Monday, September 13, 2021

My life in South Africa during apartheid

DISCLAIMER : This post is in no way intended to offend or attack anyone. It's not meant to be about politics, race or religion. I have to use certain words or phrases to get my point across. Please understand that what might be offensive in USA is not always offensive in South Africa & vice versa. This post is merely an account of my own experience. 

APARTHEID

Means segregation. It's merely an Afrikaans/Dutch word that means segregation. 

As I've mentioned in a previous post, my race in South Africa is Coloured. This is not the same as Black. Black & Coloured are 2 different races in South Africa. Coloureds are people of mixed race. I don't have one white & one black parent. I come from a long line of coloured people, so my family looks pretty mixed. Some light skinned, some dark. Some with sleek hair, some with curly hair, some with kinky/coarse hair. Some have brown eyes, some have green or blue eyes. 

I have to admit that I don't know exactly when segregation started. Legally, it started in 1948. However, we've lived segregated lives for far longer than that. I know his because my parents were born in the 30s & 40s and they were already living segregated lives. 

There was a pecking order where race was concerned. At the top, you had the whites. Then coloreds & Indians, Asians. Blacks were at the bottom of the totem pole. Black people had things far worse than us coloureds. I don't know why we were a little more favoured by whites. Could be because we were part white. Could be another reason. I really don't know the answer. Blacks had to go about town with travel documents, whereas we didn't have to. They also got worse jobs than we did. 

My parents both grew up in a beautiful area (at the foot of the mountain) in the southern suburbs of Cape Town. This area is still very upscale today. A few months ago my uncle (mom's brother and only surviving sibling) went to visit their childhood home and sent me pics. The house was within walking distance of my old office. I knew that my parents lived in that town (our office was in the same town) as my mom had mentioned it before. I just didn't know it was so close to work. I wish she had given me the address when I lived in SA, so I could've visited the house. I lived in the neighboring town, so I was close by.

In the late 50s or early 60s (I'm thinking it was early 60s, because my mother was already a high schooler), my parents were kicked out of their homes (government forced them out) to turn the town into a white area. Coloured people were forced to move to the Cape Flats , a poorer part of Cape Town. So yes, I was born in the ghetto. You'll see a pic of Manenberg in the link. That's where I was born and we lived until I was 4 years old. We lived in the downstairs section in one of those kinds of apartment blocks. My parents then moved us to a brand new city to give us a better life. Once I started school (I was the 4th of 5 children), my mother went back to work so my parents could pay the new mortgage off early - which they did. My dad was a department manager, so he made a bit more money. You'll also notice the train station. That's the train I used to ride to college and my first job. During apartheid, we were never allowed to use First Class. It was reserved for whites. Do you see the similarities between our lives and those of African Americans (think Rosa Parks)

People of colour also didn't get to go to college. Instead they had to take low level jobs, to help make ends meet. Now this is something I hated, because my father was super smart. He graduated from high school at age 16, but was forced to go work in a clothing factory where he & my mother met. His father died young and my grandmother had to support 7 children on her own. Like Kim, she was a seamstress. She sewed all kinds of wedding & prom gowns and even clothing for people. So my father went to work to help support my family. He worked a factory job until he was forced to retire (this was in the late 90s). The one thing that always stood out to me, was that my parents never complained about their situation. Instead they instilled a strong work ethic in us. They didn't tell us what to do. They showed us through their actions instead. Despite having to use public transportation, my father was always at work early. I guess I get that from him, because I was always the first one at the office. At my last job (before I moved here), my boss allowed me to take longer lunches or go home early, because I was always at work at least an hour before business hours. I hate getting to work exactly on time. I like to get my coffee, check mail, check my inbox to see what needs to be done for the day. 

As a child, I remember seeing those 'For Whites Only - Slegs Vir Blankes (Afrikaans)' signs at even public restrooms. There was no way that anyone of colour could use those reserved restrooms. Same with select public swimming baths (pools) and beaches and many other places. I don't recall shopping. I know we used to go to Town (downtown Cape Town) where all the 'fancy' clothing stores were. I don't remember mixing with whites, but I know they shopped there too. Going to town was a real treat when I was a child. 

Now segregation means, you don't mix with any other race. We all lived in our own separate towns/cities. Same with our schools.  Coloureds and whites had our education in both English & Afrikaans. It was compulsory to learn both languages. Blacks had their native tongue (there are 9 different black languages, depending on the region where you reside) and English. So I grew up bilingual. Afrikaans is my first language and I also speak British English. I was raised with very strict British ways. My dad's family's very prim & proper and so am I. I do speak a third language, but it's another European language. Sad to say, I don't speak a black (not African, because other African countries have their own native languages that are different to South Africa's) language. My youngest brother can speak Xhosa. This is what's spoken in the Western Cape (province/state where my family reside)

Afrikaans is a Dutch dialect. At school, we were always taught that it's a borrowed language. All we did was change the Dutch spelling and pronunciation a little (don't know why the Dutchmen changed their own language...lol) added a hint of German and called it Afrikaans (Africa is called AfriKa in Dutch, hence the name). I don't know why Afrikaans is my first language, because my father hated the language. My father was a very sweet, kind man who never spoke ill of anyone or anything. However, he called Afrikaans 'the language of our oppressors' and always spoke to us in English. He flat out refused to speak Afrikaans and he was very strict about our English grammar. He drilled proper grammar into us. My sister often did direct translations from Afrikaans to English and my father always corrected her. I always cringed by her use of the English language, because I'm anal about spelling & grammar too. Daddy's lessons definitely paid off with me...lol I'm guessing the Afrikaans choice came from my mother, because her family uses both languages. 

I have to admit that segregation didn't really bother me that much, because we pretty much kept to all things coloured. Besides, we lived a happy life. I come from a large, close knit family. We always had get togethers and family beach vacations, etc.  I can truly say that we had many happy times, despite having so many restrictions on our lives.  I mainly experienced whites when I started college (we were still living under the apartheid regime when I started college).  Our college was for everyone, but whites.  They attended the nicer colleges/universities. We had white lecturers though. There was a white student in my class (the only one at our college). She only studied there, because her father was a lecturer, so she received free education. College employees' children got free education. My older cousin worked at the same college, so his kids got free education there too.

1994 was a year that changed our lives. That was the year segregation ended. It was a year that my parents (because they were so much older) and ourselves could go vote for the first time in their lives. I think I probably cried. We stood in long lines to go cast our votes. Yes, I voted for Nelson Mandela too. We all wanted change. We wanted equal rights for everyone. We wanted to enjoy the same privileges that white folks did. 

But first, let me take you back to when I was about 9 or 10 years old. That was when we lived through boycotts & riots. Those were riots in the fight for freedom. I remember people burning tires in the streets. Food delivery truck drivers being attacked and trucks ransacked and burned. Schools would all close early and we'd run all the way home (schools were near our house). It was a scary time. I hate violence. I hated the riots. I also hated it, because we lost a classmate to the riots. School closed early and he got caught up in a mob (high schoolers) who were rioting, on his way home.  The police were out in full force. Said classmate hid behind a car and got shot by the police. I'll never forget how shocked we all were when we heard the news the next morning. Things were just crazy. 

One of my older brothers was a senior (matric) in high school at the time. I remember the military escorting them to an off site location (away from the riots), to write their final exams. 

When I was in high school (we start high school at age 12), the riots continued. My 2 BFFs thought this was fun. They tried to convince me to join the protests with them, only so they could get out of school for the rest of the day. I told them that there was no way I was gonna risk my life like that. Things normally started with protestors toyi toying, but I know that things could turn violent at any moment. No way was I gonna do something stupid like that. Besides, if the boycotts didn't kill me, my parents would. My parents were fine upstanding pillars in the community and there was no way I could embarrass our family like that. 

I remember friends and neighbors getting picked up by the police in the middle of the night. They were heavily involved in the boycotts. I remember parents hiding their children or sending them to go live with family members to escape the police. It was scary. Thankfully the protests ended before I finished high school and South Africa became a democracy while I was still in college. 

Despite having lived through apartheid life, for the most part, was good. The new government has run the country into the ground. Sadly, I see SA turning into another Zimbabwe. It's sad, because we have such a naturally beautiful country. It's like no other in the world. South Africa was once the America of Africa. It was the wealthiest nation on the continent at one stage. It was also the world's biggest producer of gold (DH & I actually visited a mine in Johannesburg and tried to pick up a gold bar. It's very heavy) and guess where all your lovely diamonds come from. I'm sure many have heard of De Beers. All other Africans wanted to live in South Africa. Then apartheid ended, the government flung open the borders and the country went to hell in a hand basket. 

The current state is just a reversal of apartheid roles. Blacks are now in control and whites are at the bottom of the totem pole. Coloureds are still in the middle. Crime is so bad, it makes me afraid to go visit. I'm street wise, but I'm afraid to go risk our lives. I really miss my family & friends, but I know that you could get killed over a dollar. This is not an exaggeration. Blacks are now killing white farmers left & right in order to claim land. They are robbing coloureds blind. Breaking into homes, carjackings etc. Coloureds and white are being held at gunpoint and robbed blind. My nephew was carjacked at a gas station about 2 years ago. They beat him badly. Thankfully, he managed to escape and run several miles home. Don't bother calling the police. They won't show up. This is not a racist thing, because I was raised to treat everyone with respect, no matter who or what they are. This is what's really happening in South Africa. I fear for my family. I'll sleep better if my siblings can move to a safer country. 

SHOCKER ALERT

Despite living through segregation and riots, I have to admit that I had a great life in South Africa. I actually lived a far more upscale life in SA than I do here. I come from a well respected family (not going into detail). We have some social status, so everyone knew our family and treated (they still do, despite me living on another continent) us with the utmost respect. I was also a very popular child (not going into detail again). Everyone knew and loved me (they still do...lol). 

I worked for major companies in SA. Most of my exes are successful wealthy men. Mainly entrepreneurs & sometimes high level executives. I traveled in a different social circle, so I ended up meeting like minded people. I also dated a professional athlete. No I'm not a gold digger, nor did I ever pursue these men. They pursued me. If I was a gold digger, I'd be living a life of luxury, sipping cocktails at noon, sunbathing on my deck overlooking the Atlantic ocean...lol. True story. I've dated a few filthy rich guys. A man's wealth or status  never mattered to me. I made my own money (I made good money in SA. Now you all know why I like nice things :)  It's because I'm used to that way of life. Growing up, my family wasn't poor. We were simple middle class folks. All our needs were more than met. I remember some of my cousins being jealous of me, because I always had nicer things than they did. I was always fiercely independent, especially financially. I'm not impressed by wealth or status. I've had status all my life. It means nothing to me. I'm far more impressed by a person's character. Are they loyal, trustworthy, kind, caring? Do they have integrity? Those are the things that mean far more to me. It's the kind of things money can't buy.

FYI - I didn't just blow my money on a fancy life & nice things. Once I stared working, I took care of my parents and 2 siblings (don't ask about my siblings. long story) financially. I supported my parents until the day they died. I would do it all over again, if I had to. I wouldn't be where I am or the kind of person I am today, without their love, support & hard work. 

I like to keep a low profile. I was raised to be humble. If you met me, you would never know that I come from respect or about any of our achievements. None of those things matter to me. In fact, I've never told anyone that I dated about it. I only mentioned it to DH years after we were married. Why, because it's not a big deal to me. It doesn't define who I am as a person. I want people to accept me for who I am, not for what I've achieved or for who my family is. 

Now, I'm extremely private. I never share things like this with anyone. I told you this for a reason. 

I was excited to move to America. We revered America and everything it stands for. Boy was I in for a shock (please bear with me). I have never ever experienced racism in a segregated South Africa, like I do in America. Holy cow was I ever shocked. I've lived here almost 20 years and it started right at the beginning. I've only experienced true racism ONCE in all of my years living in South Africa. This is why I was so shocked by my experiences here. 

DH is white and we live in a predominantly white area (back then it was very white and I stood out like a sore thumb). None of our neighbors really bothered with me (they still don't. They'll socialise with DH but not with me). One or 2 came over to look at the new 'science experiment'..lol and one was extremely condescending. Why oh why do people just assume that Africans are poor, dumb, uneducated?  They don't bother with me, because in their eyes I am beneath them. They act like everything about America is so great (not an attack on Americans. I'm just explaining things, because we are as westernized as Americans. In many instances, we are more advanced than Americans) and we should be oohing and aahing over every little thing. Now I know that tv gives foreigners a totally different view of what Africa is really like, so in a sense I understand. Don't be so quick to judge a book by it's cover. They never ever gave me a chance. I only have one neighbor who's now a good friend of mine. He never judged me. He just accepted me the way I am. That's the kind of people I like, because that's how I treat people. 

I've had experiences in store too. This mainly happened since the orange fool became president. Every little racist decided to crawl out from under their rocks then. I actually had my purse searched at Rite Aid. Yoohoo Sluggy. Did you hear that? I remember being in the middle of the aisle, hauling my coupons out of my purse. I normally prepare everything before I get to checkout, so I don't hold up the line. One of the employees (white girl) saw me and asked to check my purse. I tried to explain, but no go. I just let her go ahead. I'm not the type to cause a scene. I was so mad. I'm not even sure if I contacted CS about this. 

I've had so many other incidents, it's not funny. I've had white people stare at me at restaurants over the years, especially when we go to small town restaurants. DH said I shouldn't let them ruin my experience and just ignore them. It's their problem if they're ignorant. Easy for him to say. He's not the one who's been judged all his life, because of the colour of his skin. Something none of us are responsible for. 

I seriously cannot stand the judgement and rudeness. I come from a loving, kind, caring, compassionate family. We just don't treat people this way. So it hurts when people treat me this way. Many times I  just come home and have a good cry (I don't even tell DH about my experiences anymore). Then I pick myself up, dust myself off & move on. 

Now I know that not all Americans are like this. I've met many wonderful people. It just sucks that people don't bother to get to know you and give you a chance. Often they miss out on a great person, because they think that they are better than certain groups. I'm not the only one who has experienced this. I have several South African friends who live here, who have said the same thing. My cousin in NY (her husband is hispanic) has said the same thing. I have dark skin, so I'm considered AA. My cousin though looks hispanic, but gets treated just as poorly.

I love this country. I am an American (I'm a citizen now). My favorite thing about this country is how patriotic Americans are (there are many other things that make me proud to be an American). I love how everyone comes together when there's a disaster. Just think of 9/11. Nobody cares what race, religion, gender or any other nonsense any of the victims were. The country came together to show love and support for their fellow man. Why can't people live like this all the time?

I've come to the conclusion that there will always be a few bad seeds. I bet you could go anywhere in the world & find some bad seeds in every country. I try to just be a better person and continue to treat others far better than they treat me. Besides, we overcome evil or ugliness with love. 

This is why I love our little blogging community. Nobody cares who or what the other person is. We all have a mutual love for frugality and nothing else matters. We just accept & support each other no matter what. So thank you all, for being such awesome people!

There's so much more I can say about apartheid, but this post has gotten too long and I've opened up way too much. I never share my personal life with people like this. 

Again, I'm not attacking any race or Americans. I hope that I haven't offended anyone. I am a Christian first & foremost. We are all God's children, so I treat everyone with kindness & respect. It's who I am. 

14 comments:

  1. I wish there were more people like you who treat everyone with kindness and respect. That is something I was taught as well. Canada is changing as well. Since the Pandemic, more and more racism that was once hidden away is becoming more prevalent.

    God bless.

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    1. Thank you Jackie. I'm old school. I still believe in having good manners, good morals & values.

      That's sad that racism's getting bad in Canada too. I just pray that people will all learn to 'love their neighbor' instead.

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  2. Not once in this post have I thought this was an attack on one race or Americans. It is sad the world has to discriminate. Yours is an interesting story. Thanks.

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  3. WOW, just WOW! And I mean that is the very best way possible. Thank you for sharing your story.
    And no it is not an offending post but an enlightening one.

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    1. Thank you Anne. I'm glad you found it enlightening.

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  4. Your story is fascinating to read. I learned so much, thank you for sharing it with us.

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  5. What an interesting and wonderful perspective on South Africa. How sad it has become. I hate racism with a passion. I just don't understand it. My parents were very anti racism of any kind. I am sorry you have been treated the way you have. It makes me sick. There is so much judgement in America especially over money and education and religion. I refuse to play that game. Welcome to the country and you will make it better my friend.

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  6. Fascinating! I so appreciate you taking the time to tell your story.

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  7. New reader here. Thank you for sharing your story. I admit that I didn't really know or understand much about apartheid. I'm glad that you had a happy childhood with a loving family. I'm sorry that you have had to experience discrimination in the U.S. I have really been disappointed in this country over the past 4-5 years.

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    1. Welcome Kathy & thank you for your kind words. I decided to share my story, because I know that there are many who don't understand anything about apartheid and many who might assume that things were just all bad for non-whites.

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