MyNews24 is a user-generated section of The stories here come from users.

Mark Peach
Comments: 8
Article views: 898
Latest Badges:

View all Mark Peach's badges.

In memoriam: Barbara Willard

09 June 2014, 20:30

The struggle to get BEE ‘done right’ calls to mind a lady I knew, Barbara Willard.

Barbara Craig was born to a Scotsman and a young Xhosa lady, reputedly of the Sigcau clan, in Flagstaff, around the turn of the century.

She was brought up in the strict Victorian manner and went on to study at Fort Hare where she graduated and then spent a few years teaching in nearby schools.

Around her mid-twenties she met a handsome young Irishman named Peter Willard whom she married. They had three daughters and four sons together. By all accounts it was a happy and stable household.

The old Scotsman was still alive then, and had the distinction, Barbara’s children say, of owning the first automobile in the Eastern Cape. He built an empire of trading posts and general dealerships.

As was their custom, the entire clan set off for Durban every two years to shop, catch up with acquaintances and re-connect to family.

In 1951, the marching jack boots of apartheid were far away from Flagstaff, so the family drove into Durban with little sense of how the world had changed.

It is true that the clouds had been gathering for years before, but the Willard’s experiences of racism had been sporadic and distant. In Flagstaff particularly, there was little other than the day-to-day grind of life. Ideology, beyond religion, and even that was low key, was mostly absent.

So in Durban’s West Street, after hours of shopping, and growing increasingly perplexed by the new rules that demanded she walk in and out of certain doors and limit herself to shopping only at certain counters in shops where she had for years freely spent money, Barbara found herself in an unexpected conundrum: she needed the toilet.

Her daughter, who was a very young lady, relates what happened:

“As time went on and we realised that the same toilets we had used for so many years before were now closed to us, I watched as my Mom grew more and more desperate. There was simply nowhere to go. They hadn’t yet built ‘non-white’ toilets even as they closed the ones that were there, to us.

I watched as my mother, a dignified, proud, and learned woman was reduced to shame and indignity before her children. The feeling of helplessness I felt that day has stayed with me since. None of us has even gotten over that day.”

The story didn’t end there.

Later the same day, having too late found a place that helped, Barbara and her husband, Peter, went to a favoured haunt, a tea shop – they existed back then – away from the city centre, in Greyville.

The owner, a kindly man who had entertained the Willards for years, came out to meet them on the pavement as they approached to tell them that, unfortunately, while he could allow Peter into the restaurant, he would have to insist on serving Barbara her tea in a plastic cup outside. It was the law, you see.

Years later, with Barbara now resident with daughters in the United Kingdom and unable to find a life in this strange new South African world, the same daughter was summoned into government offices to be classified. She had, unwisely, like her mother, Barbara, married a white man. She was told, with three children in tow that she was not to return to the marital home on pain of imprisonment. It was the law, you see.  

Today, Barbara’s daughter tells me, “Ask me what I want most, and I’d tell you I want our dignity restored. Until they work out how to restore dignity to people, and put as much effort into restoring people’s pride as they do into making money, nothing will work. It won’t, because those of us, who remember, want more than money.”

And this, I fear, is where empowerment has got it all wrong. It has become a soulless, mechanical thing. It has missed the mark.

It may have been born with the idea of restoring some dignity to people through economic redress (as if money can replace humiliation) but it has been high-jacked by cold, unfeeling and flint-eyed opportunists - both black and white - who care not a jot for personal dignity.

How did that happen?

In a world besotted with money, predictably, the fragile and troubling idea of restoring dignity to people through inclusion and redress has became commoditised: appoint so many black people to management, sell so many shares to well-known and connected personalities, and get these points and that level, and you will qualify for this or that tender or piece of business.

It is difficult to detect any notion of restoring dignity in empowerment as it is practised.  

How we ‘do’ empowerment carries disturbing reminders of Franz Fanon’s fears that the black man will work out that to enjoy the white man’s economic benefits he will need to become as white as he can be, he will effectively have to turn away from the cause and state of his own people.

To be black simply will not do; he must become a black skin wearing a white mask. He must cease to be. Where's the dignity in that. And how do people who subscribe to that view ever hope to restore dignity to those they know who need it?

There cannot be any restoration of dignity in this reinterpretation of this basic tenet of apartheid: economic freedom for some while the rest receive nothing.

For empowerment to be ‘done right’ perhaps we should remember before we add up and scribble on our scorecards, keeping empowerment of those who need it most at arm’s-length and ensuring that the poor, needy and marginalised are as little intrusive in our lives as possible, that it should be ultimately about people: their fears, concerns, frustrations, memories, hopes and aspirations.

It is as much about restoring those maimed and killed  and who spent time in exile as it is about those quietly stripped bare on a public street of their self-worth and their dignity and who lie buried beneath a mountain of neglect, unsure rationalisations and cynical determination to wish them away.

As Ariel Dorfmann pointed out in the 8th Mandela Lecture a few years ago, as long as the millions of people around us remain excluded, without dignity, the rest of us are doomed to forever look over our shoulders, worrying about the future.

Yet the solution stares us in the face. We have touched it, sporadically, and shown that we are capable of fashioning a response.  We have stood together previously and touched each other kindly.

The first steps though, are civility and common cause, a strong memory of what was, and a vibrant imagining of what could be. The solution, in other words, demands a response from each of us.

If we each remember our past, feel the insecurities and fears and pain of the other, remember how we found each other once and have now and again since, and act to build the society we all know we want, we can overcome the empowerment tragedy.  

Perhaps, when we do this, like many others who will be free to do the same, I can once again visit my grandmother’s grave, and read her name on her tombstone – Barbara Willard - without feeling shame at the memory of what she went through and at having failed her.

Mark Peach is author of Rethinking BEE: Breaking the Deadlock and Being Coloured.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Read more from our Users

Submitted by
Howard Feldman
Seriously BDS, Get a Grip

The BDS need to acknowledge what a monumental failure their South African Woolworths campaign has been. Read more...

99 comments 2790 views
Submitted by
Pierre Willemse
Boks vs Wales - the final stretch

What an enthralling year of ups and downs it has been and in my opinion a lot more ups than downs. Read more...

0 comments 252 views
Submitted by
Craig Pedersen
Thoughts of Freemasonry

Founded in South Africa in 1756, Freemasonry is South Africas oldest fraternal organisation - if not the oldest established organisation.  Read more...

126 comments 3495 views
Submitted by
Melancholy Madness


4 comments 166 views
Submitted by
The folly of Labour laws

Recently I heard that government wishes to up the minimum wage requirements for domestic workers. This got me thinking about the increased strictness of labour laws in our country.  Read more...

33 comments 1422 views
Submitted by
Kalos eidos
The Rasputin behind Vladimir Puti...

Although appearing to embrace conservatism, today’s Russia seems to be a mass of contradictions especially with the emergence of a so-called Bolshevik party and its admiration of both Stalin and Tsarist Russia. Read more...

4 comments 839 views

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now! - shop online today

Save up to 60% on toys!

Don’t miss out on this hot offer, save up to 60% on toys. While stocks last. Shop now!

Festive gifts!

Check out our awesome range of festive gifts to make everyone’s wishes come true. Shop now!

Seen something you like in our catalogue?

Find the perfect gift and save up to R5000 – As seen on the catalogue. Hurry and shop now!

Save up to R2200 on electronics! – As seen in the catalogue

Wishing for tech gadgets this festive? Save up to R2100 on hot tech products at While stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 35% off books

Save up to 35% on the latest page-turners. While stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25



E-mail Alerts The latest headlines in your inbox

RSS feeds News delivered really simply.

Mobile News24 on your mobile or PDA

E-mail Newsletters You choose what you want

News24 on your iPhone Get News24 headlines on your iPhone.

SMS Alerts Get breaking news stories via SMS.

Blogs Your opinion on you, me and everyone.

Calais Website keywords automated by OpenCalais.

Interactive Advertising Bureau
© 2014 All rights reserved.
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.