Friday, March 03, 2006

The tale of two wives

Some of the most high profile casualties of the ANC's fight against apartheid were white, largely because they were white. Even the reporting on the war against racism was racist!

Two of the most prominent figures that spring to mind are Ruth First and Albie Sachs.

Ruth First and her husband, Joe Slovo, were both members of the South African Communist Party, an ally of the ANC, and spent many years in exile. She was assassinated by the South African Bureau of State Security (BOSS) when she opened a parcel bomb sent to her by them in Maputo in 1982.

Albie Sachs, now a justice of South Africa's Constitutional Court, was car-bombed by South Africa's security forces in Maputo in 1988. He lost most of his right arm and the sight of one eye.

At the time of both murders, being fervently anti-apartheid and having spent the first 12 years of my life in Maputo, I was very taken up by the circumstances surrounding these attacks.

So, what's with the history lesson you may be asking?

Well, there are two reasons for it. Firstly, South Africa has just held its municipal elections in which the ANC has got more than 70% of the vote so talking about the history of South African politics isn't entirely inappropriate. Secondly, and more pertinent in a personal way, is the connection between Sally (mentioned below) and Albie Sachs.

There’s a possible third one in that today is the last day for voting for the SA blog awards. Posting a very South African story today may prompt you to go vote for me but I’m not that much of a hooker.

Sally and Norman were our next door neighbours in Kenilworth, Cape Town. Norman introduced himself to me and my wife at about 2am one morning soon after we’d moved into the flats next door. We’d just returned from a party and were taking our dog for a walk.

'Come in for sundowners,' he boomed at us after he'd established where we lived.

A strange invitation at that time of the morning made even stranger by the fact that Norman was obviously way beyond retirement age. It was the start of a very close friendship that lasted many years.

Norman was a retired french horn player who'd spent most of his life playing for the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra. His life revolved around music, literature, politics, current affairs and gossip. He was one of the most sociable people I've ever met and was constantly entertaining and making new friends. All of this was oiled with liberal quantities of beer and wine. Having been a musician all his life, he'd never had much money but he was never short of alcohol with which to ply his many guests - he was a master at making home-made wines from the guavas and oranges that grew in his garden and brewing beer from specially imported hops.

Sally, his second wife, was very accommodating towards the crowds of people that constantly flowed through their home but she'd sometimes get tired and irritable. Twenty years earlier, she'd been badly injured by one of the ex-RAF men who depended on the charity that she worked for. Although she could be very sharp and lucid at times, friends who knew her from before said that the head injury from the attack had badly affected her.

Over the many years that we knew them, we became very close and got to know a lot about their lives. Neither had had children and Norman had been married before.

His first wife was Albie Sachs's mother.

Had it not been for Sally, we’d not have known about that part of his life. Norman died before Albie Sachs was allowed to return to South Africa but he never talked about him or his previous marriage. Sally told us that it hadn't been a happy one and that he'd not gone on well with the Sachs children.

After Norman died, Sally's family put her in the Jewish Old Age home in Vredehoek, on the slopes of Table Mountain. We visited her regularly and soon noticed that she was especially friendly with the woman who occupied the room next to her, a woman we got to know and like.

She was Norman's first wife, Albie Sachs's mother.

A year after Sally died, during the time that South Africa was still getting used to the unbanning of previously banned political parties, I was on a plane to Johannesburg. Sitting across the aisle from me was Albie Sachs. He was an object of great curiosity amongst his fellow passengers - one of those evil communists was sitting in their midst! There were several times during the flight when he was interrupted by passengers who wanted to talk to him. He was friendly and relaxed and talked politics with them. I also wanted to talk to him but I wanted to talk to him about Norman.

I didn't.

I regret it now, of course!


Blogger xmichra said...

i would have been one of those people bugging him. I have this unfourtunate thing called 'lack of tact' and it bursts out at times like that!
Just ask the Edmonton Eskimo's (football team for the CFL). Or Queen Elizabeth... hehe.

1:59 pm  
Blogger whatalotoffun said...

Hi. we will only get the results on Saturday. about the apartheid time my dad them grew up then. Glad I did not. So you know SA well so you know PE where I come from.

2:37 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

xmichra: I often wish I were more like that! So what's the story about QE?

whatalotoffun: I'm South African so I know SA very well. Although I was born and bred in Moz, I moved to Cape Town when I went to university and stayed there. My home is still there even though I spend most of the time in the UK. Also, I went to boarding school in Mpumalanga.

I have spent time in East London and the Transkei so I've driven past PE but I've never actually been there.

2:52 pm  
Blogger Terri said...

Never been to PE? Shocking! Best beaches in the country.
I'm afraid I never paid too much attention to politics. All I knew was that when the army trucks parked outside our school I felt safe.

9:34 pm  
Blogger Terri said...

PS It's all over now bar the fat lady singing. Good luck!

9:35 pm  
Anonymous xmichra said...

not really so much a story there. See, I used to work for a project called 'read canada'. It was basically me and this other girl going around reading to bunches of groups of kids, and playing games and such.. rewarding them with books and teaching how reading is fun. It was a really rewarding job, probablythe most rewarding I have ever held, and it was all financed through the government.
Well, June was coming up, and our funding got cut for three weeks so that the Queen (who would be visiting for a day for some reason.. a celebration of some nature)could have first rate accomidations for her stay. It was directly cut from our program, and we were told that 'it was a higher priority to service her majisty at this time'. yadda yadda. So the day comes, and I went over to the park (we used to read for the day camp kids, so this was no biggy.. and the festivity was being held litterally accross the road), picked up my group of little kiddies, and marched over to the 'meeting grounds' to great the queen. When i got up there I was SOOO nervous (I was about to meet the Queen after all), but I just went up and asked "I really hope your stay is comfortable, since the funds to let you sleep at night was taken from these kids reading program. How do you sleep?"
Imagine my surprize when she stood up and talked to her * insert whatever she was*, and then told me she had no idea what I was talking about and to have a good day. Nothing.
So I guess I didn't achieve anything, well a write up in the paper the next day.. but that's it.
Nothing big, but I said my peace.

1:00 am  
Blogger Frog with a Blog said...

This Norman guy sounds like a fascinating chap.
I've been to PE and I must admit that it's not the nicest place i've seen in SA. It actually scared the shit out of me (and I've been to downtown Joburg, Soweto, Alexandra... which never felt as creepy). I don't know what it was, but the emptiness of it all at night was just scary; the beaches were great though.
Gosh, reading this makes me want to go back really. Nomad, are you getting sponsored by the SA tourist office?

10:41 am  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

terri: Looks like I shall have to make amends and visit PE sometime even if micke found the place scary. Good luck to you to once the fat lady stops singing.

xmichra: that's a good story - I'm surprised you didn't land up doing some sort of activist work as you've grown older.

micke: Norman was lovely and fascinating! That post makes you want to visit? But it's largely historical and very personal as opposed to rabbiting on how beautiful the country is and how much fun there is to be had there.

8:48 am  
Blogger CTG said...

Hi RN. Hope you had a great weekend. Norman sounded like a most interesting man. PS - I have also never been to PE and I was last in JHB when I was 3. I never grew up in the Apartheid era. I was about 9 when it stopped but I didn't even know what it actually was till later. I'm glad I didn't grow up then.

9:09 am  
Blogger BUDDESS said...

Fascinating stuff!! You make me wish I knew Norman. All you guys thinking about visiting PE, please contact me and I will give you a guided tour. Like anywhere in the world, there are suburbs you should avoid and maybe frog with a blog ended up in the wrong part of PE. I grew up in the apartheid era. I went to all white schools and was already working when the riots started. I worked in the suburbs next to the worst of the riots and some days we were sent home after arriving at work because we might not have been able to leave later. I worked for the Chamber of Industries and that was where all the marches took place. We often had sit-ins in our offices. That was scary.

10:05 am  
Blogger Babsbitchin said...

Nomad, this is an excellent story. I skipped right past it, somehow it didn't catch my eye at first. Very intersting and I loved how you wrote in such a manner, as if it all came full circle.

1:32 pm  
Blogger whatalotoffun said...

You must visit PE (Nomad and Frog with a blog) the Friendly and windy city although the wind blows more in Cape Town than in PE. If you ever do let me know will gladly show you around (me and Buddess). Mr Froggie you must have landed on the wrong spots becuase those spots are scary. My dad was in the police force so he showed us the video tapes that was scary (shops burnt down shoes, clothes food everything lying in the streets). And some horrific ordeals what they had to see. It still gives my dad some nightmares. I am glad everything is over.

9:49 am  
Blogger Rob7534 said...

Nomad, I had to litterally draw out the names, and their relationships to each other on paper! I could not wrap my mind around the circular path of the story!

I think I got it now. You knew Albie Sach's father, and his then wife Sally. And Sally became good friends with Albie's mother while they were in a retirement home together? Right?

Ok. You're just dropping names from all your famous friends and aquaintences.

10:54 am  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

ctg: yes, you are lucky not to have grown up during that time.

buddess & wotalottafun: thanks for the invite - will definitely contact you should I pass that way.

babs: glad you liked the story - I hope you didn't find it confusing like rob did. :-)

rob: almost right but not quite right. I knew Sally and Norman. Sally was Norman's second wife. His first wife was Albie's mother. He wasn't Albie's father, ie he was Albie's stepfather. After Norman died and Sally went to the old age home, she was in a room next door to Norman's first wife, ie Albie's mother. Got it now, you bozo? :-)

As regards famous people, the only one of the famous people mentioned in this post that I got within chatting distance from, was Albie when I sat close to him on the aeroplane.

So, no name-dropping this time! :-)

11:19 am  
Blogger Frog with a Blog said...

OK, I'll make sure to give a second chance to PE. I promise, but only if I get a private tour by Buddess and Whatalotoffun.
When I went to PE, I had just been staying for a week in Plett, so of course PE seemed a bit big and scary after paradise.
I can still drewl over a good ostrich steak and your delicious wines though... hm...

11:51 am  
Blogger Babsbitchin said...

I want the tour too. And I promise to behave, well, I'll try my best. Nomad, thanks for the link, I am honored.XoXo

10:07 pm  
Anonymous Tammy said...

Isn't it amazing how many people we got exposed to. I worked for one of Nelson Mandela's personal advisors when he was still on Robben Island and through him I met a lot of big wigs in the ANC and PAC. I think South Africans have lives a million lives in one. We can't look at the people we did not meet just focus on those we did and be thankful that we are richer for the experience.

10:24 pm  
Blogger portuguesa nova said...

Have you seen the movie In My Country with Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche?

Truly one of the most horrid, American-centric films ever, ever, ever. I'd be curious to know what you thought of it.

3:41 am  
Blogger Rob7534 said...

I got it now Nomad... you slime! :)

4:51 am  

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