As white Afrikaners born in the 1920s, my Parents grew up during the birth of apartheid.
My Dutch and French ancestors came to South Africa, fleeing from discrimination, victimization, and injustice in their home countries. My Grandparents on both sides, my Mom and Dad’s parents, were people of God who toiled the land as farmers. Being resourceful and innovative, they carved out a life for their family and community.
My Mom and Dad did their best to raise us four kids to be open-minded; to love ourselves and others as much as ourselves, and to value family. Their intention for each of us was to gain our own perspective on life while guided by God. They tried not to let their inherited biases and prejudices indoctrinate our thinking. Yet, there are no doubts that aspects would rub off on us kids over time.
Both my Parents were in the Second World War between 1939 and 1945. My Dad was in the air force and did stints in North Africa and Europe. My Mom was a nursing sister back home at Germiston Hospital. Leaving their small, dusty hometown of Pofadder in the Northern Cape, for the big city of Johannesburg was a big change. As folks who’d barely heard any other language besides Afrikaans, they struggled with English.
From their time in the war, and having travelled and exposed to the world, my Parents made some fortunate—and radical—decisions.
Because they struggled so and understanding its universal appeal, my Parents decided they would send their kids to English schools. This meant we made friends with children from white English-speaking homes. Our Afrikaans church community kept us in touch with our heritage and culture. This exposed us to a healthy balance of influences ranging from conservative to liberal. We had a foot in each camp which also offered its own set of challenges.
Growing up in the 60s and 70s, hostility still existed between white English-speaking folks and their Afrikaner nemesis. As white South Africans, we experienced discrimination from both sides. Our own Afrikaans-speaking community shunned our family for being too English. Our adopted English-speaking community treated us with disdain calling us, ‘Dutchman.’
As was ‘normal’ in white South African suburbs of that time, our only direct exposure to black folks was our live-in maid and our gardener on Saturdays. It was also ‘normal’ that black folks were around in the white suburbs as workers but had to go to the black townships at night. Growing up, my Parents inadvertently influenced how we treat people of colour. And although they were not overtly racist, we learned how to discriminate and grew prejudices.
Once, I visited my Mom for tea while in her late 80s. As she sat at the kitchen table, I made us some tea. I took out a teacup and saucer for my Mom and an old coffee mug for myself. My Mom saw which cup I’d taken out and said: Oh no, don’t use that one, it’s the Maid’s cup. My stomach churned when I saw on her face, she was serious. The prejudice and discrimination were still evident.
When my Mom was in frail care at the age of 92, her Maid asked me to take her to go see ‘Oumie’. When we arrived, my Mom was sitting outside in her wheelchair with a blanket over her knees. She lit up with a big smile when she saw her old friend. Their time together that day was intimate and heart-rendering. They sat together and held hands, looking at each other with love.
As we stood up to leave, my Mom said to her: Please give me a kiss. They kissed on the lips and ended with a long embrace, both crying. I will never forget that image.
My Mom passed away shortly after that. My Mom and I shared the same Maid. She is still with me today and she’s my best friend. I have a full set of red coffee mugs and one old jade coloured mug. We both love that coffee mug. But when we sit and have a cup of tea together, it’s the Maid’s Cup.
Have an awesome weekend and please be generous! 😄
As always, thanks for reading 🙏