In 1982 I married across the colour line. Determined to make the apartheid government’s life hell, I bought a house in Observatory, even though it had to be registered in my husband’s name because as someone classified coloured, I had no rights to property in a white area.
We chose Observatory, unofficially considered a grey area, because of its lefty student and academic credentials. Before we went to Namibia to get married, we decided to tell our future neighbours we would be moving in next to them and we’d like to ensure that we would be left in peace.
The white neighbour, who was quite a drunkard, responded: “Here, we mind our own business. On your right is a family of alcoholics and on your left a lesbian couple, so feel free to join us.”
Indirectly, he intimated conspiratorially, “we all are bunch of deviants, just join the club”. Observatory was the right place for a mixed couple with all its Bohemians and anti-establishment students, academics and hipsters.
No one cared that “I was decreasing the value of their property”, a title I had become used to in our subsequent neighbourhood of University Estate.
After work, my husband and I would play bat and ball games on the patch of grass across the road from us. One day, out of the blue, I was prohibited from playing there because of my colour. Only white people were allowed in the swimming pool and before the “take our beaches back campaigns” of the 1980s began, coloured people felt emboldened to use the pool without state permission.
By now I had been assimilated into the neighbourhood, not least because of my education, and neighbours increasingly forgot that I was not white and would complain about the coloured kids who came to swim down the street, illegally.
Three days ago I visited a former colleague in the area. I drove around to see how it had changed. The pool was jam-packed with mostly coloured people, umbrellas covered the lawn as people picnicked, swam and had fun. Reminiscing how often people of colour were chased away from that pool and other public facilities, I rejoiced at how much our social life had changed since 1994, although we often forget what life was like under apartheid.
I remember taking my five-year-old sister for an outing and stopping at a poor man’s McDonald’s at the Sanlam Centre in Parow, only to be told to use the back door, or leave. My sister exclaimed how rude the waiter was, repeatedly asking me why they told us to go “round the back” of the kiosk.
I remember how painful it was trying to explain to an innocent child, whose parents thought she was the greatest, that her colour prevented her from being served. Her innocence eroded over time as I had to explain why we were not allowed onto some beaches, some amenities and some parks.
We have come a long way since 1994. But when race baiters make it their full-time business to scour social media for “racist” tweets in order to crucify their next victim in public, it is clear that they are no different to the censor board under apartheid, whose full-time job it was to search for anything vaguely resembling “tits and bums” in order to ban them. Shame!