Wednesday, June 6, 2007

1960s Apartheid Durban, Thieves and Religion

1960s. One of Mom's Northlands Girls HS classes. (Mumby) >

On another Bloemfontein holiday, a kwaaitannie shopkeeper, whose shop was near aunt Dorothy's home, caught Fraser and me stealing: "Why're yous two Engelse stealing my comics? Pasop Hey!" Fraser and I gave the comics back, and ran like mad. During the rest of the holiday we climbed Signal Hill, then climbed Naval Hill to look at the observatory and zebra. We looked at zoo ligers and swam in the municipal pool.

Back at Durban North Astra Cafe, a Greek lady caught me stealing a war comic: "Ya've come 'ere for yearz. 'Aveyabin stealin' alliz time?"

"Ag nah! It'sa first time."

"What'zyaname? Where'dyalive?" Silence. I ran home.

Aunt Dorothy phoned mom: "Yoiks! Your delinquent sons stole money and a magnet from my friend's bedroom."

Mom rushed me to Meyric Bennet Centre, Berea, where psychiatrists sorted out problem kids. I did easy block-tests, played games, then ol' ballie Psycho-lady asked, "Ever stolen anything?"

"Money and tinned food from mom," I said. "Money and a magnet from my aunt's Bloem friend."

Psycho-lady said to mom, "Mark's quite normal. He needs pocket-money. As Mark will attend high school next year, he needs sex education." I read her sex book on her couch, staring at drawings and long words, differing from playground whisperings.

I became an authority on love matters when Skelm asked, "Do okes piss in chicks?" I told him to check library books. Saturday flicks were grope-flicks at Broadway's Rex Cinema. I learnt more about chicks' bodies at Rex Cinema, town Roxy Bioscope, and parties than any books. Fraser also spent his pocket-money at Rex Cinema.

Mom sent me to piano lessons: Ol' toppie Tinkle taught me, while her Beethoven bust jiggled on top of her piano. She was a sweaty Pom, so I left her for ol' toppie Twang. Spit dried at corners of his slobbery mouth. He wanted me to practise a polka an hour a day for his annual concert. I left, as I didn't smaak being forced.

Mom studied Scientology, and Bible-bashed Fraser and me to stop us stealing. After threatening everlasting hell, Billy Graham saved me at a Kings Park Crusade: "Come forward! Be born again!..." Smiling savers watched me cry, patted my back, gave me Bible tracts, then sent me home to be a good boy. We heard Brother Mandus, who'd preached in Delhi, then preached in Durban Central Methodist Church. We attended Umgeni Road Tent Crusades. Mom sat Fraser and me in the front row. Preacher yelled, "Hallelujah!..." He mopped his brow, while the crowd waved above their heads calling, "We love you Jesus!... Praise the Lord!..." Preacher hit his Bible, and ranted at Fraser and me, "Are you saved?" I nodded. "Praise the Lord!"

Priests laid hands on us at Musgrave Road Methodist Church healing services. After church mom asked, "Did you feel the power of priests' hands?" I felt nothing. Mom befriended a Pom priest, who ran Kearsney Mental Home, near Stanger. An inmate said, "I'm Queen Victoria. I own all the land from Stanger to Gilletts." Another inmate carried photos in a cardboard box, and no one was allowed to touch her photos.

During Christmas holidays, we went to Camps Farthest Out, at Forest Sanctuary, near Stutterheim. Fraser and I eyed chicks; spoored crowned-cranes in a vlei; and hiked to Kubusi Forest waterfall. Playing hide-an'-seek, I ran into a tree, saw a strange light, and woke up with a cut on the back of my head. We studied the Bible, listened to sermons, and sang choruses. Ol' ballie Bernadette, a blubbery Canadian, amused us, when reciting Albert and the Lion, and The Man with the Single Hair. Bernadette's coloratura warbling dominated choruses, like: How Great Thou Art; He's got the Whole World in His Hands; Zipperdidodah, Zipperdiday...


A priest preached a First Corinthians sermon on, "faith, hope and charity." He hugged women and shook hands with their husbands. He fondled mom's leg, leering, jabbering about love. (Years later his wife divorced him). Fraser and I enjoyed socializing, but fervour was a switch-off.

Driving through the Vrystaat, mom drove onto a one-way bridge crossing a river. A Boer in a bakkie drove onto the bridge from the opposite bank. Mom stopped. Boer stopped and roared, "Mevrou! Move your car!"

"Pass me a naartjie Mark," said mom. She chucked peels into the river.

Boer dressed in khaki shirt, shorts, socks, veldskoene and felt hat with leopard skin sweatband, got out his bakkie and snarled at mom, "Mevrou! Move your car!"

"I was on this bridge before you," said mom. "See all the cars behind me." Although mom suffered anxiety, she never showed fear. Boer backed off.

When we visited Bloemfontein, aunt Dorothy said, "Yoiks! Valmai, you're leaving the Methodist Church! Our father will be spinning in his grave!"

"Let him spin! Look what he did to my mother!" Aunt Dorothy shut up. She was clueless about Fraser and me growing up. Whenever we visited, she gave us a tin of buttons to play with. Aunt Dorothy tolerated Fraser and me, and posted us each one Rand for our birthday and Christmas presents. She loved her fat dogs and cats, feeding them diced fillet steaks. Her pets were better fed than location piccanins.

Ol' toppie Rosie loved Fraser and me, never scolding us. At May Street, every morning she woke at 05:30, commuted by Indian bus along Umgeni Road to Durban North Indian bus rank in the Indian slum, by Gopals Store, where we bought fireworks. Rosie then walked barefoot, crossing the sweet-thorn valley off Old Mill Way, to our Chelsea Drive home. Rosie never missed a day's work in the 1960s. During that time, Durban North rubbish-removal / street-sweeping jobs were reserved for Indian men only.

Mom, Fraser and I went to Wilkie Circus performances, and enjoyed animals, trapeze artists, tight-rope-walkers and Tickey and Stompie clowns. We went to Drive-In flicks: "When you leave, please replace your speakers," was announced at the end of each flick. Mom enjoyed NAPAC ballet at Alhambra Theatre, choral singing like Vienna Boys Choir, Passion Plays with David Horner as Christ, and Marcel Marceau. Every year, we trekked to 'Maritzburg Royal Agricultural Show, and mom honked her varsity song, "O 'Maritzburg, happy land, happy land..."

See Boswell Wilkie Circus website.

1 comment:

Blogger Me said...

Thanks, Mark, this made me smile. Been wracking my brain for the location of the Roxy and the Carpi bio for a blogpost - Do any other SA bug-hutches come to mind? Keep it up..... Great job. I might ask you if I may link to this later... But that's later :)