The first time I read the name Fitz de Souza was in a newspaper in 1952, when I was nine years old.
A visiting priest at St Teresa’s Boys School, Eastleigh, was encouraging me to read newspapers, magazines and books.
Two names caught my young eye: Fitz de Souza (because he was a Goan) and Jomo Kenyatta – the leader of Mau Mau.
The Kapenguria trial against Kenyatta and five others had just opened. Over the next few years, I would occasionally see De Souza’s name in newspaper stories as Jomo Kenyatta’ s lawyer.
They did not make a very big impression on me, but I was curious how a Goan had interest in the fight for Kenya’s freedom.
A year or two after indepedence in 1963, I found myself in the press gallery of the Kenya Parliament as a reporter.
Down below was Fitz de Souza, as the Deputy Speaker. He was articulate, quietly studious, legally precise, the Solomon of all things parliamentary, and a brilliant lawyer at that.
De Souza’s new memoir, Forward to Independence, is a great read about the foundation of a new Kenya.
Journalist Hilary Ng’weno, in the preface to the book, writes: “The story you read in this book is not just about Fitz. It is a story about the foundations of the Kenya nation. And it is for that reason that I feel very strongly that Fitz Remedios Santana de Souza will forever remain a legend for many Kenyans.”
Prof Ng’weno, former editor of the Daily Nation and The Weekly Review, as well as founder of The Nairobi Times, writes.
De Souza starts with his mother and father’s safari to a new world. He then moves on to his schooling and how he found a calling in law at a very early age.
However, it is Fitz’s fly-on-the-wall, eyewitness revelations that serve Kenya’s history best.
“Kenyatta would tell me many times, ‘Fitz, I am not the leader of Mau Mau; I do not believe in violence. I believe you can achieve your goals without violence,” reveals De Souza in his book.
Kenyatta would say: “But in any political party there are always some who believe you have to go further; you have to fight, and I know who they are; they are my friends; they are in this party; they are with us all the time. But I am not going to do the job for the British Government and expose them and fight against them.”
That explains why when Kenyatta was asked by the British to condemn those who practised violence, he would do so, but only in general terms, never naming names.
“The British would like us [Africans] to fight with each other and make this into a semi-civil war; they killing our supporters and we killing their supporters, and I am not going to allow that at all,” he quotes Kenyatta saying.
According to De Souza, It seemed then that the only disagreement between Kenyatta and those who supported the Mau Mau was the means to those objectives.
“They think I am too mild, and I think they are picking on something that is not necessary and creating too much pain and suffering,” he would tell his lawyer.
Fitz had a lot of time for Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and the two got along quite well. “Odinga …was warm-hearted and affectionate, and more of a humorist than a socialist, I would say. He loved people, helped them in whatever way he could, and had nothing against money, seeing the creation of wealth as a way forward.”
He recalls Mr Odinga started a bus service from Kisumu and had given it to an Indian to run. He also started Luo thrift society.
“I think he was keen on everyone having a better life all round. As leaders do, he liked to show himself off but didn’t seem vain, preferring traditional African dress rather than, like some, the most expensive modern suits and shoes. Odinga’s only real flaw was a tendency to lose his head and speak too strongly and emotionally.”
Fitz reveals how the land settler fund was established by the British Government to buy out white farmers who were leaving the country after independence.
“As the discussions at the 1962 Lancaster House Constitutional Conference wore on, it was clear that a major remaining stumbling block was the European settler community. The British Government told us plainly: 'The only way they could give us independence was if we could promise the farmers that we would pay them for their land, buy them out in other words.
"They had calculated the value of £36 million. That sounds like nothing today but it was a fortune in 1962. I said, but we don’t have the money. No, they said, we’ll give you the money.
"Good God, I said, we could never afford to pay it back. They said, who’s asking for it back? We don’t want it back; we want to give it to you, and every year we’ll write a bit off until the whole lot is written off.
"We don’t want the British here to say we called you Mau Mau, and now we’re giving you money! You must buy the land from the European farmers on a ‘willing buyer and willing seller’ basis. So when they are willing to sell, you buy. Thus would come into being the Land Settlement Board, under Chairman Norman Feather of the Standard Bank, with the British Consular General and Moi, appointed to the post by Kenyatta, as committee members.”
Cyprian Fernandes was one of the first Chief Reporters of the Nation, he was also the first to travel the world on foreign assignments. He now lives in Sydney, Australia.