Colonial service at the mercy of fickle fate

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2012, 12:00am


Whenever retired British officials are remembered for their careers in Hong Kong's public service, spare a thought for those of Zimbabwe. Alastair Todd, who died in England last week at the age of 91, may well have been from the latter but instead had the good fortune to spend 25 years 'helping to shape [Hong Kong's] future', according to his obituary over the weekend.

Todd came to Hong Kong in 1945 as a military officer, eventually becoming director of social welfare. His career covered some of the most exciting periods in this city's history, including the 'tensions' of the Cultural Revolution. It is easy to imagine expatriates back then wondering whether they had made the right choice to head for the colonies. So many had done so - tens of thousands, at a guess - when much of the world map was coloured an optimistic pink. Hong Kong, Rhodesia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand - the world was replete with choice, and how could you guess what it would be like 50 years hence?

Nevertheless, you can also imagine the relief that those who chose Africa might have felt when they read about the riots in Asia. 'There but for the grace of God,' they may have thought, while sipping tea on the verandah in the shade of a leafy garden.

A decade later that relief may have been felt by Todd's generation in Hong Kong, as they read about a vicious guerilla war in southern Africa.

When Robert Mugabe came to power in 1980, it was agreed that civil servants would continue to receive their pensions, but over the years that notion was debased by hyperinflation. No such misfortune has befallen the veterans of Hong Kong, where, ironically enough, Mugabe has chosen to establish a pied-?terre. So it goes.

A few years ago, concerned former Zimbabweans set up Zane, a charity to care for expats made destitute in their twilight years. The last I heard of Zane it was working to help Zimbabwe's few remaining expat pensioners, some of whom it says 'were part of the [second world] war effort', to receive old-age care, entirely forgotten in a country whose future they too had once helped to shape.

Alex Lo is on leave and will return next week