Colour Bar Cafés
By GRACE SCOTT
Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia
THE fact that in the Federation of the
Rhodesias and Nyasaland, six years after the policy of Partnership between black and white was introduced, the population is seriously debating whether or not non-Europeans should be allowed into hotels, cafés and restaurants, must seem strange to outsiders unaccustomed to colour bars in operation. Apart from the Southern States of America and South Africa the Federation must be the only remaining part of the world where public hostelries are not open to the public in the broad sense of the word.
It is true that one or two hotels in the Federation have been run on multi-racial lines for some time. Such hotels fall into two categories: those that are so expensive that only the most affluent of any race can afford to make use of them at all—thus eliminating the possibility of any but the most well-dressed, well-educated and well- behaved Africans availing themselves of their amenities (those Africans who do are usually visitors from other parts of Africa travelling on substantial grants or allowances from their own governments); and those hotels which have recently sprung up in or on the borders of large African locations, so-called 'multi-racial', but in effect offering a much-needed service to African travellers who can afford something better than a space on the floor of a fellow tribesman's but but who cannot check into the cheaper, commercial, Europeans-only hotels in the towns. A few Europeans do on occasions stay in these multi-racial hotels; usually impecunious liberals who enjoy the opportunities they afford for meeting Africans socially.
Northern Rhodesia's leading hotel, the Ridgeway in Lusaka, declared its policy to be multi-racial from the first day it opened six years ago—a revolutionary gesture in those eve-of-Federation days and, so far as anyone can tell, it has never suffered any loss of European patronage. Of course it comes well into the first category and the few local Africans, among whom was the leader of the Northern Rhodesia African National Congress, who set out to prove the sincerity of the manage- ment shortly after the hotel opened, by presenting themselves and their wives with a request to be served with dinner, have seldom if ever repeated the experience. Not because they were not served well; they were, but because the dinner cost them so much they obviously could not afford to make a habit of it. Nevertheless as a result, the Ridgeway is never included in any Congress campaigns aimed at breaking down the hotel colour bar. It has been tested, found adequate and is left alone.
No such happy situation exists in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, where the new Jameson Hotel, the first Southern Rhodesian hotel to follow the example of the Ridgeway (it is owned and run by the same mining company groups) has just declared it will not register as 'multi- racial' under the new Act passed by the Southern Rhodesia Government allowing hotels in that country to work on a multi- racial policy provided they register as such. The Act is being loudly hailed by the Federal pundits, who are frantically thinking up measures to impress the British Government in good time for the 1960 Constitutional talks, as a wonderful example of the progress Partnership is making in the Federation, and the failure of the Jameson to come up to expectations must be causing them no little embarrass- ment. But it appears that the 'multi- racial' tag has been nothing but an em- barrassment to the Jameson in a city where hotel accommodation is plentiful and competition keen; many Europeans who might otherwise have patronised it have been going to hotels where there has been no risk of having to share the sumptuous dining-rooms and thickly-carpeted lounges with dark-skinned guests. In other words, it has fallen into line with the policy of Salisbury's other hotels, which is not to admit non-Europeans 'for the moment.' Though not quite into line—its face-saving compromise is to admit certain non- Europeans, mainly foreigners, who hold permits from the Southern Rhodesian Department of Native Affairs. A visiting Indian diplomat, for instance, will in future have to apply to the Southern Rhodesian Government before he can so much as unpack his pyjamas.
But it is the recent 'Partnership Campaign' run by the Northern Rhodesia African National Congress, in which Its members were detailed off to enter all cafés and restaurants in certain towns and ask to be served, which has brought to light some real feelings on the subject of Partnership which would have best been kept hidden at this crucial time in the Federation's history. Unlike hotel managers, café proprietors cannot rely upon the 'price bar' to help solve their difficulties. Few Africans cannot afford the price of a cup of tea and a bun and the proprietor on the Copperbelt who hopefully charged one African Con- gress customer £10 for a cup of tea, scored only the contempt he deserved from Europeans as well as Africans and did nothing to improve his reputation by condescending to reduce the price per cup to 10s. on the following day.
One manageress dealt with the situation by breaking a glass out of which an African customer had just drunk a milk shake—evidently to show her European customers they need fear no risk of drinking from a 'contaminated' tumbler so long as she was in charge. But in most cases, cafe proprietors exercised their right to reserve admission and turned away the Congress campaigners not, as the majority claimed, because of any colour prejudice on their part, but because of the economic necessity of keeping their European custom. It is perhaps worthwhile mentioning at this point that the majority of Northern Rhodesia's café owners are immigrant Greeks—a section of the community not notoriously liberal in its attitude towards the indigenous people.
On the whole the campaign passed off with few incidents other than those I have mentioned and a number of demonstration 'walk-outs' by Europeans, but it did achieve sufficient publicity for the Race Relations Committee—a body of people representing all races, who periodically meet to ponder and advise on the country's racial problems —to consider the question of 'café partner- ship' and to recommend what action they thought should be taken. They put forward the commonsense suggestion that the colour bar in cafés and restaurants should be broken down for a trial period and that non-Europeans should be served in all of these establishments provided they were well-dressed and well-behaved. They had great hopes that by the end of this trial period the problem would have solved itself, and that one of two things would have happened: either Europeans would have become accustomed to seeing Africans in their cafés and would forget their antipathy or that Africans, having won their point, would soon tire of the novelty of eating and drinking in European company and drift back to their own eating-houses where the company is more genial and the tea stronger and sweeter.
But the Committee's suggestion was side-tracked by café proprietors who promptly shifted the responsibility of such a decision on to their European customers. Over several days, customers were asked to answer a questionnaire as to whether or not they would continue to patronise the cafés if non-Europeans were to be admitted. Meanwhile the local press made the most of the controversial news-worthy subject and published the views of several local dignitaries in order to stimulate readers' interest. Seventy-five per cent. of these dignitaries were in favour of the trial period, though not all of them because of any altruistic sentiments. Most of them seemed to think that the Africans, knowing the colour bar was at an end, would soon stop using the cafés anyway and that less damage to race relations would be done that way than by denying them admission. And of course the usual handful of die-hard conservative types thought the whole thing stuff and nonsense and a threat to the European way of life. Correspondence columns were filled with indignant and often ungrammatical letters to the editor from irate European café-users. This idea, they said, of allowing Africans to use cafés was a nail in the coffin of the Europeans; if they were allowed to get away with this, what next would the Africans have the nerve to demand? European standards would be dragged down to African level; intellectual conversation would be at an end; disease would spread like wildfire; what was Sir Roy Welensky doing talking of bilharzia campaigns when White civilisa- tion was on the brink of such a disaster? So this is what came of consenting to Federation! What next? One woman complained that her garden boy ('as primitive as they come') had eaten a mouse on the previous Sunday and then gone to town dressed up to the nines in a suit smart enough to gain him admission to a European café although he had not washed since eating the mouse. No thanks, she was not going inside a café again, she valued her health too much. There was plenty of righteous wrath and very little conscious humour in the letters and the one theme that occurred and re- curred in every issue was that, whether Africans are well-dressed or not, they are malodorous.
Yes, smell seems to be the insuperable barrier to black and white partnership. Deodorant-conscious Europeans are convinced that all Africans carry around with them the well-known 'bouquet d'Afrique', that odour of unwashed but honest sweat that people engaged in manual labour in a hot climate, and often living under conditions where the nearest water is anything up to 500 yards away in a communal pump, are naturally given to acquiring.
it is true that many Africans do smell, but very seldom those who have sufficient pride in themselves to dress properly and behave like respectable citizens. But one of the tragedies of Southern Africa is that so few opportunities exist for Europeans to meet this type of African. Thousands are acquainted only with their own servants, the messenger-boy types who work in their shops or offices or the constant stream of applicants for jobs at the back door, most of whom are just 'in from the Bush' to seek their 'fortune'. These Europeans tend to regard educated Africans as 'upstarts' and apers of the European way of life and usually make no effort to get to know them. The Federation's schools, which should be the first to help overcome this state of affairs, are woefully remiss in the matter. Not that European school authorities can be held entirely to blame. Those up-to-date school heads who have so far tried to introduce inter-racial school sports or debates have had to contend with grim parental opposition. Thus, the present generation of European teenagers (as in all countries, inveterate café-haunters) are turned out into the world with the supreme confidence of their superiority over mem- bers of the African race, whom they regard as a rather lower form of life; barbaric and `niffy'; good enough for servants perhaps and not bad chaps so long as they don't get ideas above their station, but the idea of allowing them to encroach upon the hitherto exclusively European domain of the café society is, to them, on a par with being expected to ask one's garden boy in to dinner.
It is easy for critics to judge these Europeans harshly, but unless one has been born and brought up in Africa it is difficult to realise how hard it is to break down custom. Black and white just have not been in the habit of mixing up till now. Europeans accepted partnership without imagining for a moment that it would cause them any inconvenience; they assured each other that never in their time could Africans hope to become their equals; their daughters would never want to marry them and, after all, the White man had 2,000 years of civilisation behind him and so on. Now, all of a sudden it looks as
though they are expected to do something about partnership; their sense of security is threatened. It is all very well to say that in time they will get used to the idea—they themselves cannot visualise such an eventuality.
When, last week, the result of the café partnership poll was announced, no one, least of all Congress, was very surprised to hear that customers had turned down the 'trial period' suggestion in the ratio of nine to one. Thus they have played right into the hands of Congress. For it would be foolish not to face the fact that the African Congress's aim was not really to gain admittance to European cafés, which interest them very little, but to collect evidence of racial discrimination in the Federation, in preparation for the 1960 Constitutional talks when the question of higher status for the Federation will be considered. By refusing them admission to cafés, restaurants and hotels, Europeans have given them exactly what they hoped for—proof that true partnership does not exist, despite the Federal Government's protestations to the contrary. All the evidence of partnership that Sir Roy can muster next year to support his case for Dominion Status, will have to be weighed against the evidence of discrimination being gathered by Africans now.
The irony of the situation is that these very Europeans who are short-sightedly ruining Sir Roy's chances of success by keeping Africans out of European cafés, etc., are the very ones who are most anxious that the Federation should break its ties with the Colonial Office because they firmly believe that only when the Federal Government is in charge of its own affairs will the Africans be kept in their proper place.