Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Ferdie Rodrigues: excerpts from a book in progress

I AM absolutely delighted and indebted to publish two gems of authorship as a way of peeping into the finished prize. Susan Rodrigues is the daughter of the late Ferdinand (Ferdie) Rodrigues (late of Uganda and the UK, in both countries he was an outstanding man) who was a very special and talented man, respected by virtually all who came into contact with him. Susan is in the process of finishing her ode to her celebrated father and has kindly allowed me the use of two excerpts. I hope to provide full details when the book is published.


Dad, a sossegado, sat in a nest of vipers. Amin, a king cobra, gave the impression that he could hypnotise his prey and his bite often resulted in death. Thankfully, Dad was born with natural instincts. Something that he would need, sitting in the company of Amin, surrounded by people with shallow smiles and guarded eyes. The post-coup cabinet members were silently unravelling a maverick’s monologue and like a ghost reached visceral tacit advice. Flatter frequently. Conceal concern. Accept apartheid.

Dad encountered apartheid before. Entebbe, his hometown, had exclusive clubs: Only Europeans. Only Asians. Only Africans. But the Goan club in Entebbe welcomed all. Neutral. Goa was part of the Portuguese Empire for 500 years and like Portugal was neutral in the two World Wars. Ships took refuge in Murmagoa harbour, until Britain found a way to force Germany to scupper their own ships in Murmagoa. It violated Portuguese neutrality but still Portugal remained neutral. Amin’s coup violated democracy. Dad remained in position. The new government, with new African faces, displayed the new pecking order. New apartheid hues, tribes.

Amin was Kakwa/Lugbara and Apollo Milton Obote’s father was a chief of the Lango ethnic group. Others in the pre-coup government disappeared in a veil of family’s screams. No-one appeared at our home to lead Dad away. Perhaps Amin kept Dad in his position because he knew dad was impartial, astute and experienced: Dad managed Pope Paul VI’s first visit to Africa and he handled the encounters of warring Countries’ Presidents for that event, without any of them starting an Africa war.

Amin may have thought that dad would handle everything without fuss despite the aftermath of a coup. But I often wonder how dad dealt with this change in tribal hierarchy.  A public meeting supposed to signal a peaceful transition from Obote’s to Amin’s government. But opponents vanished. A sossegado had courage to sit in a viper’s nest.

Pope Paul VI’s first visit to Africa

 “You can’t run a church on Hail Marys” said Archbishop Marcinkus, the papal banker, the second most powerful man in the Catholic Church. He allegedly had Mafia connections, consistently denied knowledge of any wrongdoing and he was never arrested. But my dad talked about him with cordiality, despite the fact that the Archbishop told the press, “It’s easier to organise a trip to the moon than a trip for a Pope to Africa!” Unfortunately for him, on 19th March 1969, Pope Paul VI during a mass at St Peters Basilica announced his decision to visit Uganda later that year. The first visit to Africa by a Pope.
In June, the Uganda Parliament passed a budget, which included estimates for the papal visit. President Obote told dad to arrange the visit and “money wasn’t an issue”. He had one month to prepare for a papal visit to Uganda for all in Africa. Where to start? Dad probably started to recite the Rosary. But dad was a very organized man. So much so he even got my sister, Celia to the church for her wedding before the priest. We depended on dad. Strangers depended on dad. He was thoughtful, meticulous and tactful. A methodical man with good people skills.
So dad and the Archbishop with their organising abilities, including clockwork and precision ensured that an East African Airways plane, escorted by four jet fighters, arrived at Entebbe Airport in the afternoon on July 31st 1969. The Archbishop was on the plane. He brought the Pope to Africa and what happens next is down to dad’s arrangements. Several minutes later the Pope appeared at the plane’s door. He smiled. People yelled. He waved. Many cried. The Pope came down the steps, wearing a white cassock, a red cape and a white cap. People danced and drummed, wearing skimpy, colourful, national dress. The crowd roared.
Dad was at the airport. He was an oasis of silence in the ululating of the crowd. In dad’s plan, the relevant people would be at the right position at the correct time and they would tow the same line: Which was a difficult thing to do in Africa. Dad’s plan unfurled. He watched with anticipation as Obote and his wife welcomed the Pope on the tarmac. Excitement followed by tension. A combustible melting pot. Perhaps dad started a Novena to ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Help’ when Obote introduced President Nyerere of Tanzania; President Kaunda of Zambia; President Mobutu Sese Seko, the military dictator and President of Congo (now Zaire); President Kayibanda, the first president of Rwanda; General Yakubu Gowon of Nigeria and General Emeka Ojukwu, a rebel leader of the State of Biafra in Nigeria. Political instability masked with sociability.
We were at our grandparent’s home watching the Pope’s arrival on a black-white TV. We were rapt until my grandmother told my brother to stop watching our dad and watch the Pope! Desmond, Malcolm and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. Dad was on the TV! We didn’t know the Pope and in any case we had not seen our dad for days. So we ignored our grandmother. We kept watching our dad and our grandmother carried on watching the Pope.
The Pope, in an open car, flanked by bishops and escorted by policemen, went through a tunnel of humanity, lined with Uganda and Vatican flags. Groups danced, throngs waved palm-leaves, parties ululated and thousands clapped. All peaceful. Dad’s plans were about to crumble when the motorcade took two hours to reach the venue for the Pope’s first task because of the size of the crowd. But we forgot that dad almost certainly anticipated this possibility. The Pope’s scheduled continued.
The Pope closed the episcopal conference. In the evening he went to a State dinner at Nakasero State Lodge and retired to the Papal Nuncio seat at Nsambya. The next day, he celebrated a mass at Kololo Airstrip, went to Parliament, Mulago Hospital, Nsambya Parish, then commissioned the construction of a church in Kisenyi, went to Lubaga to open a hospital, then he returned to the Papal ambassador’s residence where he had a series of meetings with diplomats, Church leaders and Muslim representatives. The next day, he went to Namugongo to honour the Uganda Martyrs and after the mass he went to Rubaga.
On the last day of the visit, Archbishop Poggi and Marcinkus visited dad at Apolo Hotel (now Sheraton Kampala Hotel). Dad had stayed in Kampala at the hotel for the papal visit. The bishops told him that the Pope wanted to meet his family. So Dad phoned mum, mum got us dressed in smart clothes and a government car with entourage arrived. We were chauffeured for 22 miles through several police patrols and roadblocks. When we arrived Celia was asleep. In a private audience we met the Pope and he blessed us, gave each of us a medallion, gave mum a rosary and dad was knighted.
Obviously, if you have my dad you can run a visit on Hail Marys. 

  Audry Abraham recollection of the Pope’s visit
We lived in Kakira  near Jinja.  The day of the Pope’s visit, mum said we left at 4-5am in the morning. Dad drove with all of us in the car except my older brother Canute who went there as a cadet. We took sandwiches, drinks, blankets as it got very cold early hours of the day. Thousands of people were there.  Mum remembers being close to the altar and says when all the bishops came, they blocked her view with their mitres on. That evening we stayed at Bella’s Vaz’s house who lived in Kampala. My sister, Noela remembers that we all slept on the floor as that’s what people did in those days. The next day we went to the blessing of the Martyrs. Mum said she knew Idi Amin when he lived in Jinja as a soldier- before he became the president. He used to box and mum and dad used to go and watch his boxing matches!! 

1 comment:

  1. The first excerpt is my interpretation of a photo: A meeting with dad and others with Amin.



  This invaluable collection of photos was sent to me by David Mungai. He says it is “for the acknowledgement of Kenyan History, the celebra...