After having made my name as a tough young sports journalist in Kenya, who went beyond match reports and investigated the underbelly of the corrupt sports administration, I moved into general news reporting, and later into investigative reporting both at home and abroad. I was lauded as a political reporter by the Jomo Kenyatta regime as long as I kept my nose clean and did not write about what I should not have seen. Still, I did some pretty hard-hitting stuff. However, as soon as my investigations were uncomfortable for some high-ranking politicians, the faceless ones got a message to my wife that “she should get me out of Kenya because there was a bullet waiting for Mr Fernandes”.
Right from the very first day I started work as a sports journalist at the newly launched Aga Khan newspaper the Daily Nation, I knew one day my family and I would have to leave Kenya. I had spent a considerable amount of time with budding politicians in the late 1950s, and they often discussed how they would get rid of non-Africans once the country gained its freedom from Britain.
On one of my many forays into the UK as a guest of the Foreign Office, I managed to get a passport that would allow me automatic entry into Britain. The new passport was a replacement for my then-current passport which had run out of pages. The death threats became louder, and my wife wanted us to leave there and then. When we flew into London, the immigration officer said: “Welcome home Mr Fernandes.”
However, my wife had to stay behind because she had a “B” passport and would have to be examined by a doctor (even though we had all the clearances from our doctor in Kenya). The doctor in question was out playing golf, and we were stuck there for four hours. When the doctor did turn up, he merely glanced at my wife, asked her a couple of questions and told her she was fine. Barring that minor hiccup, entry into Britain was like starting a holiday.
Other Asians were not so lucky, and they had to spend hours at airports, mothers clinging on to children, some of them very young babies. A lot of the Asian immigrants were traumatised, temporarily or for much longer periods, in a country they knew little or nothing about. If they came late in the year, the cold of the autumn or winter tortured them even more.
A few of the Asian immigrants returned to the countries of their birth, thinking that they would not be allowed into the UK. If they were allowed in, British MP Enoch Powell had promised them “rivers of blood”, and those that waited in Kenya to join the queues to the UK received letters from friends and relatives about how so many of them were being beaten and attacked by right-wing bovver boys. They would enter Britain at a later date when their children or family members or friends had settled in the UK. My family and I migrated in 1974, and with just a few minor inconveniences we continued to enjoy our lives there until a certain senior journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald invited us to come and restore our tans in Australia.
I have never allowed myself to think what kind of a nightmare it might have been if the British Government had blocked the Asian exodus from entering the UK, having first declared British passports issued in Africa as illegal. There was another option. On one of my travels to Canada, I was interviewed by the editor of Toronto’s Globe and Mail, and I had a job waiting. However, ice and snow melted that idea away.
I wonder what would have happened if Priti Patel and Suella Braverman were in charge then. Would they have blocked their parents and siblings from entering the UK? Would they have considered their families’ attempts to enter Britain “an invasion”?
As Britain’s multi-cultural experiment is under fire from so many quarters, should this Goan woman, who should know better, be allowed to continue, considering the use of the word “invasion” to describe desperate asylum seekers (most of them genuine, I think?) What this woman is doing is fuelling extreme right-wingers in the UK, and there were always loads of them around, silent until now. Could all hell break loose, however unthinkable that is?
The question is – how can we be racists when the not-white minister in charge of home affairs is talking about an invasion? They will say: “We are the real patriots fighting for the soul and survival of the British people, and Braverman is our champion.” Others might say, “Enoch Powell has come back from the dead as a woman.”
Thank God, I live in Australia…but I fear that we too might catch the Braverman disease. There are many dormant Enoch Powell types in Australia too. However, we have remained quite content with the highly successful “stop the refugee boats” mission in which thousands of boat people, especially Sri Lankans, were returned to their home ports. We stopped the boat people.
However, the nightmare is that some say there are too many foreigners in the UK. True or false? And what should Britain do about it?
There are 48,000 asylum seekers waiting to be processed in Kent with very few professionally trained people to handle the overload. Should the UK adopt the Australian “stop the boat people” naval plan?
Asians were brought to East Africa by the British. First to build the Kenya-Uganda Railway. They set up some of the first shops and went on to dominate that aspect of life. Sikhs were mainly builders. Others were shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, cooks, stewards and waiters. The Colonial Civil Service was the realm of Goan clerks. They have been credited by people like Winston Churchill for keeping the wheels of the English-administered colonial government shipshape.
“Racist!” they scream.
Let us look at ourselves first. The African Goans, I mean. Are those of us who migrated to various parts of the world still Goan? I suspect everyone would say “Yes”. Really? Those who have ancestral homes, living family connections or money in India, an OCI (Overseas Citizen of India), etc may have a case to make. Others, whose only connection to Goa is as annual tourists, may be just that.
If the current state of Goa was at war, how many Goans would rush to its aid? Most of us are too old, and most of our children, grandchildren and daughters-in-law and sons-in-law have little or no connection with the land of our mothers and fathers. I think there is a general disgust that the Goa of their parents is now overrun by filthy rich Indians. That is racist in itself. I might suggest with the majority of Roman Catholic Goans having left Goa for other shores, Indians have been propping up the local economy.
Where do your loyalties lie? With the country of your ancestors (and your parents) or the country of your adoption? I wonder if dual citizenship is a curse rather than a blessing. A foot each in two countries is neither here nor there. Perhaps, single citizenship is the answer. I wonder where the Australian Government stands on this, and would I even get a response, should I ask?
How much are we, the migrant Goans, truly Goan? Does singing and dancing to Konkani songs, listening to the unforgettable Lorna, eating traditional Goan cuisine or the sub-standard, poor imitation that is often served in the countries of our adoption, make us truly Goan? Does Catholicism make us truly Goan? Our belief in the sanctity of St Francis Xavier? I have often said we African Goans are a vanishing tribe. Death does that to tribes. So, what does that make our children? Aussie full-bloods, Kiwis, Europeans, Americans…?
I have written before that I am a man of many parts: Goa, Kenya, UK, Australia … Goa, UK, Kenya are all fading with my short-term memory loss. I guess I will be buried in Australia, or my ashes whisked away by a Sydney wind. An Aussie who left his children no links with Goa, a place they have never visited.
I do not think that is the same for Indians who call various parts of the world a temporary home. For them and other sub-continentals, their real home will always be that which was founded by generations of their kin going back many, many hundreds of years. For example, if there was another war between India and Pakistan, the nationals of the two countries strewn all over the globe will drop everything and race to their country of origin. If they cannot do it in person, then they will send billions in aid.
Unlike a Goan – an Indian, a Pakistani, a Sri Lankan will never be a true Aussie, a Brit, a Yank or a European. True, many have lived decades and have died in foreign lands, but they always remained the sons and daughters of the land of their birth (except the Africans. Africa was never their land).
However, I have no idea how the Goans who have migrated directly to Britain (and Europe) or via Portuguese passports, thanks to their “Portuguese ancestry”, would react. From the negative view, friends tell me some of their behaviours force other Goans to lament their Konkani expletives and their general bad behaviour, but then again, these are the reactions of the Goan Brits from Africa.
England has a refugee problem. How many should they let in? How many and who should they turn back to? Should they sacrifice Indian immigration to facilitate asylum seekers and other refugees? Suella Braverman has a serious problem to solve.
(The writer is an investigative journalist who has worked in Kenya, UK and now lives in Sydney, Australia. Born in 1943 in Kenya, he keeps in touch with the large Goan community of Africa and across the world.)