I’m not wearing socks with these sandals but they still made me think of my roots this past Heritage Day.
My German great-grandfather arrived in South Africa while working as a cook on a ship, and decided to stay and set up a butchery in East London. Then the government put him in a concentration camp because they were cosying up with the allies during the war. When he was released his business was done and so he had to move to the Rand where he worked factotum jobs in mining and the railways.
My grandfather was born in Johannesburg and ended up having three kids with a woman who ran away with a lodger at the boarding house that he was running. He got rid of the boarding house and went to work as a nurse. He then met my ouma, a sixteen year old cashier, who took on my grandfather’s kids as her own and gave him two more, one of which was my dad.
My old man then left Joburg, where he did things like breed rabbits for the pot, to go sell weed-eaters door to door along Natal’s South Coast. That didn’t work out so after having me he had to move back to Benoni where he got a job at the SAB. Despite having a solid job at the breweries he wanted his kids to grow up at the coast, and so after my brother was born he moved back to where it had all started for us, East London, to sell steel and pipe, which he still does today.
As soon as I could leave that backwater I did, and settled in Cape Town where I had kids with an Afrikaner and a Portuguese, then added various magazine jobs to a CV that had previously only had lifeguard listed on it.
I typed this brief family history on my phone on Heritage Day, while coming down from the meat-sweats at my Porra inlaw’s place in Durban. They still speak a language that sounds like throat-clearing, eat mainly pork products and regularly perform their traditional Portuguese dances. I’ve dropped the umlaut from my surname, can barely speak Afrikaans and only really pay respects to my German heritage every four years during the World Cup.
But that’s all in the past anyway, I’m looking forward, and who knows where to from here… hopefully a farm on the West Coast… even better a place in the Kei… but then it’s a funny life, and I could end up anywhere really.
I think that just as long as it’s in South Africa, everything will be alright.