The King of Ruaraka, Nairobi
An excerpt from Forward to Independence Fitz de Souza My Memoirs. Reproduced with the kind permission of the de Souza family. Available on Amazon Books
JM Nazareth QC and Francis D’Silva aka Baba Dogo (little father)
Many of the inhabitants of Ruaraka (on the outskirts of Nairobi) were impoverished whites, and Francis D’Silva (Cyprian Fernandes: I think he was native of either Majorda or Utorda), a Goan, owned quite a large area of land here. I had first met him when I had stayed in River Road with Dr Dias, who was a good friend of his. D’Silva had an English friend called Stanley Good, on whom he depended totally. Good, who had been in the army in India, would attend auctions on D’Silva’s behalf and look out for old farms to buy up from the poorer English. These tended to be smallish poultry farms – chickens, geese and turkeys – and were also where some of the English men kept their mistresses, usually African, sometimes Seychellois.
The farms were generally of about ten acres, and D’Silva had by increments acquired about 40 acres. He had then proceeded to open some quarries and build some bungalows, which was a bit of an exaggeration for such rough-and-ready structures with unplastered walls, mostly of mud rather than cement, and roofed with second- or third-hand corrugated iron sheets, or in some cases even the flattened out 4-gallon kerosene tins. The layout was like most Indian accommodation – single storey with two or three rooms, a courtyard and verandas back and front, with the added touch of electric lighting from a generator. As I recall, D’Silva had put up about 20 to 30 such dwellings and on the surrounding land planted a huge amount of mangoes, and called the estate ‘Mango Farm’. Access was something of a problem, as, after leaving the main road to Thika you had to travel along a mile or so of very rough, muddy road, which in the rainy season sprang potholes a foot deep, allowing only the big American cars to crawl through at about two miles an hour. On finally arriving at Mango Farm, one would usually see lots of Indian children playing outside. A relative of one of the clerks at Magadi, M.T. Patel was among those who had moved into the bungalows, and for many other Indians the accommodation D’Silva provided was a tremendous change for the better. I am sure though that this influx must have angered a lot of the Europeans living nearby, the poor whites being the most racist of all.
Francis D’Silva had, I believe, originally been a clerk in the District Commissioner’s office. During or after the war he had surmised there was a lot of money to be made in army surplus and begun buying up uniforms and equipment – hundreds of deckchairs, tents, tyres, generators, electric pumps, machinery and any other items that looked useful at auction, and selling them to second-hand shops. Thus he was able to build up some working capital, and I might add that in acquiring land with it as he did, he was one of the few Asians who had successfully got round the White Highlands Act, which normally prevented them from moving into such areas. His secret lay in a simple piece of subterfuge, in the shape of Stanley Good. A short, stumpy little fellow in his late sixties, Good had no money of his own and had been almost destitute when D’Silva took him in and gave him a room in his house.
When a farm was heard to be coming up for sale, Stanley Good would put on his old military uniform, hat and medals, and D’Silva would drive him into town where Good would make his way alone to the Land Office, a wood and iron building at the end of Government Road. There he would impress upon the officials how he had fought for the British Empire in India and how it was only right and proper that he should buy the farm, and would then negotiate a good price. The money was of course provided by D’Silva and the properties became to all intents and purposes his, but to avoid any possible comeback the deeds were all kept in Good’s name. It was, however, quite widely known that the land comprising Mango Farm belonged in all but name to D’Silva, an Asian who was doing quite well out of acreage once owned by Europeans. This must have caused further resentment among the more racist of the poor whites in Ruaraka. After I learned about the situation, I used to ask D’Silva what he thought might happen if one day his friend changed his mind and decided to take over all the property to which he had title. D’Silva would always reply no, no, Stanley was a very good man, and would never do that to him. Having spent many an evening sitting and talking with Stanley Good and finding him a very nice person, I could certainly see no indication that he might renege on their arrangement.
There was another Englishman living at Mango Farm, an elderly doctor, who it was said had been struck off by the medical board and spent two years in prison. People sometimes mentioned his past in vague whispers, but no one talked openly about it. It was said by some that he had performed an abortion on an English woman, an illegal practice in Kenya, as it still was then in Britain. It was further rumoured that in this case the mother had died from the procedure, which if true might explain why the doctor was completely boycotted by the Europeans. Francis D’Silva, however, had taken him under his wing and given him a room. Being almost 80 years old, and having practised for many years, the old doctor used to tell us lots of stories about Kenya in the old days. Despite his advancing years, he was still very active, a thin and wiry figure, and still knew his medicine very well. He would treat people in the neighbourhood for a variety of ailments, and they would pay him a little. I suppose it was all unofficial, but very useful for the residents of Mango Farm, being rather cut off from the city to have someone with medical experience on hand that could help them. He seemed very conscientious in looking after everybody, and really was a very fine person. Who knows, the poor woman who died may perhaps have been in dire straits and he had acted from the best of intentions.
My stay at Pumwani did not last long. In the end I was advised that it was illegal for me to live in an African area. I must confess I was relieved, as I don’t think I could have lasted long there. Pio came to the rescue, putting me up for a few nights, then a good friend of our family, an ex-postmaster from Magadi called Shantilal Amin, invited me to stay with him and his family in his current accommodation on what was then Park Road. With nine children, Shantilal’s small semi-detached government house was very full already, he and his boys using one of the two bedrooms, his wife and daughters the other, but he insisted on putting a bed in the dining room for me even though they all slept on the floor. It was very kind of him, a generosity and hospitality I will never forget.
I searched desperately for a place of my own, but although some new houses were now being put up in Nairobi, landlords were demanding around 10,000 shillings in illegal pugree for even a single room, and my father’s salary was only about 1,600 shillings a month. Then a friend called G.L. Vidyarthi, a staunch nationalist and proprietor of the Colonial Times, who had been imprisoned for his political activities, offered me one of the properties he had recently built on First Avenue, Parklands. The rent of 300 shillings a month was average, but he would not ask for pugree, provided that whenever I decided to vacate, I would not pass the occupancy on to anyone else.
I was more than happy to agree, and thanking Shantilal and his family for looking after me, I moved to the luxury of a three-roomed bungalow with a shared courtyard and the usual toilets and bathroom outside. My father would send me about 1,000 shillings a month, which left very little for him and my mother and sister to live on. But they were doing everything possible to help me, my mother even coming from Magadi whenever she could to cook for me, as I didn’t have a servant. I had no fridge and little furniture, but we bought two divan beds at auction for about 50 shillings so my mother could stay over.
My routine now was to take the bus into town each day, meet with Pio and work on political campaigning, usually until 9pm or 10pm in the evening. Some nights I would walk all the way back home, past Parklands Police Station, then the little road that is now part of M.P. Shah Hospital, and across to First Avenue, Parklands, the way pitch black with no streetlights, with roaming dogs often attacking.
With bus fares and food, and still no paid job, I was soon finding it difficult to afford the 300 shillings rent. At a party one evening, I met a Mr and Mrs Rebello who said they had a spare room that I should come and look at. It turned out to be very large, was only 80 shillings a month, and in due course I moved in.
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