Childhood Fear

I grew up in South Africa and I know this will no doubt raise some eyebrows but I also know without a doubt that my greatest fear was “the black man” who might come to attack and kill me or my family because we were white. This was, you might think, delusional or white paranoia stemming from our history where our settler ancestors had at times been murdered by the natives.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, unbelievable as it may seem to the rest of the world now, people like the world’s latter day icon, Nelson Mandela, were planning violent means to be rid of the Whiteman in South Africa. Another Isandlwana was in fact a bitter yet real proposition for the still youthful Mandela as he and his fellow plotters imagined the following: “the sweet air will smell of gunfire, elegant buildings will crash down and streets will be splashed with blood.” Words from his manuscript found on Robben Island.

Flyers in our suburban letterbox from the already banned ANC threatened the white man, his wife and his children if certain demands were not met by the white government. My parents were staunch supporters of the opposition and prepared to fight at the ballot boxes to change the cruel laws of the lqnd but did not take kindly to being threatened in their own home. My father an ex- serviceman and recipient of the MC in WW2 and a man with a very strong moral code was greatly angered by these threats……and immediately bought a gun. Put it this way, we were expecting uprisings and bloodshed and always seemed to be in a state of emergency…..what does this do to one’s psyche?
Every July in our winter school holidays, my mother liked to visit her elderly father and we would spend two or three weeks with him. Often our cousins would join us there too.

My grandfather lived on a small holding in a tiny village, deep in the countryside of the Eastern Cape- an area of South Africa that had in a way been rather left behind and was still rather impoverished and backwards and therefore relegated to “darkest Africa”by my father. This was old 1820 settler country and part homeland to the Xhosa, South Africa’s largest black tribe. Settled and farmed by the white people for over 100 years, there were still many black families employed by the farmers and living in rural poverty almost as serfs.

My grandfather’s small house was cold and dark with no electricity, only paraffin lamps and one warm place on those cold wintry nights, the kitchen with its Aga which glowed all night long and whose coal was replenished in the morning again.
We children had so much fun though in the half darkened rooms, playing hide-and –seek and jumping on the beds in what seemed to serve as a dormitory, while the adults sat in front of that Aga and spun stories til late at night.

Just before we went to bed, my mother would call us to go outside to the loo. She’d give my sister the torch and let us out the backdoor. Out and down the steps, the cold night air would bite into our cheeks and our breath would vaporise.

“Come on!” my sister would shout, running ahead into the dark.
I would run as fast as I could, my short legs trying to match her much longer ones. Then we would be at the longdrop door. It would creek open and she’d hand the torch to me.
“Hold it for me, Betty and don’t drop it!” I’d shine it inside for her and she’d sit on the wooden seat while I felt as if I was going to burst.

Then finally it was my turn. I’d just have sat myself down and Des would Scream: There’s a black man behind the shed” and I’d be plunged into darkness as she made off down the path back to the house.
I’d finish with the dread of being stabbed by an assegai or dragged off to have my throat slit……..and then run screaming up the path where she’d be waiting in the shadows to give me another fright!
OLDER sisters are like that. I have never quite forgiven her……… nor for that matter have I forgiven that wily old two-faced Jackal, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

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