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A continent to cry for

By Brian Holden - posted Friday, 7 January 2011

There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys in Africa.

So began the first chapter of the novel Cry, the Beloved Country. The first three paragraphs were enough to catch my breath. When I read them I was a teenager who had recently read two stirring real-life adventure books (Hunter and Jungle Man) set at the turn of the 20th century when the authors were able to describe raw nature in which there seem to be animals everywhere.

The Africa of my teenage imagination was magic - great jungles, great mountain ranges, great rivers and great deserts. But it was its animals which added most to the magic - by far the greatest number and the greatest variety of any continent.


But even then, when I read the books over 60 years ago, the unspoiled land of my imagination was no longer there.

From one century to the next, the change across the continent was imperceptible. Now dramatic change occurs in the span of one full lifetime. The annual flooding of the Nile which was responsible for humanity’s first real civilisation is no more. The perimeter of the desserts are rapidly expanding due to unsustainable agriculture on marginal land. Tourists on their bus "safaris" in East Africa can only experience the fragments of a lost wonderland. And, how far are we away from the last gorilla remaining becoming the victim of a poacher?

A South African high school teacher, Alan Paton, wrote Cry, the Beloved Country in 1948. It is now recognised as one of the best novels of the century. The year 1948 was also the year that apartheid was initiated. Paton’s focus was on the gap between black and white in his native country which was the tragic outcome of what was called in the previous century;"The rush for Africa".

In his second paragraph, Paton described the grass where he stood as lush and green, and he implores whoever may go this way to;

Stand unshod upon it for the ground is holy, being as it came from the Creator. Keep it, guard it, care for it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it and man is destroyed.

What a beautiful piece of writing. Sadly, it no longer has any relevance. It is too late. Africa is destined to be destroyed by greedy multinational companies, self-serving governments manipulated by multinational companies and a great population desperate to survive regardless of the damage done to the land that they should be keeping, guarding and caring for.


The greed-driven grab for Africa

In the 19th century, Belgium, Italy, Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal grabbed bits for themselves, or tightened the grip on what they already had claimed in previous centuries. Holland as a nation did not, but many Dutch farmers did.

In the last half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, the Indigenous people in all of the colonies envied what the Europeans possessed and abandoned their traditional life for piddling wages - because the piddling wages were one step ahead of the fragile subsistence of tribal life.

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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