Have you ever been a witness to or encountered racism?

Answer by Rory Young:

Here is my first experience of racism.

When I was five years old my parents divorced. My mother took me and my much older siblings to the UK and then six months later to white minority ruled Rhodesia, which would become Zimbabwe after achieving majority rule in 1980.

In Zambia I had lived wild and free on the farm running around barefoot and playing with the local black kids. Because my siblings were older and also went to boarding school overseas I hardly ever saw a white kid. When I did get to play with "muzungu" children I found them alien. I loved the workers who looked after me and always joked and made time to chat if I came by.

My parents were not racist and I never experienced any racism and had no idea that it existed or what it was.

In Rhodesia my mother remarried. My new step-father was an officer in the Rhodesian Army. I lived in Salisbury (Harare) and also at Nkomo Barracks, a base about thirty kilometers out of town.

The war between Rhodesia's minority rule government and the black nationalist guerrilla fighter was raging. I was seven by now and had no clue what it was all about, just that people fought and died. My mother was a nurse and when we heard choppers flying in to land at the nearby hospital my knew my mother would come home late or not at all and when she did she would often sit in the garden by herself. Of course I never understood at the time why she was so quiet.
 
For me it was mostly very exciting because I got to play at the barracks and, really cool for a seven year old, went to school in an army vehicle. Sometimes an armoured truck called a crocodile pictured below and at other times a big green bus.

We always had an escort. Sometimes, when the war situation was worse our transport was part of a military convoy and at other times it was just a soldier in the bus. All the kids were the white children of officers and nco's.

Whatever the situation, there was always one soldier who was there to protect us. He and the driver were black. It was always the same man but at times there were others who joined him. They all looked something like this:

His name was Corporal Moyo. He always sat by the door with his FN assault rifle and I always sat with him. He would let me load and unload one of his magazines or fiddle with some other piece of equipment and we would chat, or he would tell me stories about the bush.

The other children did not talk to him and because I sat with him I was ignored too. That was fine with me. As far as I was concerned I had the coolest seat on the bus. Our protector was my friend.

One day there was shouting from the back of the bus where the bigger kids sat. "Kaffirs! Kaffirs!".

I had no idea what that meant or what was going on so I jumped up and moved back up the isle. The kids were throwing things out the windows. I was confused so I asked "what are kaffirs"?

Everyone laughed at me and told me to shut up. Then, "that's a kaffir" one of them said and pointed at Corporal Moyo and they laughed. Corparal Moyo sat facing forward and didn't respond.

A second later someone shouted "more kaffirs" and as we drove past a black woman they pelted her with banana peels and other rubbish through the windows.

"Why are you doing that?" I asked.

"Shut up you little Kaffir Lover" came the reply, "go and sit with your Kaffir friend".

Bewildered, I went back to Corporal Moyo. I sat down. "Why are they doing that?" I asked.

He said nothing but turned to look at me. He had a look of the utmost sadness
and disappointment on his face. I said nothing more and we carried on with the journey in silence while every time we passed in black people on the road the boys in the back, and some of the girls, would pelt them with anything they could find.

They next day Corporal Moyo was not on the bus. I was scared something was wrong and asked his replacement, "where is Corporal Moyo"?

"DB", he answered. DB was "Detention Barracks"; army jail.

"Why?", I asked.

"He got drunk yesterday and hit an officer. He's going to be court-martialled".

I never saw Corporal Moyo again. I never forgot him either.

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One thought on “Have you ever been a witness to or encountered racism?

  1. Wow! Thanks for this…brought back many memories of our time in southern Africa though from the receiving end of the ‘kaffir’ slur. And also reminded how many stood against racism even back then.

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