Sunak’s rise to power highlights costs of racial and ethnic hostility - Businesslive

30 October 2022 - I can’t quite recall the circumstances — clandestine, I seem to remember — in which at some point in the late 1970s or early 1980s I watched Africa Addio. Am I deceived in thinking it was banned then? I’m not sure.

Michael Morris
I can’t quite recall the circumstances — clandestine, I seem to remember — in which at some point in the late 1970s or early 1980s I watched Africa Addio. Am I deceived in thinking it was banned then? I’m not sure.

Certainly, this controversial 1966 film — later described as a “shockumentary”, and given its title ("Farewell Africa”), considered racist for suggesting that as the continent shrugged off the shackles of European colonialism, brutish violence and heartless indifference were its inevitable replacements — left a vivid impression.

I remember in particular aerial footage of the beaches of Zanzibar strewn with the bodies of Arab and Asian Zanzibaris, cut down as they tried to flee their persecutors in the revolution of 1964. (When the film was released in the US in the 1970s as Africa Blood and Guts, the poster promised: “Every scene looks you straight in the eye ... and spits.”)

From this distance it is possible to be that much more dispassionate, even complacent in a way, about Africa’s independence-era convulsions, or any other unnerving period of history. But in those places, at that time, it must have felt very different.

And I am thinking, here, believe it or not, of Rishi Sunak. Of course, he was nowhere near there at that time, since he was only born in 1980, and in Southampton. But both his parents, Yashvir and Usha, were Africans by birth, his father having been born and raised in the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya, and his mother in Tanganyika (which later became part of Tanzania).

Both of Sunak’s grandfathers were born in the Punjab in India (Pakistan, after partition in 1947). His paternal grandfather, Ramdas Sunak, grew up in Gujranwala, emigrating to Africa in 1935 to take up a post as a clerk in Nairobi. He was joined by his wife, Suhag Rani Sunak, from Delhi in 1937. They emigrated to Britain in the 1960s.

Sunak’s maternal grandfather, Raghubir Sain Berry MBE, grew up in the village of Jassowal Soodan. He worked in Tanganyika as a tax official. His marriage to 16-year-old Tanganyika-born Sraksha, with whom he had three children, was arranged. When the family moved to Britain in 1966 the venture was funded by the sale of Sraksha’s wedding jewellery. Berry, who joined the UK’s inland revenue department on the family’s arrival in England, was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1988 Birthday Honours list.

It would be an idle nonsense to imagine that if it had not been for x, y or z circumstance, Rishi Sunak might today be a leading figure of African politics. But if any such musing belongs all too clearly in the realm of flighty speculation, the record does reveal the considerable costs, to Africa, of racial and ethnic hostility — from the Cape to Cairo, in a phrase. Countless good people have been lost to the continent for fear of mistreatment, abuse, violence and intolerance.

This is all too common in the human story — but every bit as visible and rewarding in the modern world is the opposite, the crumbling away of old barriers (really, a dissolving in the mind of old-fashioned superstitions, and the petty, punitive impulses that well from them).

Rather than being some notable bellwether, Sunak’s ascendancy reflects a standard that is increasingly unexceptional in succeeding, stable, self-assured societies, which do, by and large, pay attention above all to the merits of the case.

SA could be there too — if we could just say farewell to our costly, outdated obsessions.

• Morris is head of media at the SA Institute of Race Relations.