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A Look at Some Whites Who Stay in Africa

November 24, 1996

Once Africa’s colonial masters, whites have yielded power to blacks across the continent. Whites who remain live well, but most worry about the future. Here are four who were interviewed by Associated Press correspondents:


The Doctor


HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ Optometrists are few and badly needed in Zimbabwe. Gary Layard is among the youngest of about 40 eye doctors, most of them white, in a nation of 10.4 million people.

Layard, 31, treated President Robert Mugabe before Mugabe’s niece qualified as an eye specialist in Britain. She joined a handful of black optometrists in the southern African nation.

``Our main problem is we have no training available here,″ said Layard, who earned his degree in South Africa.

Few blacks can afford five years or more of study abroad in optometry or ophthalmology. Some businesses have sponsored students in neighboring South Africa, ``but there’s always a risk they’ll be poached sooner or later,″ Layard said.

The shortage of eye specialists, and the retirement or death of older ones, means eye care will remain a luxury to the black population, unless foreign donations and expertise can plug the gap.

Layard said glaucoma and cataracts, as well as unhygienic tribal cures for minor eye infections and African superstition that shuns simple cornea transplants have left tens of thousands of people needlessly blind.

Optometry is not Zimbabwe’s only endangered profession. The country has only 120 registered dentists, just over half of them white and many over 60 years old. Most blacks simply have to do without dental care.

In nonhealth fields, there is just one elderly white camera repair craftsman and a single white piano tuner who is teaching his son to take over. Only one small, white family firm has the expertise to repair binoculars and other optical equipment.


The Farmer


NAVAISHA, Kenya (AP) _ Not much has changed in the life of Francis Erskine since Kenyan independence 33 years ago. He farms and plays polo, just as he did before.

Encouraged by the nation’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, to stay in the land where they were born, Erskine and some 60 other white Kenyan farmers remain the core of the East African nation’s agribusiness sector.

Erskine raises prize Friesian dairy cattle on his farm 90 minutes by road from Nairobi, the capital. In his leisure time, he revels in his true passion _ polo.

Ten years ago, Erskine built the Manyatta Polo Club on flat land left behind as Lake Navaisha receded. He recently played host to the 10th annual Zambia-Kenya match, and the rough-hewn clubhouse overlooking the field was full of white neighbors, black guests and white Zambian visitors.

``We’re all like a family here,″ Erskine said of the mostly white polo-playing fraternity.

Life in the beautiful Rift Valley and central highlands of Kenya has been easier for whites than in other parts of the continent. Because of the altitude, the days are warm and the nights are cool. Tropical fevers and diseases don’t plague the ``white highlands.″

At the end of World War I, young Britons were encouraged to ``go out″ to Kenya and settle. Thousands did, including the father of Francis Erskine and his sister, Petal Erskine Allen.

Derek Erskine started a fruit and vegetable shop and was later knighted for his efforts to foster a nonracial society in Kenya. He was one of the first whites to apply for Kenyan citizenship at independence.

``My father loved everything about this country, and he worked very hard to make it a place where all could live together,″ said Petal Erskine Allen, 70.


The Builder


HAZYVIEW, South Africa (AP) _ Louis Marais is proud to be a white African. He was born one. He will die one. His family has been African for more than 300 years.

``To suggest we don’t belong here is like saying Afro-Americans should be back in Africa,″ Marais said at his game lodge 240 miles east of Johannesburg. ``South Africa would have to get blooming bad before I would give it all up.″

Marais, 50, is descended from 17th century Dutch and French settlers. In the last century, his ancestors trekked inland from the Cape to establish Boer republics and escape British domination.

But unlike many Afrikaner descendants of the Boers, Marais quietly accepts the changing times. He does not reject black majority rule but he believes whites have a role to play, too.

``We are 5 million whites in South Africa. We can’t just vanish,″ he said.

To improve race relations, he said, ``We have to build up a black middle class. Their culture may be different but they think the same way as we do.″

Even before the first all-race election in 1994 that brought about majority rule, Marais tried to counter the influence of apartheid by sending his children to liberal private schools and the University of Cape Town.

``In the apartheid days they were the only schools where white kids mixed with blacks,″ he said.

Marais’ worst fear now is that his four children might emigrate for lack of opportunities if businesses give preference to blacks in hiring and promotion.

``I would hate my kids to leave. If I have to I will start businesses for them. Luckily I could afford that,″ Marais said.

Marais prospered building houses in the exclusive white neighborhoods of apartheid-era Johannesburg.

Life in the squalid black townships on the city’s edges came home to him when his black gardener of seven years, Petrus Molemi, was killed by Zulu militants.

``It upset me badly. Petrus was like my son,″ said Marais, who now employs Petrus’ half-brother at the game lodge. ``He simply got into the wrong minibus taxi which took him to the Zulu area. Reality hit me.″


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