From SEGREGATION to APARTHEID. I was 12 years old in 1947 , a year before APARTHEID became a reality. It was the year I discovered I had a new identity. The boys in standard five from Coronationville Primary School were travelling by tram from Westdene to Fordsburg to attend the weekly woodwork class, when I discovered I had a new identity – HOTNOT! “staanop en sit agter hotnot !”, the white conductor shouted at me.
I was born in 1935 , in City and Suburban , Johannesburg. My earliest recollection is the night it was raining, the house in 20th Street, Vrededorp was flooded! My mother was trying to pacify my crying sister, when she slipped and fell and started crying! I sat quietly on a chair and my father was away on the train where he was working as a Bedding Boy. The following year, I recall seeing my father carrying a small white coffin containing my baby brother’s dead body — I was 3 years old. Little could I know that I would be attending the EurAfrican Training Centre, as a high school student. Vrededorp I discovered in 1949 was a highly racially mixed area, with white , Indian, black and coloured communities concentrated in certain streets. My last memory of Fietas (popular name for Vrededorp) was my mother shielding me from my father who was angry with me for breaking his carpenter ruler.
By the time my 5th birthday came around, we were living in Coronationville Township, a non-economic housing scheme about 6 miles (about 10 kms) from the Joburg CBD. The Western Native Township , Newclare– highly racially integrated area: predominantly coloured , black , Indian and Chinese. The last two remaining grounds were the business owners , including Poonees Funeral Undertakers.
With Britain’s declaration of War on Germany in 1939, the South African government was in turmoil whether to support Britain or remain neutral. General Jan Smuts was appointed wartime prime minister in support of Britain. My father and many of his colleagues at the South African Railways volunteered to join the Cape Corps in 1940. He was to return from North Africa in 1943 when I was in grade two.
During his service up North , the Provincial government had built the primary school and started building the Coronation Hospital.My sister and brother and I were at a mixed nursery school in Newclare. The soldier’s wives were paid an allowance of one pound and ten shillings. So my mother, like most of her generation worked in the clothing industry .
The principal of the Coronation Primary School was a white man called Mr. Middleton. There were coloured children primarily with black, Indian, Chinese and Portuguese children. We were very happy at school without any racial sensitivities or inhibitions. All our teachers were coloured and highly dedicated to their vocation.
The Advent of APARTHEID! Mr. Francis , teacher with the sniffles and continually tugging up his pants, was wishing us well and good progress as we were waiting to proceed to standard five. The boys in our group were keen to meet our new teacher who had recently been discharged from the Cape Corps, an ex Regimental Sergeant Major! Mr. Jacobs was indeed an R.S.M. We were standing at our desks, waiting for permission to take our seats. 1947 was an exciting year with most students becoming teenagers and traveling to Fordsburg for woodwork classes for the boys and domestic science for the girls. The year when boys discovered girls and girls turn into gigglers! We were regimented and made good progress in Mr. Jacobs class. With my dad back at work for the SAR, my mother and children travelled by train to Durban for the December school holidays. The Cosmos Hotel was Indian owned with Indians and Zulus everywhere. No coloured people in Durban. The staff pampered me and my sister and brother– but the food was a bit spicy for us. I was surprised to see Somali men dressed in dresses. They worked on ships. My mother made sure we spent lots and lots of time on the beach. On arriving at Park Station, my dad was waiting for us .
26 May, 1948 ,when the South African voters rejected Field Marshal Jan Smuts and the United Party, and elected Dr. D.F.Malan and the National Party, to govern South Africa! APARTHEID had arrived as the choice of the European voters. Non -Europeans were spectators .That year was to be my last year at Coronationville school in standard six.The year 1948 was to be my most memorable year at school – with the class teacher who made the most impact on my life, Mr. Kowie Adonis .Him and the other standard six teachers splitting our subjects– we were completely bilingual , English and Afrikaans. We were a multi-racial class of black , white , Indian , Chinese and coloured students preparing for high school the following year. We would be going to E T C– EurAfrican Training Centre. OMSKI, in Afrikaans stood for Opleiding Middelbare Skool vir Kleurlinge en Indiers. Coronationville enrolled students from primary schools in Newclare and Sophiatown for standard six. And it was fate when a lovely, lively, laughing girl from Sophiatown attracted my attention, who eventually became my wife for the last 62 years