She's always questioned the environment she grew up in. Joyce Piliso Seroke never took anything for granted. Raised in a gated compound for the mining elite at Crown Mines, she wasn't blind to just how different her life was to that of the men living beyond the fence. She made it her life's mission to change lives. She shares her life through this heartwarming memoir about her education, life experiences and involvement in politics.
BOOK EXTRACT BELOW:
While a student at Swansea University, Joyce Piliso-Seroke visits her cousin, Sis’ Ngcude and her partner at their home in London.
I spent the mid-term break in London with Sis’ Ngcude and her partner at her home on 10 Venn Street, SE London. I was excited to meet that couple who had fled the Immorality Act of apartheid South Africa. When Sis’ Ngcude used to visit our home at Crown Mines, I had been a young girl.
Upon my arrival at their place, I was seized by her exuberance, but I was reticent when she introduced me to my ‘sbali’ (brother-in-law). After a brief time with them, I could feel the effect of their fairy story that Mother had related to me. Indeed, they were ‘living happily ever after’. Their home was warm and welcoming, and their two children, Teddy and Joan, were excited to meet their mother’s cousin.
Joan was excitable and loud, whereas Teddy was subdued but pleasant. I was awestruck when I heard Sis’ Ngcude speak isiXhosa so impeccably after many years away from home and her people. She addressed her husband as ‘uyise ka Teddy’ (Teddy’s father) in the same way African wives in our rural areas address their husbands.
Whenever fellow South Africans phoned, Sis’ Ngcude would rattle away in isiXhosa with great excitement, uttering at intervals, ‘Tyhini, tyhini! (Gosh, gosh!)’ Joan, her little girl, always rushed to give her a chair to sit on while she was talking because ‘When Mom speaks in “Double Dutch”, we know she will speak for eternity.’
I shared Joan’s room, and every day in the morning, Ngcude would call out to her, ‘Andikavuki (I’m not awake),’ figuratively meaning that she was ready for her early morning cup of coffee. Joan would then jump from her bed and go to the kitchen to make it. Although she could not speak isiXhosa, Joan knew what her mother meant.
I was so intrigued with that expression that I shared it with my friends when I returned home, and it became our common phrase when we desperately needed a cup of coffee in the morning.
Sis’ Ngcude did not spare herself when entertaining me. She was impressed by my scant knowledge of the Underground. I told her about my short time at the Russell Street YWCA hostel en route to Swansea and explained that I had not visited her at the time because, after my orientation programme, I had to proceed immediately to the university for my registration.
I told her about the exciting places I had explored, including the shops in Oxford Street, and that I had found the shops there far too expensive compared to those at home. She concurred and said that she also could not afford them and promised to take me to her favourite shopping centre.
So the next day, we were off to Camden Town. When we arrived, I was enchanted by what I saw: a maze of fascinating market stalls selling books, new and second-hand clothing, jewellery, furniture, household goods and crafts. There was a wide selection of food stalls offering delectable and inexpensive sweet and savoury treats.
We spent hours looking for things to buy, and because we were patient, we soon found good deals.
It was obvious that Sis’ Ngcude was used to shopping in that place, as she was soon in her element negotiating prices with vendors who were willing to haggle.
After acquiring a few things, we settled down to an Indian curry, and after my first taste, I realised how famished and exhausted I was. I had loved the eclectic mix of stalls and alleyways and the fusion of old and new.
However, battling with the crowds was no mean feat. Finally, it was time to go home via the Underground, and we arrived there very tired but happy with our purchases.
The Whymans were a simple happy family, and their home was filled with laughter and joy. Sis’ Ngcude played the accordion and we sang songs that were popular at home. Some evenings, we sat in the lounge and shared news about our family and friends.
I asked Sis’ Ngcude about her falling in love with a white man and how she and Mr Whyman had been perceived by their colleagues at Modderpoort. She told me that she had always lived in fear because she had read stories in the newspapers about how the police would track down racially mixed couples suspected of being in relationships. She was greatly saddened by having to hide their wonderful feelings of love for each other.
She said that sometimes when they had walked together in the small dorpie, she had to endure questioning stares from passers-by. I told her that I did not understand how loving someone of another race could be reduced to an immoral act. She told me that she was relieved that H. B. had ultimately forgiven her for misleading him. I laughed when my ‘sbali’ shared H. B.’s jovial reminders that he had not paid lobola.
Incidentally, Sis’ Ngcude’s uncle, Tiyo Soga, lived in Scotland and had been married to a white woman. In Donovan Williams’ Umfundisi, A Biography of Tiyo Soga, Tiyo and his wife, upon landing in Algoa Bay in 1857 from Scotland, describe how they had been faced by the realities of racial prejudice and how white people were amazed to see a Black man with a white lady leaning on his arm.
It is interesting to note that while Tiyo Soga had suffered from the curse of colonial prejudice, Sis’ Ngcude and Whyman – his niece and son in-law – in the 1960s had suffered the curse of apartheid prejudice. History was repeating itself.
Sis’ Ngcude inquired about Mother’s well-being, and she was concerned about the news of Darbie’s disappearance. I told her that I did not have the full details and that I intended spending time with Clarence before returning home and would hopefully glean some information when I met him.
Thereupon, she phoned him in Birmingham to express her disappointment that he had not shared that information with her. Sis’ Ngcude wanted to know what attempts Clarence had made to search for Darbie. She advised him that in addition to his failed inquiries to the Birmingham University officials and friends, he should have consulted a private investigator to refer the matter to the Salvation Army investigating department. She then promised that she would consult the Salvation Army herself.
It was time to go back to Swansea for my studies, and I implored Sis’ Ngcude to keep me posted about the result of her investigation. My journey was filled with pleasant memories of the time I had spent with her and her family.
Back at Swansea, I seriously tackled my studies, as it was time to prepare for the weekly tests and assignments. That kept me busy, and I spent a lot of time in the library. I also had weekly meetings with my supervisor to discuss the progress of my dissertation and had to meet deadlines for periodic presentations. It was tough but interesting. As we had to prepare for exams, there was no longer time to watch TV or go out for fun.
Eventually, it was over, and we had all passed our examinations, which was gratifying. A graduation ceremony was held that was attended by the families who had provided accommodation to some of the foreign students. My host was touched when I invited him and his family. I showed them my certificate with pride, as if they were my parents. Indeed, they were family because they had cared for us the whole year.