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THE WAY WE LIVED.  12. Street of my destiny. [Part two] [9min read]   

12. Street of my destiny. [PART TWO] 

<–    Satellite view with red pointy dot to mark 44 Dale Street, Lansdowne on the left.  The houses on the right were all on the original Boer se veld.  The empty land remnants  are devoid of the now controlled wattle bushes which covered all of the area between Dale Street and the southern suburbs railway line on the right.

The large shanty complex at the southern end of the road was an area we avoided.  The occupants were the poorest in the neighbourhood and were hard living people who ignored the law.  If washing disappeared from neighbours’ wash lines or your bike went walkabout, then they were the likely cause of those thefts.

Aggregates of shanties like this were sometimes called the kreefgat, crayfish hole, and they were areas where even the police did not readily enter.  Gangsters also seemed to be spawned in terrace houses called langery, a long row, but we only had one of these complexes two streets away.  Rare gangfights erupted between the kreefgat and langery residents.  These battles raged through several streets, and an assortment of weapons was used which ranged from knives to axes, spades, pangas [bush knives], fence palings, broken bottles and anything else that was hard or long enough or sharp enough to serve as a weapon.  Our homes were in lockdown mode during these hostilities.

Occasional neighbourhood break-ins meant that we had burglar bars on all windows.  In those days there were no burglar alarms, razor wire or signs that warned of an “armed response.”  We had a five-foot high fence topped with barbed wire; some perimeter walls were adorned with broken glass sticking out of the cement tops;  and a neighbour’s wooden fence had long, rusted  nails that faced outward from the top of the six-foot high structure.  

Of course, we always had a dog outside.  I grew up with Fido [there’s a long, touching story in that Italian name – Google it] and Laika.  Yes, my dad was a communist comrade and had to name our new dog after the first living “passenger” on a sputnik orbital flight in 1957.  I was ten years old at the time and well remember the excitement of the occasion. It meant that Brick  Bradford’s time machine, the Time Top was possible after all.      —->        Even at that tender age, I was pleased that the USSR had beaten the USA in the early race for space flights.

Sometimes, fights broke out in the local bughouse, the Broadway cinema, and screaming patrons ran helter-skelter from a knife fight somewhere in the dark.  Add some low light from the movie in the dark interior of the cinema, and even Alfred Hitchcock could not create this kind of tension.  Most of the time this happened when the Ottery Reform School boys attended for their rare cinema outings.  When they attended in their intimidating khaki uniforms, we avoided going to the movies and even abandoned the chance to watch our favourite westerns on Saturday afternoons.  Such was their reputation.  They were supposed to pick up a trade at these schools, but most were recidivists headed for gangsterdom and future imprisonment.

We moved to Dale Street after leaving Claremont where I was born.  Eventually our family property had to be sold to the Group Areas Board when they rezoned the area for Whites only. My parents were one of over two hundred thousand homeowners who were displaced in similar fashion over several years of relocation; they had to sell at reduced prices and move on.

Many people living in areas with exquisite vistas had to move to the Cape Flats which was often regarded as Cape Town’s trash heap.  The societal dislocation and poverty were a major factor for the significant crime spiral in Black communities throughout the country.  It is a sad, lingering by-product of apartheid in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  In the 1970’s, Cape Town was nicknamed Rape Town by the daily Cape Times newspaper.  In a recent book by Don Pinnock, Cape Town is described as Gang Town.  Without any doubt, out of control crime is the worst legacy of forty-six years of apartheid in South Africa.

Our neighbours were a mixture of labourers, factory workers, tradespeople, professionals, and layabouts, but mostly they were hard-working people who strove to educate their children as best as possible. In my time, Dale Street eventually had four of us who qualified as doctors, and there were several nurses and teachers who all came out of modest homes and backgrounds.

From our neighbourhood,  

this was our view –> of what I regard as the backside view of Table Mountain – no symbolism intended!  The pointy one on the right is Devil’s Peak.  Most of the open fields which we had are now filled in with houses.

Like most streets, Dale Street had a play White or try for White household.  To play White was when fair-skinned people used the Whites only facilities.  The neighbourhood gossips would accuse them of being play White.  There were Coloured families who took it farther and sought reclassification as Whites.  Apparently it was a harrowing process as skin and eye colour, hair texture and family history were checked to establish Caucasian/White credentials.  A pencil was passed through the hair to determine if the object held up or not.  One would have had to pity those of Mediterranean ancestry with their beautiful, curly dark locks.

I often wondered how skin colour was checked – shades of brown, grey, white or pink?  Did they hold up comparitive coloured paper strips or was it just a visual, subjective scoring?  What if the assessor was colour blind? The reclassified people would have all the benefits of White folk, but it often resulted in them being social outcasts when they had to turn their backs on their families and friends who, in turn, would have nothing to do with them.  Many a parent never saw those family members again. They were spoken of only in hushed tones.

Many of our road’s residents had revolutionary bona fides.  Three of the teachers, including my father, eventually went into political exile for their anti-state activities.  Many were imprisoned before they went into exile.  My father was banned under the Suppression of Communism Act when he fled to Botswana.  The van der Heyden siblings  were part of the Alexander Eleven  The brother and two sisters spent five to ten years detained on Robben Island with their leader Neville Alexander.  They were betrayed by a teacher colleague who lived close by in Dale Street.  All of these teachers taught at Livingstone High School, my alma mater. The van der Heydens’ brother-in-law, Basil February, was one of the first Coloureds to die in then Southern Rhodesia during his guerrilla activities in 1967.

Dale Street homes were filled with success stories and failures.  Hardship and struggle existed behind several doors.  Socio-economic pressures meant that many dropped out and never achieved their potential.  Much of the criminal social detritus that we experienced in our townships, was a direct consequence of the oppressive times in which we lived.


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