The soldier is right, from Cape to Cairo we are all Africans

It was in 1989 that a soldier in Yamoussoukro chatted me up and asked if I was black or white.

It was in 1989 that a soldier in Yamoussoukro chatted me up and asked if I was black or white.

I looked at him in astonishment and asked him whether there was any difference between us as our skin colour was the same, though he was darker.

The soldier obviously meant well.

He told me: "Why are you travelling with the white president of South Africa in his jet?"

I did not get his question, I insisted.

Then he laid it on me.

"You see, in South Africa there is apartheid," he said. "All those who benefit from it are white. Blacks are poor and live in shantytowns. They cannot afford to travel, let alone buy food."

I was determined to find out, though, why he said I was white. The good soldier had a good argument and I had to give him credit for that.

First, I was among a group of political correspondents accompanying then president FW de Klerk on a state visit to Ivory Coast. He had just succeeded PW Botha, who was forced to resign because of his refusal to accept that majority rule was inevitable.

So I asked the soldier if he was not black himself.

He was quick to respond.

"Who, me? Of course I'm not black."

Then, if not, you are white, I said, thinking he would be provoked and shoot me with his AK-47 rifle.

No, he was quite calm when he told me: "I am an African."

Was I not African, I asked myself.

At that stage I felt he had stripped me, that I was not an African and that South Africa was on another continent.

What made me go down memory lane, you may ask. Many of us have obviously been bombarded by reams of print about the black and white debate in recent weeks.

Needless to say, and without dwelling on the issue, we all know that the resurgence of the Forum of Black Journalists became a highly divisive topic to the extent that it landed in the lap of the Human Rights Commission.

I will not repeat this debate except to say columnist Barry Ronge referred to the FBJ as the Union of Black Journalists (UBJ) two weeks ago.

Well, I do not know if the respected Ronge made a mistake or meant it.

You see, the UBJ was an organisation of black journalists that fought alongside other liberation groups. It was one of the 19 organisations that were banned on October 19 1977.

Now this is beside the point.

Why don't we emulate other Africans such as my friend the soldier of Yamoussoukro?

Lest I am accused of undermining the FBJ and other groups that believe blacks are still under the yoke of oppression, this is far from it.

I have said before that we are all Africans - from Cape to Cairo.

Robert Sobukwe died for the principle that in Africa there are no blacks or whites or coloureds or Indians, but Africans. Sobukwe believed in the human race and that an African was anyone who was loyal to Africa.

So there, I have said it and I know I will be told where to get off but I know I agree with my friend the soldier of Yamoussoukro.