Thursday, August 9, 2007

Apartheid, Tshiya Street, QwaQwa, 1987

< 1987 QwaQwa. Esslemonts in their Tshiya Street backyard. Die Bult & Rattex rat poison backdrop: DIE YOU DIRTY RAT. Note QwaQwa govt bldgs on top of Die Bult

We arrived in Dragon Boep Road. Death-winds stalked through 1987 -1988 States-of-Terror. (Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, Abacus, Little, Brown & Co., London, 1996). Murder and mayhem from multi-racial cops and military, versus township and homeland browns prowled SA. We were some of few non-browns, mainly Afrikaners, who lived and worked in Whiter-Than-White QwaQwa, which was the worst place we ever lived in. One of my old Dokkies lecturers dossed on Die Bult and lectured at Tshiya College of Education. From Kestell or Harrismith, motorists drove through non-brown platteland to QwaQwa. Some motorists were on their way to Harrismith, Durban, Joburg, Bethlehem, Clarens, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Bloemfontein.

Motorists saw puppet university buildings on a hill. Over the hill QwaQwa churned. During mid 1800s, it was a valley inhabited by native cattle-rustlers, led by chief Whetse. An OFS commando urged Whetse to flee to Basutoland, and Witsieshoek in QwaQwa was named after Whetse. (Vic Mahew, Editor, Reader's Digest, Illustrated Guide to Southern Africa, Fourth Edition, Reader's Digest Association South Africa Pty. Ltd., Cape Town, 1985). Maluti mountains rose southwards. South-eastwards, we saw Sentinel Peak, western buttress of Drakensberg Amphitheatre: piles for a Sotho migrant-labour dump. Cave sandstone Phuthaditshaba mesa dominated QwaQwa. We felt foreboding when I drove into QwaQwa, as people were killed in other townships and homelands. In 1976, when an Afrikaner I'd acted with in Gelukkige Dae was stoned while teaching in Soweto, he dived into a lady teacher's car. She sped off, keeping the rock which smashed her windscreen.

We saw rows of concrete-block houses with corrugated iron roofs. There were stone hovels and shanties: many with rocks on roofs, stopping roofs being blown off during Berg storms. I drove past non -brown Mopeli Motors, a multi-racial golf course, QwaQwa cop -shop and wage subsidized "border industries": attracting Taiwanese and other non-brown businessmen to QwaQwa's cheap-labour dump. Along Dragon Boep Road were fringe-businesses near Elizabeth Ross Hospital. Semi-rural QwaQwa purged eastwards, where thousands of poor Sotho lived, and QDC built new brick schools with long-drop toilets. Witsieshoek Mountain Resort near Sentinel Peak catered for non-brown tourists.

Du Toit drove us along Tshiya Street, which had modest houses with few gardens and no trees. There was a hotel, post-office and shops. On Die Bult Du Toit said, "You'll get one of those houses in thrree weeks to thrree months time, as now they'rre all full. Uh! If my son wasn't at high school in Harrrismith, I too would live in QwaQwa."

Du Toit drove us through the Exclusive Suburb, being built for rich Sotho, to Sentinel Primary where I'd teach. Sentinel was part of a bigger, double-storey, brick high school. At the chicken-wire gate was a concrete-block cottage, housing a Sotho teacher. Most QwaQwa schools had staff cottages.

Nearby was a Dutch Reformed Mission, established in 1874 (Ibid Mahew), where die Heilige Gees prevailed - or was it "the spirit of apartheid," where Dutch Reformed predikants trained brown predikants to preach to separate brown Dutch Reformed congregations? (Hermann Giliomee, The Afrikaners, Hurst & Company, London, 2003).

Our Tshiya Street medical-house, bordered by a chicken-wire fence, was opposite the shopping mall, which had a Barclays Bank. Amos, our Sotho sentinel, wore a navy-blue uniform, too big for him. His Basutho pony grazed in our compound, while Amos dozed in his gate-hut. I thought if Sotho hordes attacked us, Amos would be the first to flee our apartheid-quarantined compound, near the new hospital. A yellow billboard advertising Rattex rat poison stood nearby on Tshiya Street corner, and a giant rat glared at us, illuminated by pink floodlights on metal poles. Our yard was never dark. QwaQwa was full of brown staring eyes, and we felt uneasy during our time there.

Our three-bedroom, brick house had concrete floors, dirty grey Marley tiles, few cupboards, and a combined dining room / lounge, with a fireplace. QwaQwa nights were freezing, filled with eye-stinging, sulphurous smoke: a charcoal community, as firewood, or coal was used for heating and cooking. (In future, wintry, air-polluted Christchurch NZ would remind me of QwaQwa polluted nights). Our kitchen work-surfaces were filthy with crumbs and gunge between grimy tiles. Our garage had junk left by the former non-brown artisan tenant. We cleaned, gardened, unpacked, while Jake crawled outside, sampling our grapevine - green nappies!

Backspoor unrest: After 1976 Soweto riots, thousands of browns fled SA via Swaziland, Mozambique, Botswana, Lesotho, joining exiled ANC camps in Angola, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Egypt, USSR. Some Comrades were educated at ANC Mazimbu School, Tanzania and elsewhere. (Hilda Bernstein, The Rift, The Exile Experiences of South Africans, Jonathan Cape, London, 1994). Most had military training. Browns had fled cop harassment, bannings, unlimited detentions, beatings in Jo'burg's John Vorster Square cop-shop and other cop -shops. During States-of-Terror, anyone could be gaoled without charge - even non-browns.

Amos and other Sotho sentinels solicited servants for us, who rocked up at our back door. We chose a maid to stop Amos's pestering, and sacked her. He father rocked up. Speaking Afrikaans, QwaQwa's lingua franca, I said, "We don't want a servant, want ons kan dit nie bekostig nie." We didn't hire another servant as we valued our privacy.

Professional Sotho parents rocked up, asking Leah to start an English -speaking play-group, as their piccanins needed English practise. Leah's teaching skills were appreciated, and Jake had Sotho playmates, his first playmates.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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