50 – Daughter of a Hostel dweller

My friends and I went on a township visit. I had a guest from overseas, and this was really just an opportunity for him to get an experience of the township life. The two hour visit included a visit to a hostel dwelling in Langa. The sun was shining beautifully. There was a buzz in the streets, with children playing, cars parked with music playing, laundry lines hanged full with clothing. We visited one of the communal homes in the hostel, where I had the opportunity to speak to a mother of one of the three families who share the accommodation. The woman shared with us that she moved to the city to come and live with her husband after the apartheid era. She had lived in the rural areas while her husband lived in Cape Town. Like many men from the rural areas, he had come to the cities to seek employment. The woman also shared that they were 3 families with children, all living in the one bedroom, one kitchen, one toilet and shower, and the common area. I was immediately reminded of my early child hood.

A few years ago my mother shared with me about my biological father. She told me that my biological father was a hostel dweller who moved to the city seeking employment. My mother had a son – my late brother who died before she got pregnant with me. She had another son after me, my good looking younger brother. My mother says that my father had a tendency to be away for long periods at a time; hence I have very little memory of him or even how he looked like. When she told me about him I felt no connection to him. Listening to the woman tell me her story while I was standing in her hostel bedroom, I had a feeling of curiosity. I wanted to know how they came to live in the hostels and what it was like living there for her and her children.

I was raised by my mother and step father. Prior to my step father coming into my life, my grandfather was the father I knew. I remember having some feeling of a missing connection to him, because he related to my mother like his child, and therefore to me he was not like other fathers were to their children. I felt somehow isolated and different from the other children. My stepfather was introduced to me when I was six years old. I finally felt like I was like the other children.

I recall overhearing conversations about ‘my father who lived at the hostel’. I also recall my grand parents and mother having heated arguments with my aunt when she would make mention of him. I learned that it was because he had another family back home in Kwa-Zulu-Natal, and my brother and I were never to know about him, or have relatedness with him. A big reason was that my step father was my father now.

My father as the other hostel dwellers in those days, was employed to do jobs that most men in the cities didn’t do. I am not sure what work he did but it was to drive around to either sell coal, or collecting buckets during the bucket system. I do recall though that hearing about a ‘Zuluman’ as my father, I ignored it and pretended not to be listening. I recall children teasing the men when they came around to collect the buckets. Scarier, parents generally scared children when they misbehaved saying that they would give them to the Zulumen who would put them in the buckets and take them away. So I remember being fearful of them and running into the nearest yard when they came around. As a child I also thought that the reason my mother kept us away from him was because he was a Zuluman who would put us in the bucket and take us away. And God knows what they did with the contents of the buckets. It was scary to me to learn that my father possibly takes children away, and they never get to see their parents again. I didn’t want a father who lived at the hostels – a Zuluman who might be working in the bucket system, and taking children away to I don’t know where. I did not dare make known what my thoughts and fears wore.

My coach tells me that for one’s relationships to work out, it is important that we work out our relationships with our parents. I recognise that this area of my life is incomplete, because for me relationships are hard work. I laugh though as I look back and recall the ‘stories’ I created, which had me be fearful. My father died and I didn’t and still don’t know him or his family. I don’t even know how to begin to find his family. My mother tells me that his mother was a domestic Zulu woman who got pregnant by her Afrikaaner boss. I want to meet these people, I want to meet ME.


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2 Responses to 50 – Daughter of a Hostel dweller

  1. Sebata Sebata says:

    A personal and serious story you’re telling here. However I cannot help but see the humour in it too. Maybe will see you in Khumbul’ ekhaya.

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