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Home / A black soul trapped in a white man’s skin Jack William Francis, snr 1929-2016

A black soul trapped in a white man’s skin Jack William Francis, snr 1929-2016

2023-09-15  Carlos Kambaekwa

A black soul trapped in a white man’s skin Jack William Francis, snr 1929-2016

Tellingly, the amazing thorny history of Namibia has passed through several distinct stages – from illegal occupation and colonisation in the midnight of the 19th century to her long-awaited independence in 1990.

Jerries invaded Namibia after the First World War, incorporating it forcefully into a League of Nations-administered territory, much to the chagrin of its indigenous inhabitants – then known as German South West Africa (SWA). Namibia was proclaimed a German protectorate by notorious German settler Otto von Bismarck in 1884. It should be noted that prior to that, the mass scramble for Africa’s natural resources and filthy rich minerals resulted in the infamous British annexation of the land surrounding the Walvis-Bay harbour in 1878.

 This led to an influx of British settlers scattered throughout the country. One of those was a smart explosive expert William John Francis. The latter was employed at the lucrative Abenab Copper and Uis Tin Mines.

 Francis hailed from Cornwell, Southern England – and though mixed-race sexual relationships were prohibited as a result of racial segregation, punctuated by the skewed apartheid laws, this did not discourage or stop the fairly handsome Englishman from crossing the colour line.

 He found his match in the gorgeous Damaran madame of mixed race with German blood. Francis fell head over heels for the pretty Cornelia !Naibas, who bore him a son, a complete copycat of his old man. Jack William Francis snr was born on the 4th of January 1929 in the north-east town of Grootfontein.

Although he was born in Grootfontein, Jack Francis spent a significant chunk of his formative years in Outjo. Upon completing his elementary education, his next stop was the revered Augustineum Training College in Okahandja.  The handsome, light-skinned boy read towards a teaching diploma alongside prominent educators, which included veteran school inspector, the late Martin Shipanga, Engelhard ‘Larney’ Gariseb, incumbent Namibian Head of State Dr. Hage ‘Danger Point’ Geingob and a few other blokes of remarkable pedigree.

Francis proudly occupied the portfolio of a primary schoolteacher at the !Ugab Primary School in his adopted town, Outjo, before he rose to the plum portfolio of school principal. The learning institution has since been renamed Jack Francis Primary School in honour of this great man of substance.

Back in the day, recreational facilities for Bantus were very much in short supply – just as trying to purchase a deep freezer in Antarctica. The only pastime for the marginalised Bantu child was chasing an inflated piece of leather and playing the beautiful game of football, since the game could be played in any available open space. Francis was no exception to this practice and joined the group of young men, who chose football as their preferred pastime. Francis was a founding member of the local team, Rooies Football Club. He also captained Etoshapoort’s leading outfit, Five Stars Football Club, with distinction.

A devastating pacey forward with an educated left foot, the light-skinned winger was a menace to many defenders with blistering speed and canon-like shots from long range, which left many goalkeepers with deformed or fractured fingers. The fast-as-lightning flying winger dazzled football fans with his trademark darting runs down the white chalk on the left wing. He represented the Northern Invitational Eleven on numerous occasions and also featured for the star-studded South West Africa (SWA) Blacks Eleven with distinction at the provincial level – certainly no mean feat.

In the meantime, the Elvis Presley lookalike, an elegant young man, whose looks could be easily mistaken for a pop star, got hitched to his childhood sweetheart, Emmah Hangula, daughter of departed cop Fritz Hangula, who hailed from Ohaingu village in the vastly populated Kwanyama region.

A great young man of decent upbringing, Francis was a God-fearing dude, who dedicated most of his precious time to church activities. He was a prominent member of the Lutheran Church and community, and an uncompromising political activist, working tirelessly underground for the liberation of his people. By the time the late former Lutheran Church Pastor Vollmer defiantly established a private gospel radio station, Francis was among the first locals to be interviewed about his feelings on racial discrimination in apartheid SWA.

The programme was recorded on tape and dispatched as far afield as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

 “We, as his proud offspring, were very happy and excited as we pressed our ears to the radio, listening to our father’s commanding voice. The programme was aired for about 15 minutes,” recalls Jack Francis junior.

He continues: “Eish... Outjo was a very racist town, where blacks were constantly exposed to inhuman treatment like trash. In addition, blacks were strictly prohibited from buying a loaf of white bread, as it was considered a sacred delicacy for the self-confessed super race, the white folks.

“Blacks were also not allowed to guzzle or take a zip from liquor spirits, such as beer, Richelieu brandy or whiskey. Strangely, darkies with pale hides were slightly exempted, so my old man, being a white man’s child, wore the perfect resemblance of a pure white bloke and was often treated differently. Light-skinned blacks were slightly more respected and allowed to purchase one bottle of Richelieu and only six bottles of beer per month,” relates Jack Francis jnr, with a pinch of resentment.

Nonetheless, it was not a bed of roses for Jack Francis snr as he sporadically found himself stuck between a rock and a hard place. 

He was flatly denied entry to visit the homestead of his family under the stewardship of the late Chief Vilho Weyulu from his maternal side in the then Ovamboland.

Regrettably, Francis was considered too white to cross the red line into uncharted territory. Despite vehement protests from family members, law enforcement authorities would not budge, telling Francis in no uncertain terms that white people were not allowed to set foot in the potentially dangerous Ovamboland unless they were on an important sanctioned mission.

As this was not enough, Francis’ family was constantly harassed by cops and found themselves placed under systematic muted house arrest after a close exiled family member, Dr Libertine Apollus-Amathila, then a temporary resident in Warsaw, Poland, Europe, sent the family a gift of embroidery piece of material to her dearest niece, Emmah from abroad.

Jack Francis snr became a closely watched, potentially dangerous element in the vicinity because of his resolute involvement in politics, while his elder son, Jack Francis jnr, was considered an undesirable object as a result of his attachment to the militant MLH, worsened by his unwavering drive and active role in the activities of the equally defiant, politically motivated Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia. Interestingly, Francis snr was a blood uncle to the equally dangerous football-playing brothers, Richo and Tiger Francis of Chelsea fame, while his spouse Emmah is related to former Augustineum Secondary School’s undisputed pole vault champion, Orlando Pirates Football Club and Central Invitational Eleven’s lethal forward Michael ‘Ou Pine’ Pienaar snr from her maternal side.

2023-09-15  Carlos Kambaekwa

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