertained us with the story of a python fifteen feet long that they had killed in their garden a few days previously. I half expected snake steaks for tea.

In the evening, sitting pleasantly in deck-chairs on the verandah, I had a long chat with Mgr. Pailloux. Our conversation was useful to me as a background for my coming visit to this country. He thought that the gravest problem was that of malnutrition. The Copper Belt, it seems absorbs between forty and seventy per cent of the men from the villages: these men leave their wives and children at home, with few men to cultivate the land. The result is that there is not enough food for the people. The children come to school hungry, and when they reach the higher classes at least, they just cannot study. Education facilities without food are useless.

Secondary education both for want of money and of teachers, is well behind the normal standard. Most of the teachers in the country come from this area, but they are directed to the Copper Belt, and the country districts have no secondary schools. As far as Catholic schools are concerned, the Prefect Apostolic thought that the only solution of the problem was for Religious teaching Orders to come out to Africa. But that is more easily said than done. There are no funds available on-the-spot, and everything has to be started from scratch, and in the bush. The situation, therefore, is not very hopeful.

As I came out of the house next afternoon, I saw a great cloud of dust, out of which presently emerged a Volkswagen with two Sisters of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood, whose headquarters are at Guildford, in Surrey. The van pulled up and after a word of greeting the Sisters cornered the Father Steward with: "Father, we must see you about a roof." In a few minutes two White Sisters rolled up, and they, too, wanted something concerning buildings from the Father Steward. A boy brought tea for us all, and I listened with interest, to a "builders" conference. Talking about roofs, I asked if there were bats in the ceilings here. "No, Father, not now," I was told. "There were some up to last week, when Father Superior went to look for them. The ceiling collapsed and he came down with a beam, plaster, and bats all over him. We smoked the rest of them out."

Presently the Guildford nuns drove off. They were returning to Kasaba, about seventy five miles away near Lake Bangweolo where they have a general hospital, and a leper settlement with a hundred patients. The White Sisters had come from Lubwe which is right on the Lake, about forty miles from Fort Rosebery where they were developing a clinic into a hospital. They also have a school with one thousand children. I listened to some talk today about Kawamba, one hundred miles to the north. It is the centre of an area containing one of the world's highest proportions of blind. The Prefect Apostolic wants to open a hospital up that way. The blindness could often be prevented, I am told, for it is caused by the use of native drugs and dirt. There appears to be no limit to the goodness and devotedness of the nuns here (as, indeed, everywhere else). One of the Guildford nuns who could get no transport walked twenty miles to attend to a priest with a poisoned leg: but for her, he would certainly have lost that leg, if not his life.

A White Father and a Brother were going by boat to Twingi in the south and when Father Carriere took them to the lake side, I went along with them for the trip. They had collected a ton or two of cement, a couple of hunting guns, two bicycles, and a motor cycle. On the way we broke in to the Forest Commissioner's house through a window. My companions were astonished at my surprise! Apparently the Commissioner knows us well and would expect us to use his house and anything in it, in his absence. We found our lunch there, made ourselves comfortable to eat it, cleaned up and then left everything as it was before. At the lake side we loaded the little whaler, started the outboard motor, and waved "goodbye" to the two missionaries as they set off on their twelve-hour journey to Twingi.

The word "Twingi", by the way, means "mosquitoes", which gave sense to the Brother's words: “Twingi has three thousand Christians and many mosquitoes". The missionaries would tie up for the night somewhere and continue their journey in the morning. They seemed to think nothing of it. As they left, a lovely motor launch purred in and we greeted the Protestant missionaries just back from a tour of their own missions on the lake.

Father Carriere, the Secretary of Education for this Vicariate, had much travelling to do along the river, and so a man named Peter Mwali made a canoe for him. With some companions Mwali cut down a tree which took three men with outstretched hands to encircle it, and from the tree they dug out a grand boat. The hippos, however, attacked the canoe on its first trip. They bit it and tried to drag it under the water. As that failed one of them made a rush at it and in consequence one man's leg was crushed and another man was thrown into the water amongst the hippos. Presently, to their horror, the men in the boat saw his head, which they thought had been severed from his body, floating behind them with the stream. It was some time before they realised that the head still had a body attached to it; they hauled him aboard, and except for the marks of five hippo teeth, he was none the worse for his exciting adventure.

On the way back to Fort Rosebery we stopped at Kabanga where Father Carriere said he had a "school palaver". Here we found a teacher waiting for his school. Kabanga had quite a nice little church, and Father Carriere asked why it could not be used for a school as well; a bush-chapel-school being a very common thing in the missions. But the people, who had built the church themselves, were greatly upset by this proposal. "But, Father, that is our church! We shall build a school as well." Father Carriere agreed to let them build a school with mud— bricks, and it was to be ready in a few weeks. I am sure Father Carriere was right to encourage them in spite of the extra expense and the few weeks delay.

The White Fathers have only a small mission in the town of Fort Rosebery; when I remarked on this I was reminded that this "shyness" for towns is common amongst us. A mission was first established at Kabanda ten miles away, and another at Chilubula, a small place outside the township of Kasama and I have seen the same thing elsewhere. The result has been that other sects often have strongholds right in the heart of almost Catholic areas. The explanation might be that the White Fathers were out here before white men had towns, and they naturally went to the native centres. When the towns came they did not move into them quickly enough nor in sufficient strength: perhaps not foreseeing that these towns would become not only centres for Europeans but also for Africans.

At the mission I met Father Marsan, a Canadian of 75 years of age, who was one of the first missionaries out here. He still goes on "trek" on a push-bike and is still full of enthusiasm. He loves his Africans and they would do anything for him.

We said "goodbye" to Fort Rosebery at half past eight in the morning, but we were still leaving at a quarter past nine. It was engine trouble ! Later we did leave for Kasama Vicariate and in particular for the mission of Chilubula, which is a couple of hundred miles to the north-east of Lake Bangweolo. On our way we met a poor African teacher with his wife, family and baggage, waiting at the roadside. They had been waiting a week for a lift, but they showed no signs of impatience when they saw clearly for themselves that we were very "full up" already. Nevertheless, that family haunted me for days, as I wondered if they were still there waiting at the side of the road.

We stopped at the great Mission of Ipusukilo. It was an encouraging sight. Out of a population of 21,000 people, 12,000 were Catholics, and only 37 villages out of 237 in the confines of the "parish" (seventy by sixty miles) had still to be evangelised.

The mission employs no less than 91 catechists, and the White Sisters are there too with their maternity hospital, schools, homecraft school, and a teaching centre for midwives. We met another admirable veteran — Brother Celestine, the great builder of missions. I have written "veteran" although he is only 56 years of age; but let that honourable word stand. He had just returned from a two-days journey of two hundred and ten miles, on a bicycle! The toughness of some of these missionaries and their devotedness is admirable.

We went for the night to Lubushi, which is the Regional senior seminary for Northern Rhodesia. Our conversation was for the most part about education. It was pleasant for me to hear Father Reuter, W.F., who is a German, speaking highly of the tolerance of British officials for missionaries who are foreigners. He was confirming what I had already heard from Mgr. Pailloux, who is a Frenchman, and from Bishop Daubechies, who is a Belgian. Of course, Government needs the missionaries, who help it greatly in its job of educating children; but it is much in the interest of the Church that we do so, and the way in which Government puts up with our shortcomings regarding English and University degrees is remarkable. From our viewpoint, it is also important that we should be so well qualified that we shall always be needed, and here in particular is emphasised our growing need of proper Teaching Orders.

At present, the gravest danger to Catholic schools here does not come from Government but from the local African chiefs who want to control the schools themselves: and they cannot do this while the schools are in the hands of the missions. A bush school, however, is the affair of the chief, and for that reason some of them would like to see nothing but bush schools while the missions want proper Primary schools.

The Bishop of Kasama told me he needed some qualified men to take over a training college for teachers. Government is ready to provide the cost of the buildings. I promised to pass on the call to the Religious teaching Orders at home.

We went to Chilubula, some 300 miles to the north — east of Fort Rosebery. This mission was built by Bishop Dupont, W.F., the famous King of the Brigands. It stands like a fort on a hill, and it was here that Bishop Dupont lived for a time with his 3,000 warriors of the Babemba around him. They made him King, a dignity he accepted to prevent the traditional massacres that took place on the death of a sovereign, it being customary in those days to put to death all people close to the deceased King.

The mission has thirteen thousand Christians, of whom many were absent in the mines. There are nine schools of different kinds with one thousand five hundred children. The White Sisters and some African nuns called Sisters of the Infant Jesus were at work in this mission. Good progress was still being made for there are two thousand catechumens under instruction.

I got some interesting sidelights on missionary expenditure. The catechists alone of the Vicariate of Fort Rosebery cost the Bishop £2,000 a year: they are, of course, worth much more, but that is a very large sum of money indeed for a Bishop to find in these parts. Then I saw a bush chapel at Kasama which cost £40 to put up. It had a room to accommodate the priest on safari. The people built this chapel with their own hands. The visiting priest, of course, brings his bed and altar.

The Bishops told me they were reluctant to send African students to England for higher education, for it seems that many Africans are influenced when there by Communists, and they are not always better men by any means when they return. Those who do come compare notes with those who go to France and Germany, and find that while Africans are received in the homes of the people in the latter countries, English homes for the most part are closed to them. What our Bishops prefer is to have their students take a university degree in Africa, say at Makerere in Uganda, and then come to England after that for post-graduate courses. Otherwise, they say, they mature far from their own country and its problems, and on their return they are not able to make practical application of what they have learned abroad.

One is always meeting the problem of inter-racial relations in Rhodesia. Here, for instance, I saw that one vital element of it is feminine. Generally speaking, African women are not well educated and so they cannot meet white women on anything like an equal basis socially. The African home has little inducement for a white woman to visit. If she does she would probably think of it as a sort of "slumming", to help the poor African: and that is just what the African most resents. Perhaps the greatest opponent of closer interracial relations is the white woman. Often her only contact with
the Africans is in the kitchen with the “boy". Her children are brought up in this “blackboy" atmosphere and that does not appear to be satisfactory.

My last talk at Chilubula was with Father Davoust, over eighty years of age, who came out here in 1901. When I first saw him here he was on a motor cycle ! There is something about these old missionaries — really old ones I mean — that is absolutely out of this world. Father Davoust's memory is as fresh as a boy's, and he re-lived for me his days with the legendary Bishop Dupont, who built this mission with walls like a fortress.

We were lucky to get on a plane without reserving seats at Kasama to fly back south to Ndola. I had a good view of the countryside of Bangweolo and saw what a terribly poor country it was. Here and there a few villages dotted among a wilderness of swamps. We bumped a good deal and I almost lost my record of not “losing" a meal. Sitting opposite was a weather-beaten white man with his arm in a sling. I began to sympathise with him, but he grinned and said: "I am very lucky to be alive; I had a car accident on a safari holiday. You shouldn't sympathise with me: congratulate me." Another example of relativity !

Back at Ndola I said Mass in the Dominican Convent, and saw the German Sisters. They have three schools: one for European children, one for African children and one for half-castes. Life is very complicated here.

After breakfast, Brother Kenneth, O.S.P., took us to see St. Francis College for European boys. The 480 boys were all on holiday. The college was still under construction and on the site was a small hut where Brother Silvester lived with a priest companion. One night, recently, he dreamed that he was in hell! He woke up "on fire" as he thought and found himself covered with red ants which were making a mass attack on the house. He jumped up and fled, tearing off his clothes as he ran and yelling to his companion for help. The other soon followed, also yelling wildly. Not long after that the house was again attacked by ants while the priest was out saying Mass. When he got back all that was left of his pet monkey was bare bones.

"There is one good thing about ants," he said, "they also clean up all the rats and bats in the place."

At Kitwe Father Lewis, a "stick of dynamite" from Malta, took me round the mines' township. Every time we stopped crowds of Africans surrounded us. This priest had eight thousand Christians to look after, most of them coming from the White Fathers' missions of Rhodesia; that is why they were so interested in me, conspicuous as a White Father by the rosary round my neck. They all wanted news of their villages and homes, which, alas, I was unable to give them. It seemed a pity the White Fathers could not arrange a regular visit to these exile parishioners from their own missions. (Note: The White Fathers have since opened a Reception Centre in Ndola.)

We visited the hospital with its three doctors and the centre for African girls training for State Registration. It was a contrast with what I had seen in the Congo and the matron was justifiably proud of her trainees. There was a small baby in an oxygen tent struggling for his life and I baptised him John. The Maternity Section is popular now but it was not always so. The African women mistrusted this "new-fangled" white business: no one would be the first ! Eventually, however, some brave woman was persuaded to have her baby there, fortunately successfully, and after that the good news spread. The hospital recently organised an anti-T.B. campaign, but it was stopped through the intervention of "African Congress", I was told. It seemed very stupid, but everything so quickly takes on a "colour-slant" in these parts, and provides easy fuel for an anti-campaign of some sort.

The social centre run by an English lady with some African helpers, was on a modest scale compared with those I had seen in the Congo, but it is certainly doing fine work. The mines have no schools of their own, nor are there any mission schools: only “Government" schools are permitted here, but Ministers of Religion are encouraged to teach religion in them, and the Fathers say it works well.

A strike, organised by Europeans was in progress. The African workers were getting a strike allowance. I went to the beer garden where men were queueing with buckets for native beer. Father Lewis told me that the profit went to provide a library, the reading room of which I found well stocked with papers and reviews and a good number of readers. There was also a huge sports stadium. I left Kitwe with a last look at an unusual sight: three churches standing side by side, Catholic, Anglican and Methodist.

At the mine centre of Mufulera, not very far from Kitwe, Father Bonaventure, O.S.F., was doing his best for the 11,000 Catholics in his charge. He could easily find all his parishioners' houses, for each had a little white cross over the door. This is something that could be useful and delightful in our own land. The homes were simple, but those I visited, at any rate, were very clean and tidy, and many had nice gardens with trees and a lawn. There was a shower-bath in each house and the whole thing struck me as dignified and "human", allowing a man to be truly at home.

Father Bonaventure had organised his 11,000 Christians well. He had three centres, each of which was in the charge of a catechist. Catholic Action with the Young Christian Workers, the Children of Mary and the Legion of Mary are all doing fine work. Still with all this help, poor Father Bonaventure had a lot more work than should fall to the lot of anyone man, however devoted. All over Africa I had seen priests overworked. There is only one solution: more priests.

At Ndola an African could build his own house, but here at Mufulera a man could own his house but not build it. Building was going on everywhere, and there were all the signs of expectation of a prosperous future. I chatted with some of the Europeans on strike, and their views on the African were not without interest: they were coloured, of course, by their own interests, like the views of so many people. The miners I spoke to said in substance that they didn't mind (!) an African as long as he was clean and "kept his place". But they did not believe in training Africans for superior positions as the Mining Companies were trying to do, and as Government did. They said it was a plot to get cheap labour higher up the scale.

"It takes me five years apprenticeship to get recognition as an electrician, but an African can get recognition out here in eighteen months, and then do the job cheaper than I can," said one. All the miners to whom I spoke turned out to be South Africans. The manager of a big store said: "I've seen plenty of strikes: this one won't last long. The men get such high wages that they can afford to have a "rest" now and again. Most of them would like to work all the time, but they are led by a few hotheads." I was told that there was no "fighting fund", either.

While in Rhodesia one cannot avoid seeing and hearing about the problem of interracial relations. There is a Catholic church, as well as others, in each African township: and there is a white man's town and an African's town. We have to send a white priest every morning to the African's church to say Mass for the white priest is not permitted to sleep in the African's town. And if an African priest were in our community in the white man's town, he should go back to the African town to sleep.

This sort of thing takes your breath away when you meet it for the first time. The law is that no white man may live in the African's town, and, no doubt, it is thought that an exception even for a doctor or a priest would be dangerous! The Belgians had the same rule, ostensibly for the "protection" of the African, but they make these exceptions for doctors, priests, and social workers. It certainly seems more sensible. In Rhodesia an African priest living in some of our missions would, strictly speaking, be breaking the law.

The colour-bar problem is not as simple on the spot as it sometimes appears to be in the minds of people at home. Strictly speaking, social-bar denies rights and legitimate opportunities to Africans to develop themselves on the sole grounds of colour and race. This real colour- bar certainly exists and one feels its influence steadily increasing as one nears South Africa. Nevertheless what is sometimes called a colour-bar is in fact a social-bar or a class-bar and the Africans practise these among themselves as much as anybody. One tribe will have nothing to do with another, one class despises a lower one, and so on. Leaders of anti-White movements, however, easily attribute everything they dislike to "colour-bar" in order to bolster up their contentions that all Europeans are leagued against the Africans and do not sincerely wish to help them in any way.

The Copper Companies declared their conviction that satisfactory industrial relations would never be established until Africans were given the chance to hold positions of higher responsibility. That was in 1948 and there is a gleam of hope in the fact that an African middle class is slowly being formed, which might bridge the gap between white and black. There is so much to be done before a settled and happy relationship can be established. The African himself needs to work more; he needs to take more pride in his job and in the land; he must make more effort to develop natural resources by abandoning old, bad, traditional methods. Parents need to take more interest in their children's education, and so on.

Some African leaders are very immature and irresponsible and are not anxious to have their people work to improve their standards, but only to clamour for a higher political status. On the other hand, there is certainly room for more secondary education, better agricultural methods and planning, and the training of Africans in agricultural and technical schools. Apart from the mines the main wealth of the African lies in the land and in cattle. I have always wondered why agricultural training even of a most elementary standard has never been widely developed in Africa. To complete the picture, there is also a wide field of strongly entrenched European interest which will resist all efforts to remove its privileges.

There is, however, much to be said for the liberal methods of British Government. The different approach is particularly striking when one has just come from Belgian governed territory. We do treat the African man as a man and try to train him gradually to hold wider responsibility. To drop everything, even his food, into his lap may indeed provide him with more things now, but it will not help him to become a better or more capable man. The deep unrest of the Congo is ample proof that material goods do not satisfy man's aspirations.

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