Southern Africa Diaspora Part II: Apartheid

This is the second post in a three-part series exploring some of the common themes raised in the interviews of the JMABC’s Southern African Diaspora Oral History Collection. Read the first post here.

Merle Linde spoke to the JMABC about the realities faced by ‘black’ and ‘coloured’ people employed by homes in South Africa’s cities, including difficulties keeping their children with them as opposed to sending them back to live with their grandparents or other relatives outside of the city.

In this particular instance, Merle and Ivan ended up helping their maid raise her daughter, enrolling her in the nearby convent school as their own. This was not uncommon among other Jewish families in the community, as many sought to help others being negatively impacted by restrictive laws and societal expectations.

Ivan Linde reflected on the direct experience of seeing the ‘Black Mariah’ in action, a black police van “riding up and down the street, and grabbing black people who were standing in the street and didn’t have a passbook.” Seeing these people taken off the streets and detained impacted Ivan’s everyday experience and life in South Africa, something he never felt comfortable with.

Ivan and Merle also had the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world as part of their business, which allowed them to see what things were like outside of their country. Not everyone was aware of the disparate reality that had encompassed South Africa, and this experience reinforced their feelings towards the Apartheid regime.

Also remembering the passes which black people were required to carry, Ann Kramer speaks about the state of the country in the years following the Sharpeville Massacre which occurred on March 21, 1960. 30,000 protesters marched to Cape Town to protest police shootings that had killed 69 people and injured 180. In solidarity, many political figures and citizens proceeded to burn their passes in protest of the events and the laws upholding them. Six years later, the UN declared March 21 to be the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and in South Africa it is known as Human Rights Day.

Ann also reflects on Immorality Laws which were explicitly intended to suppress the lives of black people and coloured people, from controlling their personal relationships to opportunities for work, and where they could be at any given moment.

These facts were difficult to reckon with while living in South Africa, and as Ann points out, “a lot of families just didn’t want to get involved because many of them had been through such difficulty themselves, and accepted the status quo.”

Many of those who spoke to the JMABC about South Africa mentioned their relationship to the Army, whether it be a father who served in the Second World War, or as Michael Elterman describes, finding ways to avoid being sent to fight in Angola.

Another common sentiment expressed by interviewees was their discomfort related to the idea of their children having to enlist in the army. This became a motivating factor for many to leave South Africa, which we will explore further in the following post.