A Baby Born Spastic In Apartheid South Africa


It was about this time that Hubby had Onus, a child that was in those days called spastic. I do not know the politically correct term for such an infant. Well never mind we are after all still in the sixties and politically correct behaviour is still a few decades away. Onus was the progeny of the relationship between John Sibanda and Hubby, we as a family had not had the pleasure of meeting John, but he was employed by my father as a scooter driver for purposes of delivery. Where Hubby met John is still one of those mysteries, but I have surmised that they met when my father had things delivered to the house. 

Anyway back in the sixties, the domestic workers were not allowed to have their husbands, children nor their boyfriends living with them in what was called the servants room. Usually a small three meter by three meter structure attached to the garage with a door and if lucky a window. Normally there would be no ablution facilities, except for an outside toilet situated somewhere at the back of the garden. Bathing facilities were normally a galvanized bath that was filled with cold water from an outside tap. Some of the more enlightened madams allowed their domestics to take a bucket of hot water from the scullery to facilitate a luke-warm bath but these were surely in the minority. 

Another thing that I cannot get out of my mind was the common complaint of my fellow white (I hesitate to use the word brethren) citizens, is how the native population smelt. For even as young as I was it seemed obvious that if a person did not have the means to keep clean an unavoidable odour would develop over time. Hubby always smelt of Lux and Vaseline intensive body lotion. I am not saying that my family was more enlightened than our neighbours  but at least Hubby was allowed as much hot water as she needed and my mother always provided toiletries and washing powder for Hubby.

It seems strange today to imagine that Hubby was ever treated in that manner as in later years my mother and her become such good friends. Once again I am getting ahead of myself, so back to the sixties. 

Onus was brought home with Hubby after having spent many months in Baragwanath Hospital as he was very weak and had extreme difficulty feeding. To be brutally honest Onus would never have been allowed to live if his parents were white, but as Baragwanath catered for the native population and was a government institution the quality of life afforded natives was of secondary concern. If I sound callous then so be it.

Let’s not forget that Hubby adored Onus, and that she loved him as she did her other children, the children that due to the Group Areas act, we as a family did not know about as they were not allowed by Apartheid law to live with their mother on “White” property. 

Onus was a very sick baby and had to attend Hospital on a regular basis. As native transport in the suburbs was, to put it mildly, erratic and expensive with having first to wait for a bus to town and then either take another bus or train to Soweto. It was not ideal for taking a very sick child to hospital. So my mother who had finally managed to get herself a driving license and with the use of Granny’s Fiat, volunteered to take Hubby and the baby to Baragwanath every Saturday afternoon.

Even though Baragwanath was an Apartheid government hospital it must be remembered that it was the most modern hospital for natives on the African continent and that although ruled by some of histories strangest rules the care of the dedicated doctors was surpassed by very few hospitals in the world. 

Anyway, it was probably during this time that the relationship between my mother and Hubby started to undergo the metamorphosis that led to the total breakdown of the madam-servant relationship. As two mothers, one white and the other brown, I am sure that the plight of an unhealthy baby affected them both in the same way. Motherhood, after all is of universal suffrage experienced by all woman with children regardless of race or religion.

Lots of Hugs and more,



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