Apartheid in South Africa has now been gone more than fifteen years but the heroes of their struggle to achieve a Black majority-run democracy are still being revealed. Some individuals toiled publicly, but most worked tirelessly in the shadows to improve the welfare of the Black and Coloured populations that had been so neglected. Nelson Mandela was still in prison; clean water and sanitation barely existed; AIDS was beginning to orphan an entire generation.
Meanwhile a white, Jewish, middle class woman, joined with Tutu, Millie, Ivy, Zora and other concerned Black women, respectfully called Mamas, to help those most in need, often being beaten and arrested by white security police.
This book tells the story of these women and others who have spent their adult lives making South Africa a better place for those who were the country's most disadvantaged.
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THE HUMAN SPIRITApartheids Unheralded Heroes
By Carole Eglash-Kosoff
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Carole Eglash-Kosoff
All right reserved.
It was just beginning to get light as the sun began to peek from the coastal mountains behind Signal Hill and its taller neighbor, Lion's Head. Signal Hill had gotten its name for being a beacon directed at ships coming into Cape Town's broad, welcoming harbor. Together these peaks sandwiched Sea Point against the ocean and shaded the small homes nestled below. The pigeons that had made their nests in the nearby trees were beginning to coo-coo their morning racket.
I stirred in bed and then rose quietly, not wanting to awaken my husband, Michael, still sound asleep next to me. I could hear the sound of the milk truck outside, delivering the daily crates of milk and dairy products to my neighborhood. Samuel, our milkman, would not come to work for another hour.
"Helen, why do you wake up so early?" Michael said in a voice half covered by his pillow.
I started to reply but by that time he had drifted off again. I had gotten used to telling time in the morning by the sounds around me. I hadn't needed an alarm clock for more years than I could remember. I knew I had another hour before my three children needed to be up and readied for school. Meanwhile, sitting there, I began to plan my day.
I needed to go back into the townships. My first stop will be Langa, then Gugulethu. I tried to remember when the police changed shifts in each township. Some of the Security Forces were lazier, a few might even ignore me, but those instances were becoming less frequent. Racial tensions and violence on both sides of the township barricades were increasing.
Yesterday I'd bought extra loaves of bread and several bags of vegetables to distribute to a few of the crèches we'd started and helped in the past few years. Crèches are small, informal township preschools and they are always having difficulty making ends meet. So many parents who left their children had little money to pay the women who took care of their young ones. The food was already stashed in the boot of my old white Mercedes. I had hoped to stop by Woolworth's and pick up some fresh packages of underwear for some of the township children but I'd run out of time. There was always more to do than hours in the day.
Michael mumbled something and then turned over and began to snore. It wasn't one of his more endearing qualities but I wouldn't trade him for anything. He was my soul mate.
I smiled as several thoughts hit me, mixing and colliding like bumper cars. I think I'll see what extra clothes the children might have that they don't need. They're always outgrowing one thing or another and the clothes are almost like new.
My two daughters, Shannon and her younger sister, Donna, are only four years apart and share adjoining rooms. Shannon is nearly a teenager and loves to disagree with everything I say. She is also increasingly militant about her privacy. It's impossible not to notice her breasts growing. I've tried to discuss things with her but it doesn't always work out well. She's become a delightful young woman and I am so proud of her, except when she complains about sharing a bathroom with her sister.
Both girls are still asleep when I enter, the only light coming from the hall. I go to the girls' drawers and pull some tops and clothes I haven't seen them wear for awhile. They'll be fine without these, I thought, they'll never even miss them.
I move on to my young son, Avins', room. I was pulling extra pairs of shoes and various pieces of clothing from his dresser drawers when I hear his tiny voice behind me.
"Mommy, you're taking my things again."
"Yes, my darling. You have more than you need and many of the children that I visit in the townships are barefoot and have so little."
"You must leave my red underpants. You can take other things but please, please, leave my red underpants. Those are my favorites."
I go over and hug him. He is a very different, a very special, child, and he and I have a unique bond that never fails to lift my spirits.
"I will definitely leave your red underpants, Avin, but the children in the township will be so grateful for the other clothes. Now, lie down. You don't need to get up for another hour."
It was the early 1980's and by the time these morning rituals were taking place, I, Helen Lieberman, have been working in the Black and Coloured townships surrounding Cape Town in my troubled country of South Africa for nearly two decades. In the middle of the worst times of apartheid, here I was, a middle-Carole class, white, Jewish woman defying my family, my friends and neighbors, and the law, for the single reason that I knew that it was the right thing to do.
I am not political. I don't march. I don't organize protests. No one asked me to get involved. When it all started neither the Whites I encountered nor the Blacks who lived there even wanted me around. The Blacks who had been forcibly resettled into segregated communities had every reason to be suspicious of a White person wandering around their dirt streets. Men were likely undercover spies for the hated Security forces. And a young White woman ... she had to be daft! The police wanted no White people in the townships. It was against the law and there would have been only one reason they were there ... to agitate and stir things up.
I was born in 1941, the eldest of five children. Europe was at war but it was a long way away. Here in Cape Town our life was the family. My father was a dealer in building materials and secondhand equipment. My mother was a stern, unhappy woman. She wasn't happy when the government told us to move to a White-only area on the outskirts of the city. Everything was less convenient. She wasn't happy raising five children and I always imagined she wasn't terribly happy with my father. We were Jewish. I learned that there three different Jewish groups. There was Orthodox, they were the most religious. There was the Reform, they were the least religious and there was the Conservative, sort of in the middle. When I heard this as a child for the first time I thought of the story of the Three Bears ... one bed too hard, one bed too soft, and one bed just right.
My parents practiced Conservative Judaism and belonged to a nearby temple. They celebrated Shabbat every Friday evening, lighting the candles and saying a blessing over the challah, the Jewish egg bread.
I tried to learn the rituals my parents taught me and my siblings but it wasn't for me and the more my mother criticized me for doing something incorrectly, the further I withdrew from the family, particularly my mother. The older I got, the pricklier the relationship became.
I felt isolated, unable to share my feelings with either my parents or my sisters. I stayed in my room or sat in the library at school. I was a good student, more because I devoted a great deal of time to my studies. I was uncomfortable in social situations. I had only a few friends at that time and my siblings were too busy with their friends to care about what I did.
As a teenager my work at school suffered. I lacked self-confidence. Answering a question at class was an excruciating experience. I had bonded with very few of the other girls and none of the boys.
In 1956 the government made us move again. It seems that the neighborhood we had settled in would now be defined as a "Black" area. We and all our White neighbors would have to move. Our new home, in Sea Point, had a view of the ocean and fresh breezes, but the move did nothing to buoy my self-confidence.
Each day as I walked alone from my new school to our new home I'd pass the home of this boy I'd heard about who was afflicted with polio and was confined to his house. I had no interest in boys and I was sure they certainly would have no interest in anyone as dull as me.
He'd say hello in a loud voice when I passed by and invite me to stop and visit. He'd ask me questions about my classes, my books, even my family ... anything to slow me down. At first I ignored him, but he seemed so sweet and I could tell he was lonely.
He told me that while he was still partially paralyzed his mother would set him in a comfortable chair out on their balcony to catch the warm afternoon sun. He was well enough to sit up, but he had very limited movement in his limbs.
Eventually I agreed to join him on the balcony to share a cold drink in the afternoon. It became a regular thing most afternoons. He was lonely but I also knew he liked me. And, I liked him. We weren't nervous with one another and we could chat for hours about anything. He was different from any boy I'd met and I think he felt that I was different from other girls he'd met.
Michael's parents, the Liebermans, were both very involved with local Jewish life and the small Jewish community in an around Cape Town. His mother was a leading activist in the South African Zionist movement that was pushing the national government to support the new young state of Israel.
After a few months I began being invited for Jewish holiday meals as well as Friday Shabbat dinners. It was far more comfortable being with Michael and his parents than facing the tensions at home and my mother's continuing harping.
But the same Jewish rituals I'd always ignored at home were practiced at the Liebermans and I didn't know or understand them. At my first Rosh Hashanah meal away from home I made a terrible blunder by placing my meat fork in a dairy dish to the stern glance and disappointment of Michael's father. It was a 'shanda', a shame, for a nice Jewish girl to have made such an error. Michael's family began to encourage me to learn more about myself and my Jewishness. We also spoke about what was going on in the Jewish community and the world at large. I became more aware of the holocaust and racism and civil rights. Subjects I'd always ignored.
I completed high school. I got my 'matric', my graduation certificate. I wanted to go to college but I was terrible at regurgitating facts back to my teachers. I told Michael how worried I was that I might not be a good enough student but he bolstered my confidence.
"You're bright. You like to read and you are really good at expressing yourself in a clear and lucid manner," he said.
I became convinced that this was what I wanted to do ... teach others to speak ... to think and analyze and voice their thoughts. For the first time in my life I was optimistic and excited about what the future direction of my life might hold.
Chapter TwoGENERATIONS OF MISTRUST
The end of World War II renewed South Africa's concerns about race. Blacks and Coloureds had served with distinction in the NEAS, the Non-European Army Services, and the NMC, the Native Military Corps. As these men returned, they wanted their country to offer some recognition of the sacrifices they had made on behalf of their homeland. They shared a dream that the downfall of Nazi fascism would bring some shift toward racial equality in their lives.
It was not to be. The skilled jobs these men were taught in the service while White soldiers were off fighting were no longer open to them as civilians. They had learned to be electricians, mechanics and plumbers. Many of them, both men and women, had even received a basic education that had previously been denied. Now, the war ended, they were once again unemployed. Lacking alternatives, they were encouraged to return to the mines or their rural tribal areas.
Small grants or loans were available to those Blacks who were disabled or who could prove a financial loss as a result of their military duty, but these loans were small and difficult to obtain. If an ex-soldier could prove, however, that he had a job more than two miles from work, he was given a bicycle. A bicycle AND a suit of clothes! This was the extent of the White government's largesse to its minority veterans.
White returning soldiers, meanwhile, were given housing subsidies and access to a university education. The difference in treatment based solely on skin color was a national disgrace but well in keeping with the racial policies that had always existed in South Africa.
A small group of irate White ex-military men formed an organization called The Torch Commandos to argue for the equal treatment of all men who served, despite their race. They signed petitions and gave speeches, but not enough people cared. The intentions of their small group were honorable but their efforts failed to achieve any results. No one in power intended to alter the status quo.
South Africa was growing. The country that had begun as a strict Calvinist Dutch colony was being diluted by an influx of foreigners. Whites of all faiths were emigrating from war-ravaged Europe. The Black and Indian populations were continuing to grow as tens of thousands moved to the cities from poor farm land in the eastern part of the country or from nearby countries in the midst of their own bloody conflicts. They hoped the riches of their new homeland might provide them better economic opportunities.
The election of D.F. Mahan in 1948 brought an end to any hopes for a racial consensus. The country would remain in the hands of White men raised in the faith of the Dutch Reform Church. Their apartheid theories were enacted into law. The first laws, passed between 1950 -1953, legalized the framework that would allow them to maintain White supremacy and a plentiful Black labor force.
In 1949 the Population Registration Act required the racial classification and registration of all South African adults. By 1950 the Mahan government really swung into action. They passed the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act that made any interracial marriage a criminal act. On its heels they passed The Suppression of Communism Act that assumed all anti-apartheid activities to be related to the Communist party and made membership in the party a criminal act. And, before they took another breath they passed The Group Areas Act that allowed the government to determine where citizens of different races would be allowed to live and own property.
Two years later they enacted The Natives Act that required all Blacks and Coloureds to carry a Pass that indicated where they were permitted to work and reside. Finally, in 1953, The Bantu Education Act brought all schools under government supervision and allowed it to determine how Blacks would be educated. White supremacy was not to be questioned!
The initial response by Blacks and their supporters to this array of new laws were more frequent strikes and boycotts. The largest activist groups represented a cross-section of the country's races and geography. They included the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party, the Indian National Congress and the Pan-African Congress. The leaders of this opposition included Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and Walter Sisulu, leaders of the African National Congress, Yusuf Dadoo, President of the Indian National Congress, and J.B. Marks of the Mineworker's Union.
These groups coalesced around a campaign to defy unjust laws throughout the country. The South African Army and local police forces didn't hesitate to respond. Demonstrators were shot, jailed and harassed. Some just disappeared.
There were nearly one million Indians in South Africa. Their parents had been brought in as indentured servants by the British in the 19th century to work the coffee fields. They were treated with the same disdain as native Blacks and they were easily persuaded to join the struggle against the new White supremacist attitudes raging through the country. Dadoo and others shared Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence.
South Africa's wealth had long come from its natural resources of gold, diamonds, uranium, platinum and other precious metals. Without a cheap and complacent labor force willing to go deep into the earth, this wealth could not be mined.
Black miners had long been recruited from all over the country and herded like cattle into barrack-like compounds. Poor food and minimal health care reduced their life span by decades. Mine safety was non-existent. These men, like the tools they drilled and dug with, were expendable.
As early as 1946, John 'Beaver' Marks organized a historic strike of 100,000 of the country's 300,000 gold miners, seeking better conditions and a fairer wage. Police reaction was swift. Bullets and batons wreaked havoc on the miners. Men were killed or beaten and the strike was short lived. Marks continued his efforts to get better conditions for the miners until 1963 when the government gave up tolerating him and he was exiled from the country.
Excerpted from THE HUMAN SPIRIT by Carole Eglash-Kosoff Copyright © 2010 by Carole Eglash-Kosoff. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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