Child Labour and Complicity In Betrayal.


The one thing that I wanted more than anything was a bicycle, and I never stopped nagging my parents about getting one. Well eventually my father came up with a scheme that would allow me to get my wish. I was to work every Saturday at his office and if he was satisfied that I had not shirked my tasks I would be given a bicycle for Christmas. It was agreed that every Saturday morning I would leave with him and head for my day of work. There would be no pay, except for the bicycle at Christmas if in his opinion I had earned it. 

Back in the sixties it seems that Saturday was just another work day, so I can only deduce that the five day working week had not become law. My father’s shop in the concourse of Johannesburg station consisted of the front part being a show room, with the rear of the showroom being the administrative section. His desk was situated in the left-hand back corner of the showroom, the receptionist desk in the middle and the accounts desk where my mother sat in the right hand corner. 

There was a door leading off my mother’s work area into a passage that led to the back of the shop. Just off to the left of the passage as you entered it was the door to the storeroom, where all the stock was kept. The storeroom was filled with metal shelves with all types of stationery neatly placed on the various shelves. There was also a mezzanine level to the storeroom that had been built out of wood to double the area without expanding the floor area and therefore the rent. At the end of the passage was a door that led onto the service corridor of the station, where small diesel tugs pulled the wagons loaded with goods to the respective platforms to be loaded onto the trains. 

On the other side of the corridor was a set of double doors that opened up into the paper cutting room of my father’s business where flat reams of paper were cut to various sizes for the printing industry and office use. The room was dominated by a very large guillotine. Four or five natives worked in this factory cutting paper and wrapping the cut reams in brown paper and labelling the reams as to size and type. At the far end was another door that led outside to the area where the migrant workers congregated every weekend to catch their train home. 

It was an area that throbbed with life and was filled with the colours of the rainbow as everyone waiting wore a blanket of a different colour and design; I think these blankets were called Basotho Blankets. They were of the highest quality and very soft. Wares of all sorts were sold to the returning labourers, from metal mirrors to bicycles, cars been out of reach for the average native due to Apartheid’s policy of minimum wages for maximum work. 

When I worked there and had a break from work I would wonder around and they would give me sweets and portions of the food that they had. Not once did I ever feel that someone would hurt me. There was also a very large contingent of Railway police patrolling the area to stop the sale of illicit alcohol to the Natives, or so I was told by my father’s staff.

My first task was to assemble the steel shelving on the mezzanine floor of the storeroom. It was not a very difficult job, as there were four steel uprights pre-punched with holes and the shelving that had also been pre-punched, with the strengthening braces that were attached to stop the shelves collapsing. Two uprights were placed on the floor and the top and bottom shelves were loosely attached and then the structure was turned upside down and the other two uprights attached to the shelves. Once this was done the braces were screwed on to the back and sides which created a very stable structure. Then it was just a matter of inserting the other shelves with the correct spacing and bolting it all tightly together. 

So easy that a seven year old could do it alone, at the end of every shift John would help me to lift them into the upright position. We used to finish just after two in the afternoon and my father would always take me to the little cafeteria across the concourse to have a bite to eat, those were wonderful lunches, where we really had a chance to talk father to son, even though we were always interrupted by some woman, who would always arrive and sit on the opposite side of my father as we used to eat not at the tables but at the serving counter seated on those high chrome and brightly upholstered stools, that were anchored to the ground and the seats swivelled which lead to me being constantly chastised for acting like a child . 

It was not always the same woman that interrupted our meals and I thought my father was very nice talking to these strange women, people who must have worked in other shops in the concourse. It seemed strange then when he told me that I must not tell mother about them and I was proud that he trusted me with his secrets. I was too young to even think that it was anything more than innocent friendship, years later I understood the role that I had played in her betrayal.

Lots of Hugs and more



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