As the deadlock over Rhodesia continues the African summit conference opened this week in Kinshasa. One of the main aims of the conference will be to get resistance movements in Southern Africa into fighting trim. PAUL HAPANA (a pseudonym for a black Rhodesian Catholic now studying at a British university) gives a personal account of life and religion in Rhodesia.
ABOVE the rows of col oured shirts an ocean of happy black faces—upturned towards the calm. tanned features of priests and nuns in white. This was the picture of classes at the Jesuit mission, where I received my education and learnt my catechism.
I had been born near the mission and baptised there. It was natural that my Catholic convictions should have developed by my mid-teens, when I started with my schoolfellows (boarders £2 a year) to learn the alphabet and words in the vernacular as well as oral English and mechanical arithmetic. Among other normal subjects were natural science and agriculture. We also learnt gardening and basket-making, played football and athletics. I never knew how to play cricket, as it was considered a game for settlers only.
In my schooldays the White Man meant the missionary— who had left the comforts of his own civilisation to bring progress and enlightenment to his African brother.
It was only when I started work that 1 encountered the Europeans who really run Rhodesia; my first vivid experience was being shouted out of a public-building (one of the few officially multiracial) by a tobacco-farmer throwing his weight around. It was then that I started attending political meetings in the African townships and I gradually came to realise the unjust nature of Rhodesian society.
I did not become politically active myself, for I came to realise that politics is a very clever game, which not only requires a knowledge of the subject itself, but also a knowledge of the people. Again, it requires a tremendous amount of responsibility. Most of my time was taken up with private study to reach A levels by my late twenties.
But there are many Catholic and other mission-trained blacks in the now-banned ZAPU (Zimbabwe African Peoples Union) and ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union). Prominent among them are Robert Chkerema (ZAPU) and Robert Mugabe (ZANU), both products of the African Eton or Downside— St. Francis Xavier school run by Canadian brothers at Kutama. Chkerema is exiled in Zambia and Mugabe remains untried in a detention-centre.
Mugabe could well turn out to be the top man, when the heritage of Rhodes changes its name to Zimbabwe under majority rule. He lacks personal ambition, but he has a brilliant, objective and practical mind—and • despite his forceful oratory (so typical of African politicians) he has proved in action to be moderate by European standards. Indeed, when the Africans do gain power, it is hoped that the steadying influence of their mission education will prevail among all such leaders.
For one of the "mysteries of religion" is that despite the oppressive white regime. which (rightly or wrongly) is identified with the introduction of Christianity, Catholicism still flourishes among the Matebeles and Mashonas who together outnumber the settlers by twenty to one.
Rhodesia's population is four million and as the Catholics number about 300,000 they comprise a healthily-sized minority matched in religious strength only by the Anglicans. Most of the Catholics are Africans. whose own native clergy includes the Circular Fathers. Lay associations like the Legion of Mary and the Sodalists are well-organisedand in the Salisbury township of Highfield (which leads African fashion) there is an excellent turn-out for the weekly rosary.
But this solidarity does not always apply to relations between black Catholics and their white co-religionists
The 1930 Apportionment Act made it an offence for Africans and Europeans to live together except as master and servant. So the black man goes to a "European Area" only to work. leading the rest of his life on the reserves. Thus there are white and black churches. Africans may attend European churches—and once did so en masse, being denied entry only by Dutch Reformed congregations! But ordinarily there is no point in passing the church on one's own doorstep and journeying to a European one miles
away; this is called "involuntary segregation."
There are even separate Catholic papers (both now under the censor); the African one is Moro—meaning "fire." All this has had the effect that there is no dialogue between the two Catholic communities. which know very little of each other. Bulawayo, the country's second town, still has only one African priest and he was ordained only in the sixties.
Whites—who include many people of Latin origin—have even been known to refuse communion from a black priest, something which infuriated German-born Bishop Schmitt of Bulawayo. Oblique reference to this kind of thing came in the hierarchical declaration Plea for Peace, which immediately followed UDI in November 1965 and warned against the two extremes of mob-rule and police-dictatorship:
"An immoral state of affairs exists when nationalism, or race, or economics, or any other similar thing becomes the dominant norm of behaviour and is placed above man considered as an individual or as a group."
At the same time the four bishops led by Archbishop Markall were careful to stress that "we have no intention of intruding into the field of party politics" and they also warned: "Public order is such a great good that people must be prepared even to suffer a diminuidon of their rights for a time in order that it be preserved."
This is typical of the Archbishop of Salisbury, who in 1962 got leading Catholics to beat an African boycott of voting-registration. This caused the African majority to accuse their Catholic colleagues of a stab in the back. Since then many Africans have abandoned organised Catholic life, though mostly without actually lapsing. Many are opposed to Archbishop Markall, thinking his views reflect those of the white population in general.
The Catholic clergy could well be more positive and anyway the church is always lagging behind the others when it comes to any joint statement or policy. Usually the Anglicans take the lead, but even their attitude is sadly passive now.
And the tiny yet powerful Dutch Reformed community is completely identified with the Smith-regime—especially after being the only one to hold a special UDI service.
The Catholic Bishops, however, won much more admiration in June this year when they condemned the Smith regime's plan to introduce a land apartheid system similar to that in South Africa.
The privileged Catholic laity in Rhodesia should feel morally bound to support African aspirations towards a rightful say in the determining of their own destiny—including getting a fair distribution of land; normalised family-life; adequate wages; and equality of opportunity.
But as the bishops declared: "Catholics in Rhodesia do not seem to have heard the message"—a reference to a farsighted pastoral letter, which came out well before UDI. It would be only politic as well as rightful to co-operate with the massive African population, which cannot be held back forever, but even liberals are placed in an impossible position.
But in Britain the ascendant Catholic community, apart from lobbying in the cause of justice, could also do something positive by creating a means of educating promising Africans denied higher education at home. I am sure they would be as happy as I am here, for Britain is an exciting place; the people are kindly and my most pleasant experience to date has been spending Christmas in a Catholic family.
This educational aid should be seen not as a charity but as something in the British interest. For it would be a useful safety-valve for frustrated youths (in a strategic area) who might otherwise be lured to the training-grounds of Cairo, Moscow and Peking.
The African's quick intelligence has frightened successive white regimes into retarding his schooling and even the missions are prevented from teaching subjects which give him too many ideas. But the missionaries remain the backbone of Rhodesian religious life and having established themselves as early as 1879, they remain an influential lobby beside the troublesome post-war settlers.