THIS was the question the Right Honourable Peter Gerald Haines asked when he visited South Africa soon after 1994.
The government was then headed by Nelson Mandela, popularly known as Madiba.
Many of the readers who are inured to the sorry history of Africa vis-à-vis colonialism cannot shy away from a repetitive rendition of some if not all parts of that history.
Haines was born in Kenya but his parents moved to South Africa in the early 1950s.
That is indeed paradoxical because in South Africa the family was known to be implacably anti-apartheid activists.
Paradoxical because at that time the settlers in Kenya were a microcosm of South Africa in so far as anti-African sentiments were concerned, such that soon after they had left the Mau Mau revolution erupted.
Readers would know what Mau Mau was all about.
Haines’ family were virtually sub-humans in South Africa since the father was a banned person who could not be employed anywhere.
The family moved to London in the United Kingdom when Peter was about 11 where the family continued with their anti-apartheid activities.
The South African government appears to have been so stung with their activities that several attempts were made on Peter’s life.
There were also some trumped up charges of robbery that had been staged by the dreaded Bureau of State Security (BOSS) which was led by a ruthless Afrikaner called Hendrik van den Bergh.
To cut a long story short Haines had won the wrath of the Afrikaners of South Africa to no end.
On a visit to South Africa after independence in 1994 Haines said he was amazed to find that all the die-hard white supremacists had virtually disappeared.
Everyone seemed to be so nice to everyone else irrespective of the colour of their skin.
And the colour of one’s skin was such an important factor prior to 1994 because it determined one’s livelihood, personality and character, as well one’s future in virtually all aspects of one’s life.
Indeed where have all those who had believed in the superiority of the white race disappeared to?
This writer had reason to visit Southern Africa lately and that included parts of the Republic of South Africa, the Free State to be precise. Having read the story of the British Empire in the school days of yore this part of the world was known as the Orange Free State during the bloody Boer War.
It became a bastion of the Afrikaner and his laager.
An intrepid journalist of the time who went by the name of (later, Sir) Winston Spencer Churchill had a story to tell about his exploits in South Africa that included a brush with the ruthlessly proud Boer.
He was reporting on the Boer War (1899-1902) for the Times of London.
Now here was I in typically Afrikaner country; true South Africa is now a “rainbow nation” with all the affirmation of brotherhood of patriotism to the new South Africa.
That was accepted but not without some amount of apprehension that all is not forgotten.
I had lived in Kenya before and soon after independence again I had visited Zimbabwe not long after Robert Mugabe had taken the reins of political power.
I had thought that experience would have prepared me for what to expect to see and meet in South Africa.
It was a pleasant surprise that it was not to be.
Ordinarily, it would be hurtful to recall, even if one does not have to give an account of the very degrading experience I had to endure with what was meted out to me by a girl handler at a Dar es Salaam airport that carries a very distinguished name.
But it was near impossible not to recall it when I landed at the Oliver Tambo Airport in Johannesburg.
I had to seek information about one thing or the other. In contrast to the girl at Dar es Salaam airport this delicate young fetching white lady at Oliver Tambo was all sweetness.
She was polite and courteous and she spoke in a tone that, certainly for a young man, one would wish to strike a conversation.
For a split second one should be excused, especially one who had been raised in the days when the sun never set in the Empire, if one found it impossible to fathom this situation, or would you call it a predicament?
All that time calling me “Sir”, and from the tag on her breast she carried an Afrikaner name!
I must admit that some readers may be put off by what could be construed as some complex naivety towards the white-man.
Far from it only that having been brought up and having read colonial history and that of the struggle for independence in southern Africa I find it incredible that the out and out racist of that part of Africa seems to have disappeared in thin air in the short period of 17 years in the case of South Africa and about 20 years for Zimbabwe.
Take a visit to Bloemfontein as I did. As has been mentioned before this is where the Boer trekked to avoid mixing with the British who were soft with the “Kaffir”, as the black-man was called in those days.
In that town the common language is Afrikaans even among the local people, most of whom are the Basotho.
One can hardly find an English newspaper anywhere and all the FM radios blare out everything in Afrikaans.
One meets in the street the bulky Boer in his trademark khaki shorts and drooping hat not necessarily tilted at an angle as the British are wont to do.
In most of the well-stocked shops and malls it is the white young man that serves you very politely without that brash Boer thing one would expect from the genre that was implacably racist only the other day.
There is of course subtle patronising attitude in their approach but one may just ignore that as impish. Again where have all the racists gone, as Peter Hines had asked?
Would it be right to conclude that there is some amount of hypocrisy among the whites in southern Africa?
I think it would be unbecoming of anyone accusing the white-man of indiscretion on that score since many of them did not migrate with the Verwoerds to their lily white enclave in Northern Cape.
Nevertheless it is on record that there is a wave of emigration among the whites to Europe, Australia and America.
It is said that most of them decide to leave South Africa, not because they are averse to African rule, but because they cannot find jobs anywhere.
The black-man has priority in such openings. It is an irony of the time that most of these emigrants are of the British stock who were regarded as liberal in the days of apartheid.
A black South African I had conversation with on current affairs was of the opinion that he would rather have the Verwoerds who do not even want a black nanny touch their babies than rub shoulders with a hypocrite.
Still the population of so-called whites in South Africa amounted to some five million of them.
It is known that very many of them subscribed to the tenets Paul Kruger (known as Oom Paul) had introduced in his Transvaal and later adopted by Dr D F Malan for the whole of South Africa in 1948. They called it apartheid.
One needs to doff one’s hat to this lot that they have been able to disappear in thin air in so short a period!
Khalid S Mtwangi is a freelance writer based in Tanzania. He recently spent some few weeks in Lesotho. on holiday.