A House in Soweto, A mixed Blessing

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It was also the year that Hubby and John were to receive a house from the government. In the Government’s master plan for Apartheid, it was decreed that all natives were to live separately from whites and huge locations were built all over the country, two of which are famous all over the world, Soweto and Sharpeville for reasons that have nothing to do with mass slum housing. 

Hubby had applied a few years before working for our family to get her name on the official waiting list for houses but every time she went to the department of Native Affairs her name had not risen or if it had, not significantly and she had become very despondent, so my mother decided to intervene. One thing that mother was good at was intervening, but to be fair she was more often than not successful. My father’s business was stationary supplies and he had some rather large conglomerates on his books, one of which was the new Afrikaner bank, Trust Bank. As he also banked with Trust Bank, not because they were one of his clients but rather because they had the prettiest tellers, which I believe was a deliberate ploy by the bank to attract male clients. It must be remembered back in the 60’s men were largely responsible for all money matters, including their wives money, very different from today’s arrangements between husband and wife. 

My mother’s job was to collect moneys outstanding at the end of the month, so she became rather friendly with a lot of the accountants that ran these large companies debtors departments. The gentleman at Trust Bank was one of these and he was very well placed in the political elite of the day. My mother explained to him the problem she was having at the department of Native Affairs and lo and behold less than a month later Hubby had moved to the top of the list and was allocated a house in Meadowlands zone ten Soweto. 

On the appointed day that she was to receive the key to the door of her house, we all climbed into father’s car including John and went to the Soweto office to collect the key and discover the number of the house. 

After applying and receiving a permit for our White family to enter the Township, we collected the key from the housing department and after obtaining directions we were off to find the house. Hubby was like a small child squirming, giggling and suddenly acting all shy. John was cut from a piece of burnt ironwood for all the emotion that he showed. 

Soweto in those days had no electricity, very dusty unnamed dirt roads and each house had one cold tap in the yard, Natives it seems, did not have the need for luxuries as far as the government was concerned. They had grown up in the bush after all and were not civilized, so why did they have need of electricity. 

We eventually found the house, as Soweto’s streets at the time were not sign posted and as far as I know were not named although the houses all had numbers painted on the wall facing the street. Hubby’s and John’s house was what was known as a three roomed house, which consisted of a kitchen, a bedroom and a combination lounge and dining room with an outside toilet in the far corner of the handkerchief sized garden. The house was entered through the kitchen and the door to the bedroom was situated in the right hand corner of the back wall of the kitchen. If you turned right before the bedroom door you entered the lounge cum dining room. All the rooms were minute. 

There was no indoor plumbing and also neither ceilings nor internal doors, just the steel door frames. There was one very peculiar aspect to their new house. The house had been built on a slope, it was really half a house, as the structures was built back to back, the rear mirroring the front three rooms to each half. Now as Hubby had been allocated the rear half of the house there was a small but rather obvious problem. The portion of the house that faced the slope was level with the ground that it had been built on; the rear section was therefore built at the same level as the forward section leaving a step of about five feet from the ground to the kitchen door. No steps supplied. 

No problem, a plank was scrounged from a helpful neighbour and a temporary ramp was constructed to enable us to enter the house. It was the only time that I ever saw John cry or Hubby lose her regal bearing. I visited that house on many occasions over the years and witnessed the remarkable changes that turned that little shack into a loving and caring home.

Lots of Hugs and more

Peggy-Sven

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