No dancing for whites: Apartheid Christmas party letter found

2018-12-25 07:32
Ebrahim and Zaheda Ahmed at the party his boss had to get special permission for during apartheid. (Supplied)

Ebrahim and Zaheda Ahmed at the party his boss had to get special permission for during apartheid. (Supplied)

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Retired Capetonian Ebrahim Ahmed has unearthed a letter about a 1980 Christmas party and it shows how the apartheid government attempted to cement its control over racial interaction.

The occasion was simple: It was the annual Christmas party for a well-known furniture store and its manager in Elsie's River, Moegamat Parker, had the Claremont Civic Centre in mind as a venue. 

However, due to the labyrinth of apartheid law and bureaucracy, special permission had to be sought to allow for people classified as belonging to different race groups to attend the party under the same roof.

"The Claremont Civic was in a white area," said Ahmed, a former employee at the furniture store, who found the old letter among his belongings. 

According to SA History Online, Claremont was declared a "white area" by a government concerned about the number of black, coloured and Indian residents living there.

Its proximity to the Cape Town CBD and links to transport into the city made it a popular residential area.

However, after declaring it a "white" area, large-scale evictions of anybody who was not classified as white followed.

Ahmed said that he worked at the furniture store in Halt Avenue, Elsie's River for 10 years and got on well with all of his colleagues, irrespective of their race or background.

They were all looking forward to the party, but his white colleagues did not attend and he did not understand why. 

He thought the letter to his manager may have become caught up with his own things when he left and the company went through changes, and he saw it only recently. He thinks his manager may have it hidden it from staff because they all got on very well, regardless of how the apartheid government classified them.

On the letterhead of the Department of Community Development and State Auxiliary Services, it opens to say a proclamation had been issued giving the go-ahead for the party.

The government at the time used a permutation of these proclamations to adjust the rules for various types of interaction between races, depending on whether alcohol would be served, or whether it was a sporting event, for example, according to SA History Online.

Addressed to Parker, it read: "I refer to your application dated 3 December 1980 and your telephone conversation with an official of this office on 4 December 1980.

"A concession has been granted to you on behalf of Lans Wanda Furnishers to lease the Claremont Civic Centre and for approximately 160 Coloureds and 40 Indians to occupy the hall on 17 December 1980 together with approximately 10 Whites on the occasion of a Christmas party, provided the whites do not participate in the dancing."

It was signed on behalf of a regional government representative.

However, Ahmed says that although the party got the go-ahead, their white colleagues did not attend and now he might know why.

Ahmed says they had attended all the previous company functions, such as prize-givings and everybody enjoyed themselves.

"Under normal circumstances, they would have been there," he said.

He went to the dance unaware of what had been happening in the background, taking along his love Zaheda, who he went on to marry. There was a band, and there was dancing. "It was fantastic," Ahmed said.

However, finding the document that encapsulated the government-of-the day's stance was upsetting.

"I feel shattered."

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