On Sunday 19th February, our parish priest, Fr Bram, delivered an inspirational sermon on the subject of forgiveness based on the Gospel reading of the day, Mark 2:1-12. A few days earlier, the local newspaper, ”Die Burger”, in a regular feature which publishes extracts from fifty years ago, quoted a magistrate’s ruling at that time which declared that the mere act of kissing by two people from across the colour line, did not constitute a breach of the now infamous Immorality Act! Both the call to forgiveness and the stark reminder of the ridiculous apartheid laws evoked a sad childhood memory of more than fifty years which haunts me to this day.
In our little “dorp” there were two general dealer stores which serviced the needs of the predominantly farming community. Politically, the white community was clearly divided between Nat and Sap and the clientele of the two stores seemed to be divided along similar lines. The one store had some wealthy shareholders, English speaking farmers who proudly traced their ancestry to the 1820 Settlers and who claimed to be far more liberal than their Afrikaner counterparts. Strange though, I distinctly remember that particular store having a separate entrance and service counter specifically for “Non-Whites”? The young man who worked very hard at making sure that this store provided good service and operated efficiently was an Afrikaner, the only son of a local widow. From what I observed as a small boy, this young Afrikaner served everybody, young and old, Nat or Sap, Black or White, English or Afrikaans, with courtesy and respect. Despite his Afrikaans upbringing he spoke English fluently, communicating with all customers in their mother tongue. He treated the little old “tannies” with kindness and was equally adept in assisting the busy, demanding rich farmers. He was a real prince on the store floor, his pleasant demeanour and efficiency being much appreciated by all.
However, he was not a handsome man. He was as tall and gangly as a giraffe and spoke with a heavy nasal twang which makes me suspect that he might have had a cleft pallet. Physically he was no match for the ruggedly handsome young farmers who excelled on the sports fields and who had the pick of the girls at the local tennis club dances. He certainly cut a lonely figure outside the four walls of the store in a cruelly competitive world in which the young men of the “dorp” scrambled to win the favours of the too few attractive eligible, women in that small rural community. So it was that this young man became the subject of the next “groot skandaal” in the “dorp”, for he was arrested under the Immorality Act. The SAP had caught him embracing a Black women in his car parked in a popular spot under a tree on the outskirts of town near the golf course where local young lovers went to “vry”. The ”broerderbonders“ were in an uproar, “How could a young Afrikaner bring such disgrace to his poor widowed mother?” This young man, who had been quietly ridiculed in the social circles of the townsfolk whom he served so well, had dared to seek refuge and some comfort in the arms of a Black women and in doing so, became the pariah of the district.
Who will ever know the loneliness, anguish and rejection that pitiful young man must have suffered, his mother, his lover? No one will ever appreciate the true extent of his suffering, for shortly afterwards he committed suicide rather than stand trial for the “sin” of transgressing that evil Act conjured up by the architects of apartheid. As a very young boy at the time, I was overcome by a very deep, dark, sadness when I heard of the man’s tragic end. Those feelings have remained deeply entrenched for more than fifty years now, but are quick to surface whenever I am reminded of those sad events.
Spare a thought for the widowed mother of that unfortunate young man, a woman subsequently regarded with scorned pity by the staunchly Calvinistic Afrikaner community of the town. Bereft of her only son, she too now became a victim of the ungodly Immorality Act, truly and utterly betrayed by the political leaders of her own people. What went through her mind when next she attended the “nagmaal diens” and inevitably prayed the “Onse Vader,“ reciting the words, “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?” …………
To forgive and forget, is it really that easy?
Ek vra maar net?
Gary S Black
For a lighter take on Freedom Day see Gary’s article