Friday, 4 February 2011

Thirtyfive Years Ago

The 3rd of February 1976 – first arrival in South Africa

It has been a long journey. Today, on Wednesday, it is 35 years since we first arrived here in Cape Town. It is true that we have been back in Sweden since then, for quite a number of years, but the first part as well as the last part of our careers have unfolded here, well over fifteen years. It is like an embrace, including everything, of 35 years. Cape Town has become our city and South Africa our second homeland. Let me reminisce on those first few weeks, partly with a biting irony.

We arrive in the afternoon of the 3rd of February and was met at the airport by bishop Brunke and the Swedish pastor to the Scandinavian seamen, I:son Lundin. We were taken to a home for missionaries, Andrew Murray House in Claremont. I remember the first evening, being quite aware that we had arrived in apartheid country, that in Main Road in Claremont I could also see blacks walking in the street without seeming to fear for their lives. Apparently Claremont had no curfew, which still was the case in other cities like Bloemfontein (and a year or two later I heard one daughter of another missionary in that city explaining to me that it was making the city so much safer with this curfew).

With hindsight I find it quite outrageous that nobody from the black church came and welcomed us at arrival. It certainly took some months, during which time we surely were tested as to whether we were people with whom you could work, before we could reach a level of acceptance. This was happening in an accelerating speed due to coming events. We were only a few months away from the Soweto uprisings in June 1976. A few months later we had decided in the youth movement, and I was to quite some extent instrumental in that decision, to engage in the struggle against apartheid, even if with peaceful means. So with such a bleak start and welcome, after some months we experienced en incredible sense of fellowship from various kinds of people in church, in the local congregation where I was asked to serve (Ravensmead) and in the wider Lutheran youth movement, for which I had come to South Africa.

The first Sunday we were taken to the evensong in the Lutheran church and congregants came to fetch us. I was still so unaware of racial intricacies so that when I saw the quite fair couple coming in their car I thought they were whites. The truth was that we had ended up in the coloured community, where the people’s looks were not so easy to define.

The first few months was a matter of stumbling along, not always knowing what to do or what to say. After Andrew Murray House, we moved to Bellville, an Afrikaner suburb where we could rent a house for a couple of months before getting our own. We were not particularly happy in the all white English environment in Claremont, but moving to Bellville was in a way to go from bad to worse. The owner of the house had a maid, whom we were asked to have as well. That was the first test and my heart sank completely when the wife-owner of the house came back before leaving and hooted in car for the maid to come and bring in her luggage.

As my wife Barbro has articulated repeatedly, the servant hood of domestic workers continue to be a sore on the South African body. The very notion of serving in white people’s houses is degrading.

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