During Apartheid thousands of Coloureds and Blacks were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to townships surrounding Cape Town. The most famous case of relocation, includes the stories of those that were removed from the beautiful coastal city of Simonstown, which was declared “White-only” at the beginning of Apartheid. The coloureds who lived, went to school, and had made their homes in Simonstown were sent letters notifying them that they were to leave the city by the end of the month. They were to move to Oceanview. Despite the name, Oceanview has no view of the ocean. In fact it is located in the valley of the mountains…basically desert.
This is where I spent my weekend home stay. Oceanview.
Friday night, us 117 American students arrived at Oceanview HS with our bags packed, ready for a weekend with another family. As the bus pulled into the dirt parking lot, my stomach turned with nerves. I knew that the crime rates were higher in Oceanview, the families had been through struggles, and most likely I would feel incredibly uncomfortable throughout my entire stay.
As I entered the school gymnasium and reached my designated table, I was greeted by an older couple, Lucy and Clive. First impressions: Clive was quiet and Lucy had a moustache. Ha. Also, to me, Lucy was white. Not coloured. I was confused after expecting to live with a dark-skinned family for the weekend.
We were shortly joined by Mary, the girl I stayed with in the hotel, and I felt much better that I would be with an American that I knew and liked.
As we ate dinner, there was very little small talk that occurred between our new “parents” and us. I watched as the woman across from me ate entirely with her fingers. I tried not to cringe as she licked each one after the meal, hoping that it would be over quickly. In fact I remember hoping the entire weekend would be over quickly. I just wanted to go back to my UCT dorm, however crappy it was, and live my life.
We left the school, climbed into a small car, and headed to our new temporary house. It was small, like I had expected. However, it was extremely homey, which I had not. When we first entered, we were bombarded with pictures of Lucy and Clive’s 2 daughters and 5 grandchildren. The smiles beaming from all corners, made the small house feel like a home. We went through them one by one, learning of each person’s stories.
The most interesting, of course, was the oldest grandson who was almost completely blind. Lucy explained that he was 100% blind in one eye, and 80% in the other. The picture that was on their wall was one of complete joy. Pedro, the boy, looked so gleeful during what was clearly a professional photoshoot. His smile was huge, mouth half-open laughing, and his eyes in two separate directions due to his disability. The image almost contradicted itself. It depicted such happiness, but clearly shows the problems he faces everyday.
Our first night with the couple was spent at their friend’s house, who also hosted American students. Each and every person at the house was incredibly friendly, offering snack after snack, and drink after drink. By the end of the night, everyone was on their feet dancing to some sort of techno-like music. We fit nearly a dozen and a half people into one small lounge…some dancing on the couch or table….all of the American girls with a baby or toddler in their arms. What a cultural experience. A family experience.
Again, as I have seen time and time again in this country, the people may be living through incredible struggles, but they are always happy, appreciative, and willing to reach out to anyone else in need.
The next morning, after Lucy and Clive insisted that we slept in, we heard story after story over a wonderful breakfast. Lucy was so full of experiences that she was never afraid to share with Mary and me. The most interesting story that we heard was that of an Austrian man that Lucy and Clive had taken into their home about 3 years back. Lucy explained his story as one of a successful businessman who lost everything to alcoholism. After slowing falling apart, as well as having most of his belongings and money stolen by his past housemates, he came to know Lucy and Clive who took him into their home…without hesitation.
Shortly after he arrived, however, he became extremely ill and was unable to leave his bed. Lucy, despite having a still-shattered ankle from an accident, and Clive, who can no longer work due to severe back problems, took care of the man. They would carry him from bed to the bath, and back. Fed him. Read to him. Everything.
When the illness reached it worse, Lucy explained that he could no longer reach the bathroom in time, so she would continually have to clean him in bed. The man, however, was so embarrassed that he would take the clothes (after dirtying them) and hide them in his room so Lucy or Clive wouldn’t find them. You can just imagine the smell.
In the end, sadly, he passed away due to the illness in their house. Actually, he passed away in the bed that Mary and I slept in for the weekend – It was a little uncomfortable falling asleep that night.
In the morning on Saturday we went to volunteer with Lucy at the soup kitchen. I actually spent more time taking pictures than serving soup (they didn’t need me I promise!). The rest of our Saturday afternoon was a combination of stories and meeting their children/grandchildren. We also made a quick trip to the beach.
On Saturday night I attended church with our new “parents”. It was quite the experience to be part of a Catholic service, surrounded by coloureds and blacks. Of course I haven’t had a lot of experiences with religious services...but I do think that those who were with me made it the unique experience it was. The thought of originally going, when Lucy asked, made me uncomfortable. However, as most things are, it was worth my time.
Sunday. Our last day with the old couple.
For lunch, their youngest daughter came over with her family. Her two sons, Pedro and Kerran were absolutely wonderful. Pedro, the blind grandchild, was 12, while Kerran was just over 1 year. Now, I’m sure it sounds unrealistic, but had I not been told Pedro was blind I would have never noticed. I found myself continually impressed by the normalness of his life. He played cards, took care of his little brother, helped Clive with the Braai pit (Barbeque), etc. Only once did he mention that he couldn’t do something because of his disability. His mother responded, “Pedro you are fine. If you can’t see then just feel.” Never once did his parents or grandparents treat him as anything but a normal 12 year old boy.
During our last hour with the entire family, I showed Pedro my camera and he ended up taking some wonderful pictures. A blind child took beautiful pictures. Sounds astonishing doesn’t it?
After an entire weekend hearing about Lucy and Clive’s recent life, Mary and I finally felt comfortable to ask about their experiences through the Apartheid. Mary and I initially asked how old they were when the segregation started…of course the answer wasn’t just a number, but a long story and trip to Simonstown.
They first explained that they had both grown up in Simonstown, just down the street from each other. Lucy said that she and Clive had been friends from the age of 8.
“He was 8 and I was 7. He was the first person to ask me to play with him after I moved into town. I should have know then that it was love,” she said with the cutest smile on her face. Clive just held her hand and smiled too.
When they were both around the age of 16, their parents received the inevitable letter that they were to leave their homes and move to Oceanview. Clive explained that at the time, Oceanview was even more of a desert. “When the wind blew you couldn’t see anything…it was just sand everywhere,” he described as we drove through the Township.
Once the stories became more in-depth, we loaded into the car and headed to Simonstown. We drove the old streets and were shown both the houses they grew up in, and eventually had to leave behind. Lucy told us how there was no time to pack, and especially to sell the house to make money. It happened too quickly to really do anything.
The one story that will always stay with me from my visit was one from Lucy’s childhood. She always told us that after school she and her best friend, a white girl, would go to her friend’s house and eat peanut butter sandwiches. In fact, she showed us the house, and the step, where they used to sit to eat.
I asked, as we walked passed, what had happened to that family during the segregation. Did they realize what was happening? How did the white families react to their neighbors being forced to leave?
She responded simply. “They wanted us out.”
Prior to visiting Oceanview, Apartheid seemed like such a foreign concept. It was a terrible thing that occurred many many years ago, that is no longer remembered or acknowledged.
After visiting Oceanview, and developing a second family that personally experienced, and is continuing to experience, the affects of the segregation and racism, I can feel how real and current the Apartheid is.
I am really looking forward to the many weekends I will go back to visit Lucy and Clive. I promised that I would bring my mom over for dinner when she visits, and I can’t wait for her to meet them, and hear their stories.
For all of you: do something that will make you nervous…and change your life.
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