WELCOME TO DELAREYVILLE
In July 1976,I wrote a 2- part article in 'Deepika" about the apartheid white minority rule
in S.Africa,particularly referring to the June 1976 student uprising in Soweto,in
which about 600 school children were killed by the police.What began as a protest
against the imposition of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in black schools,
turned into a mass uprising.The uprising was suppressed with brute force,but it
drew the attention of the international community to the oppression in South Africa,
whereby sanctions against South Africa were intensified,and the regime was more
and more isolated.The Soweto uprising was triggered not only by the imposition
of Afrikaans,but also by inferior education for black children.In short,the event
speeded up the demise of apartheid.
At that time,I was in Kenya.Very little information was available about S.Africa
due to its isolation.I collected the information from BBC radio and Newsweek.
It didn'd figure in my wildest imagination that I would come to this country and
spend 25 years here.Sometimes,life is an exhibition or Mela,where you have the
opportunity to see and enjoy more than what you initially expected,where more
and more doors are opened in front of you,automatically.
In the 1970s Nigeria attracted thousands of expatriates;teachers,doctors,engineers
etc etc,to beef up manpower for the implementation of their massive development
programme,funded with newly-found oil wealth.That programme didn't produce the
desired effect due to corruption and mismanagement.For some time,Nigeria was
described as the 'paradise of teachers'.Thousands of Malayalees got contracts there
as teachers,and benefitted from the generous terms.I was in Nigeria from 1981 to
1987.By 1986,the Nigerian economy collapsed, and the expatriates fled,in droves.
Coinciding with the collapse of the Nigerian economy,there were hushed talks,
in our circles,about a new "promised land'',South Africa.Indian citizens were banned
from travelling to South Africa,as a protest against apartheid.Then,how was it
possible to enter South Africa? Some geographical absurdities came to our rescue.
In the heart of South Africa,there is a tiny country called Lesotho,which looks like
the yellow in a fried egg! In South Africa,the apartheid system had produced some
'independent'homelands for blacks,which had their own self-governments.These
governments were allowed to employ Indian teachers and doctors.They gave the
visa on paper,not in the passport.So,an Indian national would buy an airticket to
travel to Lesotho.Some got employment there,and later shifted to the homelands.
This is how most of us landed in South Africa,even before apartheid was dismantled
My original destination was Transkei,where my brother,Devasiachen was already
settled.On 7th January 1988,I landed in Jan Smuts Airport (now Oliver Tambo
International Airport).The airport was tiny,and almost deserted ,due to international
boycott of South Africa.I took a flight to Transkei.The schools were already opened.
My arrival there coincided with a small 'coup' there,and new appointments were
put on hold.I had to look for a job elsewhere.I travelled to the homeland of Boputhatswana
where the famous Sun City is located.
My brother lived in a small town called Mt.Frere.While staying there,I accompanied
him for shopping at a major town called Kokstad,about 100 kms away.I was very
surprised to see the up-to-date facilities and cleanliness of the town.It looked like
Europe or America transplanted into Africa. Compared with South Africa,Nigeria
was centuries behind.For instance,in Nigeria,we used to go to a Sunday market at
Michika,20 Kms from Shuwa,in Northern Nigeria,where we lived.The conditions
there were primitive.It was an open market,where things were displayed and
sold in a primitive way,without proper weights and measures.For example,meat
pieces were placed on a dirty wooden table,with flies swarming on them.The weight
and price were mere speculation.Rice was measured in 'mudus' or some vessels.
But here in South Africa,the supermarkets abounded with high quality products,
well packed,weights and price clearly indicated,and hygienically handled.
On 23 February 1988,I arrived in Delareyville,about 1000 Kms away.This is what
The town is small but beautiful,with wide ,clean roads.It looks like a small town
in a Clint Eastwood movie.All the shops,offices,banks,Post Office,Magistrate
Courts,police station etc are within walking distance.There isn't even a bus ticket
thrown on the road or on the sidewalks.This doesn't seem to be a country with a
conflict.Dustbins are placed in every street corner,where people deposit waste.
Most of the people are black.There's a predominance of Afrikaans.Even if a shop
owner knows some English,he/she won't talk to you in English,as if there's a ban
on it.I don't see any Indian anywhere.There are some Take Aways where you can
get a variety of food items such as chips,fish,fried chicken etc at a reasonable price.
Coca Cola and a variety of juices are available.Apples,bananas, pears ,grapes etc
are also available.
I make friends with a fruitseller.He knows a bit of English.From him I get
information about my destination,Atamelang, a small black township 25 kms
away. He showed me the area where taxis are parked.There's a spacious bus
station too.There are no whites in the taxi stand or in the bus station.Perhaps
it's a disgrace for whites to travel by bus or taxi.
During the apartheid era,the white minority regime enacted a law,called the
Group Areas Act, whereby the cream areas of the country were reserved for
white settlement ( kannaya sthalangal ),and the thirikida or barren areas were
allocated to blacks,coloureds and Indians.Blacks were allowed to come to the
cities during working hours,to work for the whites as domestic workers,gardeners,
shop assistants,unskilled laboureres etc,and were required to go back to their
townships after work.No black persons were supposed to be seen in the towns
in the night.Blacks had to carry a pass all the time;otherwise they would be
arrested and thrown in jail.The blacks were treated like foreigners in their own
country.More than 80% of the land was owned by whites who were only 20% of
the population.The white regime didn't encourage black education,because they
needed cheap labour.Their attitude to black education was :" ee kochinu ee
Delareyville had many satelite townships and villages,within a 60 kms radius,
which supplied cheap labour.Atamelang was such a township,cleverly established
at a safe distance of 25 Kms,to keep blacks out as far as possible.Atamelang was a
part of the homeland of Boputhatswana,which was not approved by the ANC.It
might sound absurd as a republic within a republic,but we have our own absurdities,
eg Mahe,which is geographically a part of Kerala,but is a part of Pondichery!
The area's education offices were located at Atamelang.There were about 10
Malayalees already settled there.I boarded a bus to Atamelang.There was no
conductor in the bus.The driver was driver/conductor.The bus was up to date,
with automatic door.The seats were soft and comfortable.The whites had deployed
nice buses because they didn't want any late-arrival for work due to a breakdown
of the bus!The bus roared past vast farms of maize and sunflower.
( to be continued )