Sunday, May 12, 2019
The truth about Pio Gama Pinto and Jomo Kenyatta
How Fitz tried desperately to save
his mentor Pio Gama Pinto
Copyright © 2019 Fitzval R.S. de Souza
The views and opinions expressed in this book are the author’s own and the facts as remembered by him.
All rights reserved.
Fitz pictured in London with Pio’s widow Emma Gama Pinto when both were in pretty good
health and long before the onset of Parkinson’s disease for Pio. Both have been ailing since. Photograph by ex-Kenyan Benegal Pereira, the son of freedom fighter Eddie Pereira.
Available on Amazon
The long, long-awaited memoirs of Fitz de Souza are finally out and the book is quite brilliant. The former Deputy Speaker of the Kenya Parliament, lawyer, politician, a rather quiet man in the sometimes loud circus of politics, he was Jomo Kenyatta’s right-hand man … from the first days of the negotiations for freedom with the British Government and until the night of December 12, 1963, Kenya’s independence and for the rest of Kenyatta’s life. The President of Kenya paid great heed on the legal, political, social and societal deliberation provided by Fitz de Souza. Not only Kenyatta, but politicians of every ilk sought out the wisdom of Fitz. Goans in Kenya did not celebrate this man because they did not know him. Like his mentor Pio Gama Pinto, Fitz worked better behind the scenes but he was not afraid to speak his mind at international conferences or at local political rallies.
Thanks to his memoirs, we can now reveal exactly what happened on that fateful day in February, 1965 when Pio Gama Pinto clashed (some folks said “exchanging personal abuse”) in the corridors of Parliament House, Nairobi. Fitz writes: “It was on an afternoon in February, as I was taking a break for tea outside the Parliament building, that I heard someone calling my name. ‘Mr de Souza, come quickly please!’ Turning around I saw that a few tables away an altercation had broken out between Pio and Kenyatta. Both men were gesticulating and swearing, and as their voices rose, everyone on the veranda could hear. Tom was standing nearby, now joined by several onlookers. Pio, his face contorted with anger was shouting, ‘I’ll fix you!’ Kenyatta, equally incensed, was shouting back at him.
I knew immediately what they were arguing about: the English farms, which Pio claimed Kenyatta was grabbing. Running up behind Pio, I put both my arms around him, trying to restrain him and calm him down. When Kenyatta had gone we sat down. I warned him not to shout at Kenyatta again, as Kikuyus rarely forgive someone who becomes their enemy.
‘In the eyes of most Africans,’ I said, ‘you are just a Muhindi, you are perfectly dispensable, but he is not.’ I reminded him how at almost every meeting Kenyatta would ask the same rhetorical question: if a man plants a tree, who has the right to claim the fruit of that tree when it has grown? Ask any African, I told him, and they will say that Kenyatta has been very little compensated for the sacrifices and hardship he has endured in the struggle for independence. ‘If it comes to the push,’ I said, ‘there’ll be two shots fired at you and no one will remember you in a year’s time.’ Pio shook his head, ‘No, no, there would be a bloodbath.’ I said, ‘Pio, you are overestimating your position; maybe if you were a Kikuyu or a Luo, then yes, there would be a backlash, but you’ve nobody to support you; like me, you’ve no support in the Indian community and none outside it.’
Fitz knew Pio’s life was in danger because Tom Mboya (the rising star of Kenya politics and man many wanted as the next president) told him so. Fitz writes: “One night Tom took me aside and mentioned again the concern on his side, and how Pio was increasingly seen as trouble, a left-wing firebrand out to oust Kenyatta.
‘Once certain people realise that the possibility of Odinga succeeding Kenyatta is due to this one man,’ he said, ‘and that when the time comes, he can provide the necessary organisation to pull it off, then those same people will want to get rid of him. Take Pinto out, and the whole thing collapses like a pack of cards. (I wrote something very similar in my book Yesterday in Paradise)’ I wondered what exactly he meant by ‘take out.’ I said, ‘Tom, Pinto is a good organiser yes, but it really wouldn’t be as easy as that.’ I asked, ‘If it came to it, would you take any part in getting rid of him, whatever that means?’ Tom said no, but there were people who would. He then told me earnestly to speak to Pio and to warn him that his life was in danger.”
According to Fitz it was the Luo leader Oginga Odinga who picked up Pio and drove him to Mombasa. A few days later Joe Murumbi turned at house where Pio was staying. Joe very, very confident that no harm would come to Pio because he would speak to Jomo Kenyatta.
Fitz writes: Pio took Joe’s advice and returned to Nairobi on the train. Pio arrived back home in Nairobi in the morning. That evening, J.D. Kali’s driver, a Kikuyu called Ndegwa, stopped by the house. Ndegwa was also with the Special Branch and drove Kenyatta too. He asked if Pio had returned. Someone told him, yes, and he drove off. Also in the house at the time was a very close friend of Pio, an African called Cheche, who had been with him in detention. Cheche acted as Pio’s bodyguard, and it was said would die for him. When Pio was told about the caller, he said he knew whom Ndegwa was and that he was trying to organise to kill him.
Perhaps the visit was a warning. If so, it did not deter Pio and he was soon busily compiling a list of farms and land which in his view had been stolen from the African people by the Government. The list would form a key part of his group’s opposition to Tom’s Sessional Paper 10. The expectation was for there to be an explosive result: a vote of no confidence against Kenyatta. I reminded Pio of Kenyatta’s strength, of the sacrifices and struggles he had made and his firm belief that the fruits of independence should be his. I said, ‘Pio, I think you have a lot of good things to say, but however much you say them, Kenyatta is not going to give up power or go away. He is a very courageous man and would fight to the death to stay leader if he had to. So don’t try to attack him morally and not expect to get on his bad side, you are just wasting your time, it is not possible to remove him.’
Pio was actually preparing the ground for the enactment by Parliament of a type of African socialism, the removal of Kenyatta and the coronation of his sworn enemy Oginga Odinga. It was never going to happen because Pio would be killed by the assassin’s bullet on February 25, 1965.
The next thing that happened was that Fitz’s life was in danger: On the 25th of February, I was in court in the middle of a case when one of my articled clerks came in looking for me. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked him. ‘Mr de Souza,’ he whispered, ‘I am very sorry to tell you that your friend is dead.’ I knew immediately that he meant Pio. The English judge, a good friend, looked across the courtroom at me. I stood up and cleared my throat, ‘I am very sorry, but due to an unfortunate occurrence, I have to leave. The judge said, ‘I can see you are shocked. Is this about your friend Pio Pinto?’ I nodded. He said, ‘This court is adjourned.’ I went straight to Pio’s house.
Two police officers were there, the gate was closed and the car was in the driveway. Pio was inside, his body leaning to one side as if asleep at the wheel. Looking at him I suddenly thought, he’s all right after all, and reaching in, touched his shoulder, saying, ‘Pio, Pio.’ Then I saw the bullet hole. It was true; Pio was dead. That night I cried and cried. I felt really shattered. Pio had been just 38 years old, but had done so much for the country, spent seven years on Manda Island, not even allowed to see his dying father. All he had ever wanted was justice and fairness for all. He did not deserve this fate. Pio’s bodyguard Cheche came to see me later, crying, ‘Our friend is dead, our friend is dead.’ Through my day-to-day legal work, I had got to know one of the Nairobi CID officers, an Englishman. It wasn’t long before he and I had a lead. A taxi driver described some men with guns being taken recently in specially hired Fiat cars to South C where it was said, they were to ‘fix’ some trade union people. Could they also have been sent to fix Pio?
The taxi driver took the CID officer and I around the streets and within a short time had identified a young African man in a red shirt. After being placed under arrest, the 22-year-old, Kisilu Mutua, admitted to shooting Pio. My mind was full of questions. On the day Pio was killed, the end of Lower Kabete Road had been blocked off and the traffic stopped. And why, when he was found in the car, obviously preparing to leave as usual that morning, was the gate to his driveway closed? Pio was a good runner, faster than the Maasai even, at one time predicted to run for Kenya in the Olympics.
If he had got out of the car, no one would have caught him. The roadblock and the closed gate had been no coincidence. I began asking around and challenging people to find the person or persons responsible. My father was worried. ‘Fitz you must be careful,’ he urged me, ‘they might want to shoot you too.’ I said, ‘Look I’ve known Kenyatta for years, been his lawyer and helped him.’ My father replied, ‘People can forget things.’ I could not, in any case, believe that Kenyatta would have wanted Pio dead.
About two weeks had gone by when walking on the street past the Standard Bank in Nairobi one day, I heard someone behind me. I looked around and saw Bruce McKenzie hurrying to catch up with me. His manner was friendly, chatting about general things, but I sensed something more, something he wanted to say. Bruce was a big man, with a strong handshake that overpowered you, and I felt that strength in him now. ‘Fitz,’ he said, ‘I like you very much, you’re a good friend.’ I said, ‘Bruce, have you been sent to talk to me about Pio.’ He nodded. I said, ‘To warn me, that if I carry on asking questions, the same is going happen to me?’ Bruce said yes, this was the message he had been asked to give me. Then Mungai came to see me. He was a mysterious figure, some hinted he had been a Mau Mau leader, others a Government spy. Telling me that I was now on a ‘wanted list’, he reached in his pocket and took out a pistol, complete with licence, advising me to keep it for protection.
I had been under threat before when Pio had been arrested and I had driven across the border to Uganda. The concern then was possible imprisonment. This was different. Pio was gone, and Bruce had come to tell me, on whose authority I did not know, that I could be next. Mungai had confirmed it. I had seen Pio’s limp body carried from his car, the small hole in his body where the bullet had entered, witnessed Emma’s shock and grief. As the reality of the danger, I was in hit me, I became very nervous. I took some Valium, and not knowing what else to do booked into the Hilton Hotel. Nowhere in Nairobi was completely safe, but here at least there were people around, I could stay behind a locked door. How long for though? I would have to come out sometime. I thought carefully. I was getting married in a few months. Now there were not just my parents, my brother and sister and myself to think of, but also my future wife Romola – our future lives together and in time, probably a family of our own. After a few days, I let it be known that I was no longer pursuing my inquiries, checked out of the hotel and went home. I hid Mungai’s pistol in a strongbox behind a loose brick in the wall and kept the key in my pocket. Still anxious and in shock, I decided to go to England and from there, seeking a complete change of scene, take a trip to Scandinavia. At that time permission was needed to take money out of the country, so I rang Kenyatta to ask if it could be arranged. Yes, yes, he said, and gave me the name of someone who could help. Talking to Kenyatta, he was clearly very distressed and crying over the phone. When I broached the question of who might be responsible he said, ‘Do you think I could possibly have murdered my own friend?’ and said he had been equally shocked by what had happened. A couple of weeks later I returned for Pio’s funeral. The mourners were mostly Africans and church people. Kenyatta, who was not expected to attend, sent an ivory carving in tribute. Joe Murumbi was full of remorse, blaming himself for persuading Pio to leave the beach house at Mombasa and come back to Nairobi that day. While Pio’s alleged killer languished behind bars, sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment, there were whispered rumours that the ‘powers that be’ had organised the assassination, or the Kiambu Mafia, CIA or foreign governments, and the riddle remained unanswered.
Before now, not many people knew of Fitz’s attempts to save Pio Gama Pinto or that even Fitz’s life was threatened. All this and more, my hero kept it all to him self.
The deaths first of Pio and then later of Tom Mboya and J.M. Kariuki destroyed Fitz as a politician and he quiet resigned from politics and focused on his law firm.
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