The tale of two wives
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 regret it now, of course!