Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Post Apartheid, N2 Freeway Exit and Durban Roundup, 1995

1995. 'Mackintosh' Girls: Leah, her sisters & mom, 294 Freemantle Road, Durban, days before Esslemonts emigrated to NZ.

Whenever Fraser had escaped from Town Hill, cops or his curator returned him. Once, Fraser stayed a week at Athlone Hotel near N2 freeway, and when his money ran out he phoned Town Hill and his curator to take him back. Fraser never told me how he "absconded" beyond a concrete, palisade wall around Town Hill, which Zulu watchmen guarded day and night. Town Hill punished Fraser by detaining him for months in Impala Ward with hard-cases. Sometimes Fraser was detained alone in a seclusion -room with bare walls and plastic potty: spied on by staff behind a one-way mirror-window, like Fraser was a criminal. After my complaints, Town Hill superintendent refused his doctors writing letters to me. (He said I was, "wasting doctors' time.") Thereafter, Town Hill superintendent didn't reply to my letters. For years, Fraser felt punished by Addington's psychiatrist, for exiling him from Durban, and certifying him to Town Hill.

During Fraser's "holidays," I had to sign forms indemnifying Town Hill in Fraser's absence. (Town Hill supplied packets of neuroleptics). Every Christmas holiday, Fraser and I'd visited his old friends, haunts, game -parks, Transkei, Drakensberg, QwaQwa, Bloem, Kimberley, to backspoor his memory. In Kruger Park, I'd stopped my Golf, while a herd of elephants charged across veld fire stubble before and behind us. We felt small, and drove about singing, "O hallelujah. O hallelujah. Daar's plek op die donkie wa..."

We visited Elandspruit, where aunty Esme's grandson farmed near New Hanover. Fraser remembered egg-sized hailstones hitting the iron roof, leaving Elandspruit whiter than white. The old tractor and wooden wagon remained in the shed. Forty Easters had passed since we'd played on the old wagon. The farmhouse was bordered by a high electric fence, as farmers were being murdered. I said, "Goodbye" at Town Hill, and wondered whether I'd ever see Fraser again.

At Entabeni Hospital. I consulted the first ENT quack I'd seen in Durban twelve years before. "Can you cure my deafness?" I asked.

"No," he said, steepling his hands, gazing into a crystal ball on his desk. I paid him and left. A sangoma throwing bones would've given better value.

At a Mackintosh goodbye party, (none of my friends nor Fraser were invited) Leah chatted to relatives and friends. Leah's old Northdene headmistress was there. Her husband lectured at Umlazi Technikon, and sometimes avoided work, due to township violence. (Eight years later, their twenty year old daughter would die in a car collision with a minibus taxi).

We knew we'd never see some of Leah's Mackintosh family again. Octogenarian Gillie, who'd fought in North Africa and Italy during WW2 said, "Good riddance! When I was a Jo'burg miner, kaffirs working for me had no brains and no emotions. I punched one in a cage and killed him. In Abysinnia I fought kaffirs..."

"Voertsek!" I said.

We chatted to friends and family, emigrating the same time as us. They would prosper in Auckland. On the way to say, "Goodbye," another family had stopped at Westville Pavilion Pick 'n Pay, and in the carpark their son screamed, "They're shooting us!" while tsotsis sprayed the carpark with AK-47s.

Leah's family said tearful, "Goodbye" at Louis Botha Airport. We boarded a Singapore Airlines jumbo jet and flew over Durban, population about four million, about the same as NZ's population. I looked through the porthole, viewing Valley-of-a-Thousand Hills, Inanda, mud huts, Berea, sepia Umgeni, Blue Lagoon far below and said, "Anyway Azania, I reckon over the last eleven years, we've chongololo-trekked over 300 000 kays. Next Stop Makouvlei. Other trekkers will follow us southeast."

"Do we know the enormity of what we're doing?" asked Leah.

"NZ? Dunno. Since our return from London thirteen years ago, I do know the enormity of what we did. All our SA lives, we've endured black and white nationalisms and militarisations, caught between the claws of northern communism and southern fascism and racism. You taught in six schools in Natal and Cape. You led three play-groups in Vrystaat and Cape, and taught extra-maths in the Cape. You birthed our sons in the Cape on Buffels / Buffalo Rivers, and survived a destructive Vrystaat whirlwind."

"We rebuilt your parents' basement flat in Durban, used by your brother Al, and your sister Jay's family, and us. We bought and sold two plots in Pringle Bay. We bought and sold two houses in Durban and one in East London. We made maningi-money, which we're using in emigration costs. Sixty percent of the remainder we're chucking away with bad exchange rates."

"During Azania's sweet-thorn revolution from apartheid to democracy, I rolled two cars and survived a company-car blow-out at 140 kays per hour. I went deaf while working in seven teaching and personnel jobs. Since leaving Durban in 1984, we trekked many times from Kleinzee, QwaQwa, Koffiefontein and East London back to Durban, to see your Mackintosh family. Only once did your dad object to us arriving at 294 Freemantle Road after midnight. My response: 'I've come to see brain-damaged Fraser. If I was ever in the same position, I hope someone would do the same for me.' Your dad silenced out."

"Woza Moya - Come Spirit. My ancestor Hendrik Jacobus Hendrikz eloped with his contessa Caroline Antoinette De Sanderes to SA after the French Revolution, now we're trekking to NZ after the SA Revolution."

"Kiss Africa quick-quick! Ja, hamba kahle."

Coda: Unrest 2008. 42 African refugees killed, mainly Zimbabwians, thousands displaced throughout SA in xenophobic unrest, where SA blacks felt 3000 000 Zimbabwean refugees from Mugabe's tyranny were taking scarce SA jobs from them. Lights of SA went out when Eskom failed, and after ANC's Zulu Zuma had defeated disconnected Xhosa Mbeki at the ANC's 2007 Polokwane presidential conference, with new ANC president Zuma and his groundlings victoriously singing, "Letha umshini Wam!..." - "Bring me my machine gun!..." (Mark Gevisser, A Legacy of Liberation, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2009).

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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