Tuesday, 22 December 2020

London visits, Small Axe reminders of life before South Africa, Stories from a South African childhood …

 

Having taken myself back down memory lane through my London visits earlier this year, then watching Steve McQueen’s Small Axe films about the lives of West Indian immigrants in the London I’d spent time in: the 1970s …


 

… then Trevor Noah’s book ‘Born a Crime’, which Donna of Retirement Reflections had read during her recent time out to catch up with some books, and writing a review reminded me to read …

 


This again took me back … I was a naïve white 30 year old setting out to travel and see life in other parts of the world … I got no further than South Africa … I’m not a real wanderer – but I am so pleased I’ve had that experience of living abroad and seeing other parts of southern Africa – Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia …

 

I had no idea what exactly apartheid was … I hadn’t been aware of divisions in life – but note at a late age, I was about to learn …

 

Trevor Noah’s book ‘Born A Crime’ really took me back to living in South Africa, Johannesburg, and being able to share his experiences through my remembrances from that other side of life.

 



The book hits me with its frontispiece detail: ‘Immorality Act, 1927’ … with a sub-heading ‘To prohibit illicit carnal intercourse between Europeans and natives and other acts in relation thereto’, before a very brief explanation that this Act is enacted by the King’s Most Excellent, Majesty, the Senate and the House of Assembly of the Union of South Africa, as follows: -

 

Section 1 for the European male …

Section 2 for the native female …


I won’t go into the descriptions – enough said I was shocked and horrified to read.



For me … he really takes me back to my side of life, shown by him as he had to experience it … through his story telling as he grows up … with each tale giving some background detail about different aspects …

 

Map showing dominant languages
by area - see Wiki language section
… for example: he explains ‘apartheid’ … ‘apart hate’ … the overwhelming majority of peoples were encouraged to turn on each other – because they were from different tribes with different languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Sotho, Venda, Ndebele, Tsonga, Pedi, and more …

 

(Note black South Africans outnumbered white South Africans nearly five to one).

 

Sign that was in Durban


Noah divides the two groups of whites who oppressed the non-white population … the British and the Afrikaners … the British gave a glimmer of hope … learn to speak correct English and dress properly, then there was hope for acceptance.  Afrikaner racism was much worse …

 




The stories are vignettes preceded by a note of morality … mostly about his mother – her love of church and her insistence they attend each Sunday, her knowledge of right and wrong, her ability to find ways round the system to achieve her aims … but without jeopardising their lives (though you might disagree with that with some of the things she did) – she found the cracks, crept in and lived …

 

Performing on his 'Loud and
Clear'
tour in 2019.
He is a comedian, tv host,
author and more in the USA

… or a preceding information page on the history, background about the peoples of Southern Africa …

 



… reminding me of when I first lived in Hillbrow – an inner city residential area on the ridge on which Johannesburg is sited … at that stage it was Apartheid-designated “whites only” … but soon became a “grey area” … where it was quite cosmopolitan. 

 

Landing by Bartholomew Diaz
in 1488
Once again memories are stirred by the internet of today, and by booklets and information I have tucked away here … that I’ve wanted to write about … perhaps all these posts will lead me to those thoughts …

 


I’d better stop – otherwise Christmas will be here – but Trevor Noah’s book does tie much together … he’s now in the States, having been born in 1984 six years after I arrived in South Africa.  I’ve never lived in the States, but had the privilege of that year (2017) in Canada … so learnt and am still learning about those countries.

 


Constitutional Court

All I can say now – is thank you to Donna for reading ‘Born A Crime’ … which is an easy read – though tells its story, which may not be easy to read, and for which there is much to go back to and read again if one so wishes …

 



Trevor Noah Wiki article ... 


Here's Donna's post in Retirement Reflections:

Reading Break ... 


Joanne of Word Splash - Joanne Faries - her review of Trevor's book ... 


Have a blessed and peaceful Christmas everyone ... take care and stay safe - with thoughts to one and all ... 


Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


41 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

Thank you for your thoughts about this book.
I had not come across it - and see that I should.
It can't have been easy to write, and much less so to live...
I hope that your Christmas is also peaceful and even more that it is healthy and happy. Stay safe dear friend.

Hels said...

I remember the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 from radio and newspapers, but it wasn't until some South African families emigrated to Melbourne that I became close friends with their daughters in 1963. Their stories were horrific.

All the more credit to Trevor Noah who lived there decades later.

Liz A. said...

Trevor Noah is great. When Jon Stewart left The Daily Show, it was a change, so it was great that rather than trying to replace him with someone like him, they went in a totally different direction. Noah is funny and topical all without pandering.

Janie Junebug said...

I need to read that book. Thank you for calling it to our attention.

Love,
Janie

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari OM
I'm a big Trevor fan... and have the book. Highly recommended! YAM xx

Joanne said...

I like Trevor Noah and his observations on America from a non-native perspective. I did read this book and it was fascinating - I laughed at the grandmother treating Trevor differently from his cousins because he would bruise if spanked - no one was accustomed to this lighter skin. While he writes with humor, the subject of apartheid is so serious and he had quite a life. I think he's amazed at where he landed and how. But he did have a strong mother and grandmother and he knows that's what kept him in line.
I like your observations as you think back to your time in South Africa - quite fascinating.

Fil said...

Good morning Hilary
I must put that book on my list to read - it's really interesting that you got to experience South Africa and you are very honest in your reflections. We watched a couple of the Small Axe films - they were brilliant, compelling and it really enforced the fact that we really hadn't a clue of what apartheid was. When I lived in the Middle East in the 80s our white skin was our passport for so much that our Indian and African friends didn't have access to - I left before I got too used to it and see some acquaintances who have stayed on and have no knowledge of life outside their cocoon.
Have a good Christmas and I hope 2021 opens a few doors for us to move around. Stay safe. Fil x

Susan Scott said...

I've yet to read Born an Crime .. though obviously we are proud of 'our' Noah and what he has achieved. I'm glad he acknowledged how tribes turned on each other, and how they still do. Sadly it's still with us. The minority of whites is slowly becoming even less, so many are leaving with heavy hearts for more stable countries. Though I wonder ...

A merry Christmas Hilary. May 2021 bring us more peace health and joy! Susan

Lenny Lee said...

It's one thing yo red about apartheid but another to experience. Your memories are so interesting. Thanks for sharing.

A very special friend gave me Trevor Noah's book "Born A Crime," and I'll be reading it after the holidays. Thanks Grandblogmom!:)

Wishing you happy holidays and a healthy and happy new year.

Pour the brandy and set the plum pudding ablaze!

David M. Gascoigne, said...

In South Africa, it was incredible how many ways they had to segregate the races and assign classifications to them. There was a test to determine whether you were black or Cape Coloured that involved sticking a pencil in your hair and having you lean forward. If the pencil was held in place by crinkly hair you were deemed black; otherwise of sufficient Asian blood to be classified Cape Coloured, which had a higher status and greater freedom of movement. Thank goodness that is all over. The fear and mistrust between the races still remains, however, and one can but hope that the nation will one day live to become the multi-ethnic, tolerant society Nelson Mandela hoped it would evolve into.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ EC – that’s great you haven’t come across his book … it will make an excellent read … while writing it must have brought back difficult memories – being in the States now and free would have made that part easier … though living in those times as a child must have been extraordinary …

@ Hels – yes Sharpeville and others … I think I will write up very briefly about them … I have some articles, papers here I brought back with me and I’ve been to exhibitions here … perhaps I can do that now that I’ve started on this journey …

Absolutely the stories of maltreatment were just awful – and I hope Trevor Noah’s book resonates with others in the world … now he’s living in North America … he seems to have captured an audience. Your friendship must be an interesting one … and excellent to know about …

@ Liz – it seems Noah has the right attitude to life in these times – I’m so pleased he’s doing what he’s doing … and now I must make a plan to see some of his shows.

@ Janie – yes an excellent book to read – enjoy, yet cry with it …

@ Yam – that’s wonderful to read … and to know you’ve read his book – you are well read …

@ Joanne – thanks … yes you did write up about him and reviewed his book – which I’ve now linked in …
He’s had an extraordinary life … but pushed to achieve – yet without becoming overt about his abilities … he writes from his heart … his mother and grandmother were both incredible role models … thank you for your comment.

@ Fil – excellent … you’ll enjoy the read – hard though it is to believe at times … it’s told with humour …

I’m so pleased you saw a couple of the Small Axe films – and as you say they were brilliant – yet told us about our country that so many of us don’t know.

I’ve not visited the Middle East … so your comments are very relevant and one does become used to it – though I did try and remain true to who I was … albeit I would help by having someone to clean and to garden … the wages all helped feed their families … I also understand that some people will struggle to leave – it’d be a huge wrench … the lifestyle is so different here …

@ Susan – I’m glad you’ve still to read Born A Crime – you’ll appreciate it … his preface pages to each section are really good historical takes on life back before the white man came into South Africa and up to today … though lots more to do … yes – I wonder too, what the country will become …

@ Lenny – yes … I hadn’t even really read about apartheid when I went out – talk about naivety … it’s embarrassing. But I’m glad the memories add a little …
Yay – isn’t that wonderful that you’ve already got the book to read – and great to know you’ll be reading it in due course – you’ll enjoy it – yet you’ll cry …
That brandy idea sounds a great one … the family always do that to their pud! Yummy – especially with Cornish cream …

@ David – the book is a really good read … it sets out the basics re race, classifications etc so clearly – sadly I remember using those divisions too – no choice it was a government directive … but thinking back – how awful it was … the hair story is true too …

Sadly it isn’t all over … I’ve just had a look at the list of massacres and they are still going on – horrifying as it is. The sooner we have leaders from all countries who believe in fairness and being helpful to humanity – the better we shall all be. We don’t need bullies or dictators …

Thanks so much to you … take care, enjoy the holiday season and like all of you – let’s hope 2021 is better … it has to be doesn’t it … with thoughts and hugs! Happy Christmas 2020 … Hilary

Jacqui Murray said...

Amazing world it used to be. I can't help but think we will one day feel the same about the magnificent, intelligent Great Apes. Sigh.

bazza said...

I often see Trevor Noah's show which is broadcast on American TV which is, as you say, where he lives these days. He is a very astute observer of current affairs but mostly he is a comedian. That must be the biggest tribute to him; that he can be effective as an entertainer after all he's been through!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s enormously escapist Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Andrea Ostapovitch said...

Hello there Hilary! It's been a good long while since stopping in and I'm so glad it was this post I visited. I learned something so interesting about you. Living in South Africa must have been an amazing experience. It's impossibly difficult to read about the way we humans have treated each other and continue to treat each other. It's easy to feel separate from all of it sometimes, but we are never far divided from each other. We've only to look and listen.
Have a Merry Christmas,
Andrea

Anabel Marsh said...

I read Donna’s post too, and now this - it definitely sounds like a book worth reading. A very happy Christmas to you, Hilary.

Mason Canyon said...

Hilary, I am always in awe of your post. I learn so much from them. I hope you have a very safe, healthy and happy holidays my friend.

Jo-Anne's Ramblings said...

A bloody interesting post, thank you as always

Liz A. said...

I don't know if it'll be blocked outside of the U.S., but you can find him on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oxgp2CAudeE

Lynda Dietz said...

I'm embarrassed to say I knew the name but had to look up Mr. Noah to see why he's writing a book. Sounds interesting, though. I remember when apartheid officially ended, though as we all know, attitudes and prejudices don't change according to a date on a calendar.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Jacqui – it was only 50 years ago … but amazing to think about how much has changed … and I too wonder about your comment, but am sure we’ve missed out on lots of life over the aeons …

@ Bazza – I must look out for one of his shows – as I haven’t seen him on a show here when he makes a guest appearance. He must be very good at what he’s doing in life … and I do note your comment about how well he’s done considering his early life … so true – how often humour helps us …

@ Andrea – well it’s good to see you and thanks for coming by. Yes I lived in SA for a while … and it was wonderful – though I had the easier life than most … looking back it’s been interesting. As you say we’ve only to look, listen and learn …

@ Anabel – yes re Donna’s review … so I’m glad you’ll have a look at the book next year – well worth a read.

@ Mason – thank you so much – I just try and write different posts – so delighted you appreciate them.

@ Liz – that’s great thanks for the link up – I’m sure it’ll be ok … I don’t tend to look at YouTube … so will definitely give it a go …

@ Lynda – thanks for looking him up – his book is well worth a read … it’s just a pity things didn’t stay improved once Mandela’s was free and took the reins in SA …

Thanks so much for reading everyone … to all of you have happy times in the these last few days of 2020 and to a much better 2021 … Hilary

Annalisa Crawford said...

It's so important to keep these stories alive. We should be shocked and appalled by how people treated each other, we should remember.

Sue Bursztynski said...

It feels strange to think of Trevor Noah writing a serious autobiography- I stumbled across him on YouTube, doing his humorous takes on nasty things happening in the US. I only know him from YouTube.

retirementreflections said...

Hi, Hilary - It was a true delight to find that you had shared my review. I'm so glad that you were inspired to read Trevor Noah's book. I agree that Noah's writing style makes it an easy read -- although the contents are far from easy to digest. I hope that others are inspired to read this as well. This simple book has much to say.
Wishing you a wonderful holiday and a peaceful year ahead!

Keith's Ramblings said...

Like several before me, I was not aware of this book, but I sense it's an insightful work that I really ought to settle down with and absorb. Thanks for another interesting piece Hilary.

Wishing a you a Merry Christmas and a Happy Safe New Year.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Annalisa - good to see you ... and yes Steve McQueen is reminding us of our history ... when we requested help to rebuild this country after the War ... and supported peoples from our colonies to come over to assist us with various jobs ... we were lucky in Britain to have their help in the 1950s onwards ... but their lives weren't so easy ...

@ Sue - I haven't seen any of his comedy ... but realised that was the line of business he'd gone into ... but this book is exceptional ... so fascinating for me to read as I'd gone over to spend time in SA for 14 years as it happened ... when I was there ... he highlights much.

@ Donna - thank you ... well 'you pushed me' to read it - but it tied in so well with Steve McQueen's recent Small Axe films that I've been writing about after I'd revisited my early days in London in the 1970s before I went off to SA.

What I really liked were those 'pre-pages' which gave the history of various aspects he was writing about in his short tales ...

It is an 'easy' and thus simple book to read ... yet tells so much - lots to read between the lines ... and if wanted there's more to find out about ...

@ Keith - it's great you've taken note ... it is definitely an insightful book and opens eyes to things happening in other countries ... it's an easy read ... you'll 'enjoy' it ...

Thanks so much everyone - great to see you ... all the very best for the end of this year and then a very happy and successful 2021 - stay safe ... Hilary

Jz said...

This one's in my "to read pile" - I think you're spurred me to move it up a few tomes!
Happy Holidays, Ms. Hilary! I hope you still have cookies to nibble. :-)

troutbirder said...

Most interesting Hillary. I was teaching world geography back in the days when apartheid was still an ongoing legal enterprise. Basically then I taught Africa north of the desert, black Africa south of the desert and black and white South Africa. It was time for me fortunately with a good principal and school board to compare legal racism in South Africa to systemic racism here in the United States. Now retired I have three white grandchildren and two black one from Ethiopia and the second one from Rwanda. All of us support black lives matter with banners and marches in Arizona and Minnesota: :-)

A Cuban In London said...

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family! :-)

Greetings from London.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Jz - that's excellent ... it's an easy, but interesting read, that you may want to re-read afterwards. Yes - cookies still stored ready for the tummy!

@ Ray - it must have been an interesting time for you teaching in school back then ... and opening the children's eyes to life in the various parts of Africa. I remember you have some wonderful sounding grandchildren from various parts of the world ... so interesting for them to grow up together ... and I'm so pleased you supported the marches ...

@ ACIL - thanks for your thoughts ... we're all fine down on the south coast - and hope London is treating you well ...

Thanks to you three - lovely to see you ... take care as we traverse these next few months ... all the best - Hilary

Pradeep Nair said...

Interesting insights into the book. Must check out.

Nilanjana Bose said...

Trevor Noah is a treasure. I love his programme and I loved reading his book. A serious subject served with his inimitable light touch.

Wish you a lovely, tranquil and blessed festive season and a happy new year, Hilary. Stay safe and well.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I enjoy watching Trevor's show on TV from time to time, but I wasn't aware of this book. It sounds like a dark read, yet one that can enlighten us, as well. And because he wrote it, I'm sure there's plenty of humor, too. It definitely sounds like a worthwhile read. Thanks for highlighting it. The fact that you've been to South Africa to see some of these things firsthand must've made the book even more poignant for you. (It is soooooo cool that you spent some time in Africa. By my standards, you are VERY well-traveled.)

Take care, and here's to a new year filled with hope, joy, laughter, and LOTS of "normal." Take care, dear lady. Cheers!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Pradeep - thank you ... I think you'll be impressed and informed.

@ Nila - many thanks ... I owe you lots of visits. I haven't seen any of his programmes ... yet his book is exactly as you describe it 'a serious subject served with his inimitable light touch'. I need to read it again very soon.

@ Susan - gosh I must make a plan to watch one of his shows or make a plan to watch him when he appears in tv here. I'm glad you've noted his book ... you'll definitely enjoy it - bearing in mind Nila's comment above.

Yes the book made a lot of sense - with his light touch - because it certainly cannot have been at all easy for so many while I was there. I just behaved as best I could for all peoples ... but I've been lucky to have travelled as much as I have.

Thank you Susan ... and to you all for your wishes for the New Year to be filled with hope, joy, laughter and as you say LOTS of normal ...

Take care care everyone and let's hope 2021 brings us an easier life as the new year progresses ... thank you - Hilary

Steve said...

Great book and worth reading. Trevor Noah is very intelligent and once said 'if your character shifts depending on who is in power, then it wasn't your character, to begin with. Do have a wonderful holiday and a happy new year'.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Thanks Steve - good to meet you and thanks so much for the link across to Noah's interview with Oprah ... appreciate that - I'll listen in full later on ... take care - Hilary

Elsie Amata said...

Wow! Thank you for sharing this with us. I had NO idea that Trevor Noah had gone through this. You really opened my mind (and my memory banks).

Wishing you a wonderful, happy, healthy, New Year!

Elsie

Vallypee said...

I loved reading Born a Crime too, Hilary. It's a remarkable book, not easy on us but not too harsh either because Trevor Noah is a kind man, but the message came through loud and clear and I too was ashamed at how much I didn't know, but then I was also ashamed when I learnt what I didn't know about the rise of the conflict in Natal where I was living as it happened...and never knew.

Sean Jeating said...

After all, Hilary, and despite my laziness to leave at least a short com(pli)ment: Your post brought back quite a few memories while reading.
Nadine Gordimer, Doris Lessing, Coetzee; the news on my desk; the photos showing atrocities; the question to publish or not.
Shall I read Noah's book? Probably not. For the same reason I did not watch "Schindler's List": I do not need learning more about ...
In my next life instead of an investigative journalist I hope to become a humble gardener with a faible for literature and poetry.
The peace of the night.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Elsie - yes .. it's a very good read - and life was as he says it, except much worse for some, but also gives the back history of the country in simple easy to understand terms. I hope you get to read it ...

@ Val - so much you and I didn't understand, and usually didn't want to know ...but like you I felt uncomfortable ... so Trevor Noah's book resonated for us both - great you've read it ... and lovely to see you ...

@ Sean - You're better read than I am ... but I have books by those authors here and must read them; your life as a journalist takes on a different hue to mine here ... I'm just a blogger, who over the years has been fortunate enough to build up a readership, and who feels comfortable enough to lightly express some aspects of my life ... here, in SA and in Canada ...

I didn't watch Schindler's List ... but Noah's book is as Val mentions 'light of touch' - and which really broached the overview of how I, as a visitor - one of a longish time (14 years) - felt ... not as someone born there.

I appreciate that as an investigative journalist you will have a different take - these are my 'joggable memories' of a visitor ... perhaps enlightening a few readers to think about life in other contexts ... I don't find it always easy to write about ... I'd prefer to talk too ... but that's not my way of life ...

Thanks to you three for reading and being here - really appreciate your comments and thoughts ... all the best - Hilary

Deniz Bevan said...

I hadn't known about that Steve McQueen series, thanks so much for the blog series about the films!
Trevor Noah's been on my wishlist for ages, it's about time I read his book!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Deniz - great to see you ... and you'll appreciate the Small Axe films and I know you'll find the book fascinating to read ... enjoy - it's an easy one ... granted you may need to go back and re-read ... I'll be doing that soon. Happy New Year to you and the family - Hilary