Christianity and Other Harmful Practices Including Apartheid

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Every Sunday was church day and every inmate in the hostel had to attend church even if there was no church that represented your brand of Christianity. As there was no Lutheran church in the village I was told to pick another or the choice would be made for me, the little blond girl attended the Methodist church so I decided that I would accompany her to the Methodist version of the scriptures as I had already tasted two years of the Catholic variety.

I will admit the Methodist version was not as regulated nor as pompous as the Catholic version. The priest though was hilarious, he obviously had false teeth that did not fit properly and every now and then he would be in the middle of damning adulterers and sinners to everlasting hell when he would whistle certain words. It was very hard to take these whistling sermons very seriously and if it hadn’t been for my young blond friend pinching me every time the whistling started, I am sure that I would have burst out laughing. There was not a Sunday that fornicators were not mentioned, I am not sure if it was because of my father’s son being in the congregation or that he knew many fornicators in his congregation.

After church we were marched back to the hostel not being allowed to share in the tea and cakes that were supplied by the ladies of the parish as there was a tea laid out on the lawns, for all the children of the hostel, after the last service was completed. Normally the Afrikaans churches had the longest services, up to two and a half hours, so tea was set for eleven. Every Sunday these large baking trays were laid out with a yellow sponge cake, that was completely tasteless, smothered in sugar icing that leant some taste to the tasteless cake and large urns of tepid watery tea. Tea lasted exactly thirty minutes and then everything was returned to the kitchen.

During the sixties, the South African government enforced a curfew for the Natives, and every evening in Barberton a siren would sound and all Native people had to be off the streets of the Town. Not only that, they had to be in the place that was designated in what was called the ‘Dompas’, it was a book that contained their complete work history, place of present work, designated living address and their criminal record if any. No Native could find work or be in an area designated as a ‘White area’ without producing the Dompas on demand. I am not sure exactly what time the siren sounded, but I think it was at ten at night.

One Sunday returning from church I was to witness the law in action. A Native gentleman had been stopped and his Dompas demanded, he tried to explain that he had left it by accident in his normal work clothes and the police could take him to his employers house and he would produce it for them. A fair request you would think. What happened next was so totally uncivilized that it is really hard to comprehend let alone describe.

The two white police officers started beating him with their truncheons until he fell to the ground unconscious, they then picked him up as you would a hundred kilogram sack of corn and threw him head first into the back of their patrol vehicle. The sound of his head striking the back of the steel bulkhead was similar to the sound a pawpaw makes when thrown against a wall. It was a scene that I have remembered all my life. I can never say that I did not know of the brutalities committed under Apartheid, I knew. What did I do to end it? Or did I just put it out of my mind and support it? Read on and discover.

Lots of HUGS and more,

Peggy-Sven

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An Adventure Gone Wrong

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I now come to the final holiday that we were ever going to have as a family. The only addition to the usual assortment of the Durban holiday cast was that Granny had been invited to join us that year.  I think it was because having her along would give my parents the final chance to repair their troubled marriage.

We were unable to secure a booking at the usual Hilton Heights as we had spent the previous Christmas holiday at another resort and by the time it was realised that we had not booked the following holiday the day we left, as was usual, the Hilton Heights had filled up. I think we stayed in a place by the name of the Silver Sands but once again I stand to correction, it’s definitely not the year that I can recall names.

The really nice thing about the new place was that it was on the Marine Parade and we could look at the sea through the lounge window. The beach was just a matter of crossing the road walking past the paddling pools and there you were, on the beach. My parents were away during most of the holiday, somewhere in Europe and Granny and Hubby managed very well without them, where my parents went I do not recall.

I also recall that we spent two weeks instead of the usual one and that my parents joined us for the last couple of days. Father also definitely drove us down and left the car for Granny to ferry us around in, the way Granny drove it was fortunate that we did not have need for a car very often. It was an idyllic holiday and there were only two incidents that spoiled it a little for me and probably for Granny and Hubby as well.

The first was the time that waking up very early I decided to go for a walk on the beach before the sun rose. Not wanting to wake the rest of the family, I left without telling anyone. I must admit it never crossed my mind that Granny waking and finding me gone would panic and spend hours frantically searching for me, I was after all nine years old and wandered all over my suburb when I was home without anyone being overly anxious.

Without a thought or a backward glans I crossed the road, which by the way was devoid of traffic and started to walk along the beach in the general direction of the breakwater. It was just before dawn and I think that the beach that I started from was North beach. At one of the piers that run from the beaches into the sea, I met a very interesting old man. He was dressed in old torn clothing and seemed to be wearing more than one layer of them as well.

He had bloodshot and rheumy eyes as well as a rather unpleasant odour, beside that he seemed to know everything about the things that had been cast up on the beach. He told me he was collecting ‘cuttle’ fish, that white chalky stuff that budgie owners put in the birds cages so that they can sharpen their beaks. Being adventurous I just took a try at this cuttle fish hunt, it is amazing how time flies when you are having fun, we filled up the sack that he was dragging behind him and he allowed me to take the last few that we found home to give to Karen’s budgie.

He forgot to mention that they have to be boiled so that as they get old they do not rot and stink the place out. I was to discover that fact all on my own after the apartment that we were staying in started to smell like a really dirty fishmonger. After he went on his merry way I discovered the Indian gentleman that rented out folding chairs and umbrellas to the people who were starting to arrive at the beach. One of them was only to hoappy to have me approach the all-white families and ask them if they required an umbrella or folding chairs, very soon his stock had run out.

By that time I was feeling a little hungry and I started to make my way back to the apartment to have what would now be considered lunch, or there about. On my way back however I discovered other Indian gentlemen who were hiring out little boats that one could steer around a man-made water channel that was designed in such a way by Mr Nick Steyn, so that you finished at the same place that you started, after negotiating many twists and turns.

There were a couple of the Indian gentlemen working on a boat that was obviously not functioning as it should. They were trying to get the engine to start, so I sidled up and started to give them words of advice, thinking that they would be happy to get the advice of a nine year old. I was wrong, Oh so wrong.

One of them shouted at me to disappear and used words that I had not heard before, and when I asked what ‘fuck off ’ meant he clouted me on the head, if he had wanted me to leave why did he not just ask me to go? Thoroughly chastened, I proceeded on my way.

Just after what was to be called the Indian incident, I ran into Hubby who had been given the afternoon off, after she had spent the morning frantically looking for me, she was not allowed on the beach alone so she had missed me as I was on one of the beaches further south than the one we normally visited and the only one she had scanned from the road side. The moment she saw me she hurried over to warn me that I was in ever so much trouble that Granny was surely going to give me a hiding. So I told her that Granny had been spared the effort as I had already been given one by the Indians at the boat rides.

She laughed so much that she cried, once she could see again she escorted me back to Granny and they both had a good laugh at my expense. They both decided I had been punished enough.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy_Sven

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

A Holiday By numbers, Or is that hours?

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After double thick shakes, it was off to the holiday apartment, the Hilton Heights, where we booked in promptly at eleven. The cases were then traipsed up the narrow stair well and unpacking was the order of the hour. Hubby and father disappeared for about the time that it took us to unpack, to book a room for her on top of some or other building because natives were not allowed to share living space with Whites. I was never permitted to visit Hubby where she stayed but years later she told me that it was a tiny room above a hotel that she shared with three other domestics. 

Then it was off to the corner cafe with Hubby to buy “slap chips and Durban bread”, bread in Durban tasted very different to the bread bought in Johannesburg. Karen, Hubby and I would sit at the bottom of the stairs to our apartment and consume the feast that we had all being waiting for. What my parents did during that hour that we were shoved outside, I can only today guess at, as he was always in a good mood when we were at last allowed to re-enter the apartment. The next order of business was off to the beach, with a stop to buy a bucket and spade for all the children, a new one every year. We never drove to the beach we walked as it was only two blocks away. 

Hubby would always accompany us, as the Apartheid regime in some twisted logic, had decided that it was permitted for natives to baby sit White children on the beach, even at the risk of them entering the ocean reserved for Whites at that particular junction of sand and surf as they played with the children, but were not allowed to attend these reserved beaches at any other time.

That first day was always the same, three hours on the beach and then back to the apartment so that Hubby could have the rest of the afternoon off so that she could visit the beach that was reserved for natives, which was a fair walk north and obviously out of sight of the easily tempted white population. 

I have since come to ponder the rational of the Apartheid regime, were they afraid that the natives would rape the White women, or would the White men be so tempted by the native women that they would forsake their own and chase after the native, I have never been able to get my mind around that conundrum. 

For the rest of our week’s holiday we would go to the beach from around nine in the morning until lunch at one. Those days on the beach were really a lot of fun, except that our father never joined in, he was either sunbathing  or swimming out on his own, Hubby and mother always kept us entertained and out of his hair. After lunch, my father would take a nap and mother would take us kids out to walk the promenade or to go window shopping. Hubby would be off until around seven when she would return to baby sit us until around midnight. 

Our parents would then go out on the town, presumably to restaurants, movies or night clubs always returning by midnight. After being bathed and fed we children were normally in dream land by eight thirty as the sea air and all the excitement of the beach was more effective than any sleeping potion. With a never wavering routine, the holiday would reach its inevitable conclusion, and the last day had its ritual as all things did in our family.

The normal holiday morning routine never changed, but after lunch the big pack would commence, naturally there was more to return home than had been brought. There were sea shells, souvenirs, things that we had made out of sea shells on the afternoons when the weather had not allowed the normal routine, and buckets and spades filled with whatever other things that we had found vomited up by the ocean. Then it was back to the beach to say so long see you next year, same time, same place and to collect sea water in at least five bottles for Hubby. 

What she did with them I am not sure, I asked her once and she said that she drank the water to cleanse her body, I have never been sure if she was being serious or whether she was just having me on. Then it was back to the car and the long trip home, with no stop except to refuel, as cars were not as efficient as today’s and to visit the toilet as fast as possible so as not to delay the return.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

A New Addition and Road Trips From Hell

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In the year that Onus died there was an addition to our family. Kirsten my youngest true sister made her appearance on the world stage on the 26 March 1964, delivered by Caesarian section, as we all were, at the Princess Nursing Home. A very aptly named institution in her case as she has always thought that she is one, a princess that is. Life at home changed very little except for the usual disruptions a new baby brings. Disruption of the normal sleep patterns and added delivery of Stork napkin services that delivered and collected twice a week were minor compared to the narcissistic tendencies of all newborns. 

Karen shared her room with the new addition and somehow managed to sleep through the night squalls and feeds. I must confess as a five year old, babies were not exactly my scene as the hippies used to say, but she was a never ending fascination for Karen. This resulted in the selfish fact that my playmate was not always available to play with, as she had been for the whole of my life. Therefore it would not be unfair to say that I harbored feelings of resentment towards the new pride and joy of both my mother and my sister. That probably explains why I have never been as close to Kirsten as I have always been to Karen, but that is only half the story as you will perceive further on in this tale. 

1964 carried us forward as the ocean carries driftwood relentlessly to some as yet unknown destination; I am sure that there were tempests, storms, hurts, disappointments and punishments, but none that made any impression on my life or should I rather say no remembered impressions. Karen and I continued to attend nursery school together and besides enthusing about her baby sister she remained the dedicated little scholar that she was to be until her final school year. 

December in our household is remembered for two momentous occasions, the first was the great exodus to Durban and the other the Christmas tradition, even though for the rest of the year religion was not necessary in fashion. Let’s first tackle the great exodus of somewhat of biblical proportions. Every year in the second week of December we as a family were all bundled into the car with my father packing the suitcases in the boot, including Hubby’s multi-coloured bag with the rope handles. I think the bag was made of some sort of sisal but it was commonly seen carried by the natives of the day. 

You see back in those days the average white family went on holiday with the servant in tow so that the inconvenience of cleaning, babysitting  and general home duties would not fall suddenly to the mother. Every year we were booked into the same holiday apartment, I think it was booked on the same day that we finished our yearly holiday. Back in the early sixties the wonderful road that traverses Van Reneen’s Pass, had not as yet been built, or was not as yet completed I am not sure, so the road of choice, was via Standerton. 

The only member of the family that did not accompany us on this great trek was Tina, my wonderful dog. She was looked after by our next door neighbours, the wonderful couple, the Monks. The scullery door was left open so that she would have a sheltered place to sleep and the interconnecting kitchen door was kept locked. Her food was taken over to her by the Monks via a gate in the hedge that separated our respective properties. Crime was not a major thing in those days so the house had no burglar alarm nor burglar bars surrounding the windows, the dairy was notified of our departure and milk deliveries were suspended for the duration of our holiday. 

Once the car was loaded, we were all warned to go to the toilet before the journey commenced. Believe me when I say you went to the toilet whether you needed to or not as will be seen later. After all bladders had been emptied, the family squeezed into the car and we were off. Father noted the time as he locked the gates, which was invariably four o’clock in the morning. His optimum time was six hours of driving with one stop for breakfast in Ladysmith. No other stops were entertained, not even for car sickness as was the case one year with Karen. 

That year when Karen was sick all over my mother we did not stop even for mother to change her blouse, be that as it may. As we left so early, the first part of the journey for us kids was not at all stressful, as we were mostly tired because of the excitement of the night before, so we slept until we reached Ladysmith and the stop for breakfast, which was inevitably at around seven. We always stopped at the same restaurant in Ladysmith, with unvarying regularity, never trying a new venue even though there were many other places to eat. Until of course the road over Van Reneen’s Pass was completed then we stopped at the Wigwam Motel just before Van Reneen’s.

We also always had the same food, my father ordering for all of us to save time. Then it was back to the car and the rush to complete the journey. When I say that my father ordered for all of us that is a very true statement, but of course not all of us were sitting at the same table to eat. Hubby had to remain in the car as according to Apartheid rules natives were not allowed to eat in a designated white establishment. That was my first real experience of what has been called “Petty Apartheid”, there was not a restaurant allocated to natives in the predominantly, or should I say exclusively white town of Ladysmith. 

Even today I find that strange that no entrepreneur saw the chance to make money out of the hundreds of servants that accompanied their employers every holiday. Anyway approximately three hours later we would arrive at South Beach Durban, where my father would park the car facing the sea so Hubby could admire the ocean and we would all troupe into the little soda shop located just off the beach. There we all had double thick chocolate malts, and the one for Hubby was placed in a separate paper cup, which was half the size of the ones served in the glass vases, but cost the same. If we had made the time that my father had set himself he would be in a great mood and we often played games example matches, if on the other hand we had not, he would set us his favourite pastime of setting us math’s problems. Not enjoyable when he was in a bad mood and you got the answers wrong.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

A Baby Born Spastic In Apartheid South Africa

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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,

Peggy-Sven