Is there a brighter future for white Africans?

Zambian Vice President Guy Scott with  Henry Chimunthu Banda, Malawi's Speaker of Parliament

Zambia's recently appointed vice-president is a white man, an unprecedented sign that Africa could finally be escaping the racial conflicts of its immediate past.

In isolated farmhouses, on big plantations, in small towns, sleeping in fan-cooled rooms or in the swelter of thatched huts, the planters and their workers did not hear the end creeping stealthily towards them through the elephant grass and coffee bushes.

There had, it is true, been trouble that might have forewarned them, but that was two months before in January, when workers rose on the cotton plantations.

The air force and vigilante squads had put an end to that problem.

Yes, in the early hours of 15 March 1961, the oldest white regime in Africa slept at ease.

So when the first screaming faces appeared in the open windows or standing at the end of beds, there was incredulity, and horror.

Across a 400-mile (640km) front, peasants armed mainly with axes, machetes and hoes descended on the dwellings of their colonial masters.

The attackers clubbed and hacked the Portuguese and their black and mixed-race servants. There were beheadings and mutilations, countless rapes.

In the town of Luvo, a sawmill owner and his family were reported to have been cut to pieces in their own machinery.

Transcending race

I had travelled widely in Angola towards the end of its civil war but knew nothing of this story until I picked up an old colonial-era book in the guesthouse where I was staying, about three hours north of the Zambian capital Lusaka.

Lindiwe Mazibuko Lindiwe Mazibuko is the new parliamentary leader of South Africa's traditionally white Democratic Alliance

The book was a long, lurid warning about the perils of white men losing their grip in Africa.

Not in his wildest imaginings, could the writer have foreseen the present - an Africa in which, this week, the old white liberal party of South Africa would elect a black parliamentary leader in a country ruled by a black government.

Or the appointment of a white farmer as vice president of overwhelmingly black Zambia.

In Zambia, the arrival of Guy Scott in the vice-president's chair suggests to nervous whites elsewhere - further south in Zimbabwe and South Africa - the possibility of a political future that they can be part of.

It would be very foolish to draw from these two developments any evidence of a new, post-racial trend in the politics of Africa but I think there is a potentially useful lesson in the story of Dr Scott.

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When I met him in his office in Lusaka, his first comment was to instruct one of his assistants to get rid of two ivory tusks sitting at the top of the room.

"I campaigned against ivory trading. I don't want to see it in here," he said.

The accent is unmistakably that of a white, southern African farmer though not nearly as clipped as those further south.

Dr Scott's father emigrated from Glasgow to what was then Northern Rhodesia in 1927, and worked as a doctor on the railways.

Unusually among his peers, he spent much of his life advocating better conditions for Africans.

When his son Guy went into politics, it was to campaign against the corrupt and inefficient regime of Kenneth Kaunda, post-colonial Zambia's founding father.

"We are now very post-colonial," Guy Scott said to me, when I told him how strange it was to see a white man sitting in the vice president's chair.

What put him there was the overwhelming support of thousands of black Africans for whom he transcended any question of race.

'Passion for the land'

I thought of other white Africans - Joe Slovo, Ruth First and Helen Suzman in apartheid South Africa - who, in their very different ways, chose to step outside the privilege of skin.

Map showing Angola, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe

The days of race massacre and terrible wars of counter-insurgency vanished forever on that day when I watched Nelson Mandela sworn in as president of a new South Africa at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

But for Africa's whites, the long journey towards acceptance, to feeling that they have a future as of right on the continent is only really beginning.

Mr Scott's example suggests that the way forward is through a political involvement that recognises a constituency beyond white interests.

In Zimbabwe, that led some white farmers to be targeted by the state, but it won them unprecedented respect among black fellow citizens who were similarly persecuted.

More than 50 years after the Sharpeville massacre when police killed 69 demonstrators in the South African township, 50 years after the terrible massacres which launched Angola's war for independence, and 50 years after the horrific killing which accompanied Algeria's break with France and the mass exodus of white settlers there, the whites who have remained in Africa are a comparatively small group.

Stuart Kearns Farmer Stuart Kearns resettled from Zimbabwe to Zambia

And I have met many who feel there is no future for them on the continent.

But there are others who offer another view.

In Zambia, I met Stuart Kearns, a farmer who had been driven off his land in Zimbabwe.

His father had been killed during the bush war in what was then Rhodesia. Now here he was working new fields in another African country.

Why did he keep going? I asked. "It's the passion," he said, "the passion for the land."

That is something any African, black or white, can understand.

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