This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
26 Aug 1992: Ngakane, Nomsa
POM Nomsa, maybe you could just begin by telling me about where you were born, your parents, what your growing up was like, where you went to school, brothers, sisters, things that went on in the family, when you became political? You come from a political family.
NN Background history. I was born in Natal in Durban. My parents are both doctors, medical doctors. When I was born they were already involved in politics.
POM Now where in Durban?
NN I was born well we lived in Clermont. You know Durban? You know the township? Right, that's where we lived in the township there in Clermont. Well we grew up there.
POM Your parents names?
NN My Mom is Albertina Luthuli.
POM Is she related to - ?
NN Her father was Chief Albert Luthuli, the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
POM Is that right?
NN Yes, he was President of the ANC for two or three terms.
POM Why don't you put down the names? Well you know yourself since you've been transcribing the tapes. I'm sure you'll get the names right.
NN That's Mom. My father was Dr Pascal Ngakane. He too, his father was active here in Orlando West, in Soweto, but we lived in Lesotho. Now his father was active in the sense that basically he was working for South African Race Relations here and was very critical of it.
POM The Institute itself?
NN Yes, the Institute of South African Race Relations. He was a teacher by qualification and his wife was a social worker and they were activists in their own way on this side. My grandfather, as I say, in Durban was the President of the ANC for two or three terms. My early recollections of my childhood in SA were very much with my Mom and domestic workers because my Dad a lot of the time was inside, he was constantly in jail, he was constantly being detained. He used to run a surgery, they had a surgery in the township, in Clermont and they used to just go there any time and pick him up. He had a surgery full of patients and then the nurse would come rushing in and say, "Doctor, I think amongst the patients we've got a couple of policemen, Special Branch." And he would say, "Oh well we'll just carry on and he would just usher in the patients as if they were not there and eventually they would stand up and go in as well and then they would say, "We've come to pick you up, we've got a couple of questions to ask you", and that would be that. He used to be gone for several months at a time and that would be that.
POM When were you born?
POM So this would be about?
NN 1964 or 1965, those years basically when I became aware, I suppose I was five years old.
POM What kind of activities was he engaged in at the time?
NN Well I think in SA he didn't have to do anything except just say you don't like the idea. I think they were basically targets because of my grandfather, they were targets because of the history of his in-laws but in his own right he was an activist. Then anybody who was an activist was doing underground work so obviously, clearly, he was in underground work, whatever he was doing underground I have no idea. So he would be picked up for what he did in his area and he would go off for months at a time. This went on obviously throughout our childhood, our early childhood.
POM How many of you were there?
POM Five children.
POM How many boys and girls?
NN We have one brother who was born in 1959, then my sister and myself, we're twins, born in 1962 and then I have another sister in 1963 and then a younger sister, the youngest in the family, 1970. So basically from there on we led that kind of life. I remember my younger sister, the one who was born in 1963 when my father was released at one particular point and came home and she saw this man she had never seen. When he left to go in she was a baby and she was now probably about three years, two years, he came with this huge beard and we used to just run away because we thought "Who's this?" and just disappear and run away. Then we would have to be re-introduced to him every time he came back. "Hey, children, this is your father". We'd look at him and say, "Oh yeah!" It was really weird. So basically we grew up without him until about the age of seven. At the age of seven, well in 1967 my grandfather died. He was killed by a train.
POM Run over by a train?
NN That's how he died. Chief Albert Luthuli was run over by a train. He used to have what you call sugar cane fields. He used to own sugar cane plantations in Groutville and he used to go there every day from five to six, or something like that, and he used to work there. Now to get to the sugar cane plantation he would have to cross a railway line. In those days they didn't have bridges or anything like that, they had to actually cross the actual railway line. So on this particular day he crossed the railway line and a train came along and knocked him. He was an old man. The South Africans say that he was deaf, he wasn't deaf. It was quite clearly a plan to He survived that immediate impact, went into hospital and he survived for a little while, a couple of weeks before he died.
POM Was he able to was he conscious?
NN Yes I think he was conscious because stories that my Mom has told me where she used to go to the hospital and she would go to the hospital, they found him there, but a lot of the time he was quite lucid, quite easy. And then he died. After he died I think the harassment really went on. We went through some very traumatic periods which I think all of us will always remember in the sense that during the period when my father was away, and I think it was after my grandfather died that these things started happening, he would be arrested and go into detention for indefinite periods basically. We lived in a big house. Basically my parents for those days and for the area were considered to be quite affluent and we lived in a big house and we started getting burglaries. These burglaries would go on and my Mom went and she first reported to the police. The police would say OK they will investigate, nothing would happen, but these burglaries were quite there was always something else. I mean the first time we had a burglary I was sleeping and I heard people speaking, talking under the window and I woke up and I went to my Mom's room and I said, "I think there are people outside", and she said, "No, go back to sleep, you must be dreaming". And I went back to the bedroom and three minutes later there was a big crashing noise and a rocket came through the dining room window. So we rushed to my Mom's room and barricaded ourselves inside.
That was it, that was the beginning of a long serious of every single night burglaries. They didn't really want anything. I mean they would come in and the window above the doors, they had balaclavas on, they would peep at us, point toy guns at us and say, "We're going to shoot you, we're going to shoot you", and we'd cower away into wardrobes and things like that and they'd be there the whole night, perhaps coming at 11 o'clock till just before sunrise. They'd just hang out in the house, they'd go to the kitchen, they would eat what they want, they would play the piano, they would play records, they'd come to you at the window and say, "OK, we're now stealing your piano". We would say, "Please, help yourself, just take what you like and leave", and they would go and take the piano and leave it outside because they don't really have the transport to carry it away. "We're now taking your hi-fi set." "Take everything you want, please, just get out of my house and leave us." And they just wouldn't, they'd never really leave us alone. And this went on.
My Mom eventually went to the police and demanded police protection at the house and this guard came over, a huge burly guy. We had these huge glass double doors, he came in and all he could say was, "Doctor, you've got such a beautiful house here. You've got a beautiful house. Don't you worry, you and your kids, you go to sleep and we're going to protect you all night long and absolutely nothing will happen." And we went to sleep comfortable in the knowledge that we had a big burly white policeman guarding our house and there's not a single soul who will dare come in and try anything. Huh! Like clockwork these people were there. Same time, some thing happened. I don't know where the policeman was, nobody ever had any idea and they did exactly the same thing. At sunrise they left, they opened the doors, they had eaten and done everything they wanted. The policeman, I don't know where he rocked up from, but he was there and he said something like he was sleeping and didn't hear a thing.
So basically it became quite clear to us that we were actually being harassed by the police. Then my Dad came out and at this stage we left the country. They made a decision that perhaps we ought to leave the country. And we left the country and went to Britain which was quite horrendous.
POM Where did you go in Britain?
NN We went by ship so we landed in Southampton and we were received by an old lady there called Mrs Davies. I understand that we were actually transported, it was through her auspices that we went there because she heard about our plight and she approached Amnesty International.
POM This year is 19 - ?
NN 1970 we left. We went to Britain and we stayed in Southampton a little while whilst we sorted our status out there and then we moved to Hampstead. Terrible in Hampstead with the British on the ground and all that. We soon moved out of there and went to a place where my parents found in an area, Croydon, and we moved to Erica Road, now what was the exact area? It was Croydon. We got a house there, a nice big house there, a proper family home, and we lived there for a little while. My parents, my Dad worked with a doctor who had a private practice. I forget the doctor's name. My Mom also got a job with another doctor who was in private practice, a Dr Fry, a famous British Obstetrician, and she worked in his surgery. We went to a school called Ashburton.
What was funny about the school is when we went to England we couldn't speak a word of English. I couldn't even say hullo to anybody. I remember my sister who was born in 1963, Zandile, when we were in SA my parents decided to take her to nursery school and I think the whole concept of that was still new, I don't believe that we went to nursery school, I don't think we did, but by the time she was born there were things called nurseries. My parents became aware of the fact that there were nurseries. She used to come from nursery and we used to look at her like she was a new person in the home and we said, "What did you learn today?" And she would say, "Hullo, how are you?" And we would say, "Gee, this girl is smart." We loved it, we would go around telling everybody that our sister speaks English, but that's basically all she could say. So when we got to England we all you know Zandile could say 'hullo, how are you', and the rest of us would look at people and we couldn't say a word. We went to this school where we were now dumped, a British Comprehensive school, and the medium of instruction was in English, everybody around you is speaking English and we would just sit in a class and people's mouths were moving and didn't know what on earth they were saying. We had absolutely no idea. And then the obvious thing we became targets for the other kids and the teasing and all that started.
POM This was an all-white school?
NN A white school.
POM So this was your first exposure to white children?
NN Yes, first exposure to white children. What we knew was that whites treat us badly and we're now in this school. My parents at home were busy trying to say, no, not all of them, this is not SA here, people are normal here, you don't have to worry about them. But then we were going through a situation at school where the kids would be teasing us so we decided, well, our only form of defence is to try and answer them back, we would beat them up. So we became pretty we were hooligans actually, we would beat up all those English kids and the rest of it. This went on but we soon picked up, we were only seven, languages are really easy to kids, so we picked it up and one, two, three we were fine. Then we moved from that area.
POM After how long was that?
NN I think we were in Croydon till about 1973. At this stage my Dad was working in a hospital in Ealing and he wasn't living at home, he was now living in Ealing because of the distances. Then they decided, no, that was just too tough really, it wasn't what they wanted so then we moved.
POM Was he maintaining contacts with the anti-apartheid groups in Britain?
POM Would they be speaking and ?
NN What was happening is quite often on weekends we would go to London where for us it was just an outing, for them it would be meetings, they would be attending meetings of the ANC. Then we would go to the homes of these people, Tambo, all sorts of people.
POM Tambo was there then, right?
NN Yes. We would go to their homes and hence they are all very much personal family friends as much as they are leaders. At that stage we didn't understand, we were still trying to battle with our own trying to adapt to the situation. Then we went to another area, moved to another area. Again they continued the same sort of relations with the ANC, quite often going to London, quite often activists would come to our home for visits, not so much meetings as visiting after a meeting, chatting, discussing all that sort of thing. We went to another school in an area called Wadham. I think we were in Wadham for about two years and then it was about 1974 we moved from Wadham and went to a place called Sanderstead where my Mom then wanted to buy a home. She felt that we had been in Britain long enough, we were obviously not going back and she felt that she wanted to buy a home now. So she bought a home in Sanderstead, a very nice area Sanderstead, and we got into school there. Riddlestone High School and we started going to high school. It was about 1974.
I think at this point my Dad started, Britain was not an easy life even if you are a professional, it's one long hard it's an uphill financially, so I think at this stage my Dad started getting a bit tired of the cold weather and constant penny counting and the rest. He had a sister in Maseru, Lesotho, who sent her kids up for holidays and I think when they got there he was attracted by the life that they led in Maseru so he started talking us all into leaving Britain and going to Lesotho. In 1975 we left.
POM Now when you were in the high school, after you had got over the language problem in Britain, how did the English kids treat you?
NN I think we became then very much like any other black kid in England. They couldn't make the difference really between us and Jamaicans and they had their own problems. You were still the 'wog', the 'nig-nog', and 'go black home and have a white cup of coffee.'
POM Did you have white girl friends?
NN We had plenty of friends. We never had problems along those lines. We had plenty of friends who would come over, sleep over, that sort of relationship, we would go over and sleep over at their places, go to school dances. Teachers were just people. We never felt any kind of special animosity. We did in one school, the one in Wadham. There was a teacher there who was Jamaican and he, when we were there, he found out about our background, our history. I don't know how he found that out. He was probably interested in South African politics and he had heard that there are these two South African kids and he did a bit of background into us and he then discovered that we had this history of my grandfather who was a Nobel Prize winner, he was quite proud. Living in that area was not easy for any black person. He was obviously going through his own problems with the English. So he was quite proud and he wanted to show the class that blacks are something too, we do work, we have a history. And one day he decided to tell the class about my grandfather and the kids listened and listened and at the end of that they just said even more, "Why don't you just go back home?" Even more they were like, oh my goodness, now they think they're celebrities. The whole thing just backfired, but that school was just terrible and even my parents who don't normally jump to that sort of thing, they recognised that and then I think they were quite happy for us to move away from there.
Then in this other school, in the high school, we went on a trip to France. There was a school trip to France and we wanted to go, my sister and I were like, "If we don't go we'll really be the odd ones out." We were tired of being the odd ones out. When we travelled on the ship from SA to Britain we could never go into the swimming pool because my Mom wouldn't let us, my parents wouldn't let us swim because they were afraid that the white kids would drown us. We were always hanging out, in the middle of the Mediterranean heat we would be sitting on the side the pool looking at everybody frolicking around in the pool. Actually it was probably a good idea because we couldn't swim anyway, we would probably have drowned and it would never have been clear whether it was the whites who drowned us or whether we drowned from our own inability to swim. My parents would have probably blamed some poor family, they would lay the blame on the Captain or something like that. So we went to France and when we got to France my parents had to quickly organise British travel documents and over there we were treated very specially, it was quite amazing.
POM In France?
NN Yes, we were called the princesses of Africa. I had no idea why, I had no idea. We got literally VIP treatment and our path was just smooth everywhere we went. The white kids would be slogging around in queues and the rest of it and they could come and pick us out from the queues, "Oh, the princesses of Africa, you must come to the front", take us to the front and process us quickly. I even felt quite good about that. It was quite nice. It was a camping trip. It was quite interesting. We went on tours in Dieppe, Rouen, we went all over the place. It was really nice.
NN We saw the castles and Versailles, really interesting. Basically that was it. We came back to Maseru.
POM Did you carry that British passport?
NN Yes, not British passport, British travel documents because we were you see we left on an exit permit from SA. My parents left on an exit permit but there was a provision that although my parents would never, ever return to SA, us when we turned 16, the kids, would have the option to re-apply for their South African status when we turned 16. Hence my parents never wanted us to take British citizenship or a British passport. They wanted us to wait until we were 16 so that we could have the option to return home at least on holidays so we don't grow up completely outside.
POM So they went out on an exit permit. Were they effectively banned from returning to SA?
NN That's it, and never come back. You are banished from SA never to return. The only thing that would return them was to go those meetings in London and discuss how they can come back in terms of coming back to a new SA, to a SA which is run by a black government. Under the Nationalist government they were not allowed to come back.
Basically then we went to Lesotho, 1975. Again we were thrown you know this is the whole exile life really, you just get thrown the whole five years, 4¾ years we were in London, we were moving from one home to another, one area to another, and then finally out of England into Lesotho. Again you are thrown into a country where there's a foreign language. In Lesotho they spoke Sesotho which we had never come across before. So we went to a school, my sister and I, we went to a high school there, Sesotho high school, it was the medium of instruction, it was a government school, very poor quality.
POM Rather poor quality?
NN Really, it was really very, very bad. It wasn't a good school at all for some reason. We landed up in -
POM You're now eleven, twelve?
POM So now you have to pick up another language.
NS And another completely different system of education and a completely different curriculum. Britain was one curriculum, this was another curriculum altogether. So we joined the school and we went through the whole thing, 1975 to 1976 when the riots broke out in SA. I remember my parents being very excited, saying, "Oh the kids in SA are going to return us", they were making all sorts of demands of the government. The people were very excited that something is going to come out of the riots and my parents were no exception, feeling very excited about the eruption that was taking place in the country.
POM Was there television in Lesotho?
NN No. Newspapers and radios and, of course, Lesotho being a frontline state the trickling in of the refugees. The kids came swarming out, not trickling. They came swarming in large numbers into the neighbouring states, running away from here. There was just general feeling, the whole place was tense and feeling that something is happening in SA, maybe we will all have to go back and assist and maybe the kids have got an idea and something is going to come out of this. 1976.
Then 1977, well at this stage there was a sort of a lull. It was clear that no-one was going back home within 24 hours. The refugees were still swarming out of the country.
POM Did the refugees live in one particular area?
NN No, there were refugee camps in Lesotho they were allowed to more or less live wherever they wanted.
POM Would they live in areas where other exiles lived?
NN How can I describe it? Maseru is a small town. You've got particular areas. You've got the sort of affluent suburb, you've got the less affluent suburbs and then you've got what you call the black areas, really, although the place is multi-racial it still has those divisions in terms of now economic division. The refugees would come in and they would get a bit of money and they would go more to the suburbs.
POM Who would they get the money from?
NN They would go to the suburbs and rent the servants quarters. They would get money from there was a Christian Council, the UNCR, there were all sorts of bodies which were supporting them at the time and they would go more to the suburbs. There was a refugee camp somewhere just outside town, there would be a couple of those there, but I think the programme in Lesotho was quite organised in the sense that as soon as they came in UNCR would immediately register them and get them off to school. So a lot of them were not just hanging around, they were not just living and doing absolutely nothing and as a result become a potential problem to the society into which they have arrived. They would immediately be put into boarding schools if they were at high school; they would go to university if there were at that level. If a person was at university here and the subject was not offered at the national university there they would put him on a plane and move him to a country where they could continue whatever studies that they were doing. In fact a lot of the 1976 kids they are now the office bearers here at Shell House, a lot of them and they got a great chance of education. We had a large South African contingent of refugees there.
Then 1977 my Mom left and we finished high school.
POM Your Mom left?
NN Yes, my parents divorced in 1977. She decided to go to America first and she didn't like the idea of bringing up my little sister in America because my sister was then five years old, the youngest, and my Mom went there to her sister and she decided she didn't really like America.
POM Where did she go?
NN Atlanta, Georgia. She didn't like it and then she decided and it was taking a long time.
POM Did she take your younger sister with her?
NN Took the younger sister and then she decided to move from there back to Britain which was familiar and she got a job when she got there and she settled down.
POM With the youngest?
NN With the youngest in the family. Now we were left. My brother was at school in Swaziland and then my sisters stayed with my Dad. My sister, the one who comes after myself and my older sister, she decided she wanted to join my Mom in London so she went and got into a school there. Then my sister and I decided that we wanted to complete in Lesotho so we stayed and we wrote our examinations and as soon as we wrote our examinations we returned to England to go and join my Mom as well.
POM So you lived with your father for this period?
NN Yes, stayed with my Dad. Then in nineteen seventy -
POM Who looked after you at this point?
NN Domestic workers, they were very cheap, they come 22 a dozen. A domestic worker's average salary was R30 in those days, one comes in, the other walks out. There were plenty of them. All you have to do is to make sure the groceries are there and they know how to cook if you're a single man with kids and they just do the rest really, clean the house.
POM Was your father still active?
NN My father at this stage was still active. He was going to America, going to Germany, all on ANC business.
POM All on behalf of the ANC.
NN All on behalf of the ANC. But then in about 1975 actually, he started having tension with the ANC and I think some of the trips that he made outside were not so much all for the ANC as much as they were all trying to establish a certain group opinion outside of the ANC in the international community because at this stage there had been a group that had been expelled from the ANC, what we called the Group of Eight and he was a member of that Group of Eight. He had been expelled from the ANC. So they were going around lobbying their own thing.
POM When was he expelled?
NN 1976 and 1977 I think it was.
POM This was before your parents got divorced?
NN Yes, before they got divorced. So he had been expelled with a group of other people, seven others. He was still active but I think outside of the ANC now but also not with the PAC, they hadn't quite linked themselves with any particular organisation.
POM But they would travel abroad?
NN They would travel abroad.
POM Who would finance them?
NN I have no idea. They went to Chigago, they went to Germany, basically all over the place. I think it was obviously difficult because wherever they went, you know the ANC is a powerful organisation, you don't get there and undermine what they were doing, I have no idea. Whatever came of those trips can't have been much because nothing seems to have come of them.
From there on we trudged along, trudged along. Then my Mom, 1980, 1977 we went to England in 1979, stayed in England for a little while. My mother wanted us to go to school there but at that stage we didn't really feel like it.
POM You had matriculated at this point?
NN We had matriculated at this point, decided to return to Lesotho. I got back to Lesotho, did a secretarial course, 1980. 1982 my sister decided to start working, then 1981 Zimbabwe became independent and my Mom decided to go to Zimbabwe because she wanted to be closer to us and also closer to home. My Mom was old now and my grandmother, she was always worried about my Mom being so far away. So we felt maybe, she thought maybe being closer would be better for everybody so she brought all those children with her, put them in schools in Marondella. She got a job with the government in Zimbabwe immediately after independence. She was one of the first
She lived there, my sisters were at school at Marondella High School, they graduated.
POM This is in Harare?
NN Marondella, it's 75 kms out of Harare. She was working at the hospital and my sisters were at school in that area. They graduated with O-levels and A-levels from there and then the sister that comes after me decided to leave Zimbabwe. At this stage I am working now in Lesotho, working for a secretarial agency there and my sister is working. Then my Mom writes and says, "Why don't you come over and join us here?" Then I decide, no, I don't want to go and my twin sister decides she's had enough, she's going. So she packs up and goes off and I get left alone in Maseru with my Dad and my brother. So she gets back into school at this stage in Zimbabwe.
POM Is this university she goes to now?
NN No she decided she didn't do very well in O-levels, my Mom decided she should repeat O-levels because you can't go to university in Zimbabwe without As, do A-levels and then go to university. So she did that. She repeated her Os, did a couple of Os, she did her As and she went to university and did law. I carried on working in Lesotho. 1987 I decided to leave. 1984,1985, 1986, 1987, then I decided to leave and go to Zimbabwe. When I got to Zimbabwe I decided to just carry on working. My Mom wanted me to do what my sister had done, go and do O-levels, A-levels and go to university. I couldn't be bothered. At this stage I really couldn't be bothered. I just said, look, I think I'll just carry on as I am, carry on working and eventually I'll decide when I want to go back to school.
We stayed in Zimbabwe for some time, 1987, 1988, 1989, working. 1989 my Mom left because she was now being hassled by the British, she was holding a British passport, a British travel document, and they were threatening to revoke it, take it away because she had been away for seven years at this point and they felt that you have to take the travel document of the country in which you've been domiciled for five years now and she didn't want to do that because Zimbabwe was not offering travel documents to South Africans. They were not offering any kind of document to South Africans and she was beginning already to have problems with Zimbabwe. They were happy to welcome you when they didn't have trained, skilled people. Now six, seven years down the line they had got their own people that they wanted to put into positions so they started getting rid of some of the foreigners, they wanted them out. So she started getting a bit uncomfortable, so in 1989 she decided maybe she should just go back to Britain for a little while and recharge her batteries and see what's happening. She went to Scotland. The reason she chose Scotland is because she had sent my sister off to Glasgow University and she said, let me go to Scotland and help Lindi, who was the youngest, help Lindi settle in because in Glasgow she's going to be alone out there, there's absolutely nobody, she will need some back-up support. In fact she was quite fine, she didn't need my Mom but my Mom said, "I need to be there." So she went off to Glasgow where she worked again and helped my sister settle in. That was 1989, 1990.
Then things started changing in SA. It became apparent in 1989 that things were changing so she decided to come nearer again. She came back to Harare. At this stage I was working.
POM Did she in these years did she remain as an activist too?
NN Throughout all her life, these things were part of her life. For her meetings in London, in Zimbabwe, in Scotland, everywhere, meetings, ANC meetings, participation in activities, it was just part of her life. She never stopped at any one point. She was a recognised ANC doctor in the sense that even ANC with their people from Lusaka who were sick, they would come and drive all the way from Lusaka to Marondella and she would help them and keep them to recuperate. Exile life is difficult for some people, the tensions, Harare was hectic. Marondella, 75 kms out of Harare, it was a nice quiet place, it was a very nice area. They would come there and spend time generally recuperating, resting, being away from being involved in politics.
POM At your house?
NN Yes. And then once they feel strong enough again they go off, back to the middle of it but otherwise she was there. Then 1991 we returned. She went to Durban and I came here. Basically I've been working throughout.
POM So is she practising medicine still in Durban?
NN Sure. She came back, she worked at Stanger Hospital, she was employed at Stanger Hospital and then after a while I started trying to persuade her that she's really too old to be doing this kind of work, this is for young doctors now. She said, "I need to go into a hospital so I can see the systems, the health system and all that before I go into private practice." So she went and she examined the whole medical administration of the area first and then after a couple of months really, I think about four or five months after her return in 1991 she opened her practice more or less at the beginning of this year.
POM In Stanger?
NN In Stanger. She's doing well.
POM Is she still active in the ANC?
NN She's active in the ANC, in the branch in Stanger, in Durban. She goes to Durban quite a lot although the Stanger branch is a bit dead in the sense that the Chairperson is not very they are not good organisers. But she tries to help the branch along and then she goes to Durban and participates in their activities down there.
POM Stanger is in Natal as distinct from KwaZulu, or is it part of KwaZulu?
NN I'm not sure. Part of Stanger is part of KwaZulu and part of it is not. I know that you've got Groutville and then you've got the Mill up here, I've forgotten what the place is, and then there's Groutville. Now here there is constant friction with Inkatha and I think that is KwaZulu.
POM In that part of Stanger.
NN Yes. That is where my uncle, my mother's brother has got a shop and he lives here. This side, they keep on casting an eye, Inkatha, in this direction, they keep on threatening. They want to know the people of Groutville which way do they fall, they must declare themselves, are they with us or are they not? But they find it difficult somehow to enter this area and cause disruption. They don't find it very easy. So, so far where my Mom's been living, which is back at home, at her original home
POM She's living in her original home?
NN Yes, she is at her original home with her Mom now.
POM With her mother!
NN Who is very old and sick now.
POM What age is she?
NN She's 89, about 88, 89. So far it's been relatively safe and trouble free although where my Mom works in Stanger town they would go through periods of tension where there would be so-called taxi wars and they would take things right outside her surgery, shootings and all sorts of things. I remember the first taxi war she was involved in she phoned me because she had stepped out because she had just bought herself a brand new car. Suddenly they're shooting around this car. She raced out of the surgery, "Please, stop, I'm going to move my car." And there they stopped and allowed her to get into her car to move it! She phoned, I said, "You're going to get killed. Let them stone the car." She said, "No ways. I haven't even finished paying for the thing." Basically things were safe but the thing is I've always said to her, she was afraid to return home because of the violence, I had to do a lot of persuasion. I came in 1989.
POM You should tell me how you did that in a minute. But she returned when?
NN In 1991.
POM 1991, OK. So the violence had been heating up since 1990?
POM She at first didn't want to
NN She didn't want to come home at all. She was afraid of the violence especially in Natal because the violence was very concentrated in Natal at that stage. It hadn't really started moving up to the PWV. It started moving in 1990 with the train violence, the first train incident, the big one. There had been violence but that's when it really hit the outside world that the Transvaal is now Inkatha is moving out from the Natal area up to this area. She was afraid, we had to really do a lot of persuasion.
I came in 1989. I examined the area, went to see her brothers, my uncles, I talked to them. They said, "Tell her to come home, there is nothing happening here in Stanger." I went to see a couple of people here in the Transvaal, I talked and discussed it with them because she had had her own discussions with not a very nice person and they had had some kind of altercation through the media.
POM Your mother?
POM She insulted Gatsha too? He's got a long, long list.
NN Is there a long list? Yes. So she was afraid that he might decide to retaliate and she could find herself a victim of one day stepping out of her car and getting shot and you'd never know who did it.
POM She met him in London when he made his trips to London?
NN That was when he was still with the movement.
POM With the movement?
POM So she knew him like ?
NN Knew him on a personal basis long before London. He was very close to my grandfather. Very close, that's why he always uses my grandfather now and tries to pretend that my grandfather would have condoned his actions. He always said that, "No, I don't know what's wrong with Albertina. Her father and I were so close." They were very close. My grandfather, he was almost like a mentor, my grandfather, he was like his mentor.
POM Is that right?
NN We had photographs at home of all of them, Gatsha Buthelezi in London, here in Groutville, at the funeral. Even now we've got photographs of the funeral with Gatsha there, everybody there. He was very close to the family. He has got very close family links with my Mom and it was only when he went this way and the reason that they had this clash with my Mom was because when he then noticed that he was now having problems with the ANC and things like that he wanted to legitimise himself in what he said and he then tried to drive the old lady, my grandmother, onto his side, he tried to hijack her and then my Mom reacted. Then she reacted, she said, "Leave that old lady alone. She's got nothing to do with you, she's got nothing to do, just leave her alone." And then they started with this problem that they had.
And then basically she returned and there has been nothing. We haven't had any problems. Once there was some I wasn't there, my sister was there, they phoned me there was some shooting at the house, some cars came and parked outside the gate and they shot into the yard and the bullets hit the walls, but to this day I don't know why and who. Obviously as soon as they got half a chance they called my uncle who then called the relevant people and afterwards whoever did it, for whatever reason they did it, must have been warned. It would be too much of an embarrassment I think all round if my Mom, if Albert Luthuli's daughter, comes back from exile and dies in the violence for no good reason. There is no good reason for anybody to ever die, it would be so obvious. In a way she's very protected as long as she lives in that house, we keep telling her. We say as long as you stay there you're fine but if you move out of there and go somewhere else there's a problem, we are not very comfortable with that. We're happier with her sitting there. Although she is tired of living there, she wants her independence. She's got her surgery, it's running well, she's got everything. She's living with an old lady. She wants to go and live in her own place. She's got a flat by the beach and she wants to go and look at the seaside as she wakes up in the morning but we're all saying, "Hang on a bit, we have to work this out."
I don't think she is going to leave until after Christmas because Christmastime is when everybody gathers around the home and this will be discussed in terms of if you leave then what happens to the old lady. Not that she's going to be far, she's going to be about ten minutes drive away but it's an issue still, still an issue.
POM So your Dad meantime, what happened to him?
NN My Dad in the meantime he carried on living in Maseru, he got married to a lady from SA here.
POM Was she living there?
NN No, I don't know, she used to go there, just go on trips and then they met and then got married. Then he lived in Maseru, he had a private practice.
POM Is he now out of politics altogether?
NN Now he is out of politics altogether.
POM At what point did he get out?
NN I think once he met his wife. She's a bit of a nightmare. He met his wife, she's totally what I would call illiterate even though she can read and write, she is totally apolitical. You know we might say she is apolitical but the disruption that woman caused in his political life and his relations with other people, even though he left political life, he was still, before she came along, he was still very close to people like Hani, very close. They used to come home and sit around and chat and talk and drink and carry on and all that.
POM Did Hani live in Lesotho?
NN Lesotho? Yes. And they were close and all that but then she came along and she put one ultimatum down, "I don't want you to be involved in anything. I don't want you to have anything to do with ANC or any of its members", and that was that. He tried to come back with a brother. He decided, again I would blame it on the wife even though he's an adult. He was trying very hard at this stage. He was running a practice, she had a shop. Because she had no business skills it collapsed. He was then the sole breadwinner and I think at this point her mind came back to SA and the way doctors live. It's very different the way, the standard of living of doctors in private practice here and the standard of living of doctors in private practice in Lesotho, even the successful ones. Here they live like millionaires. There they're just rich. You know what I mean? Here they live well. So I think she cast her mind back to SA, she thought this is nonsense, why am I hanging around here, let me persuade this man to go back and then I'll be able to live the life that I really want to lead. I will be Mrs Doctor Ngakane.
So she talked him then into at this stage he had bought a plot just outside Maseru, a very nice farm area and he had built a house on that plot. He was so well established. He was trying to start up a little farm, he had a vegetable garden which could feed his family and the rest was commercial, the surplus he would sell to the community. He had a cow which he used to milk and sell milk to the community. He was the happiest man on earth. He used to come home, go to his garden, to his beetroot, his carrots and lettuce. His tomatoes would be big, he was so proud of his garden and his cow and the rest of it.
POM Were you still living with him?
NN I wasn't living with him at this point, I was living out of home, I was living in Maseru. So she decided, although, as far as I'm concerned and as far as my Dad was concerned, they were living very well, they didn't want for anything, she decided, no, this is not good enough. She didn't want to be a farmer's wife so she persuaded him that he must apply to Bophuthatswana for a job. So he applied to Bophuthatswana for a job in the Ministry.
POM He went to school with?
NN He went to school with Mangope, so Mangope supported his application and was really happy. Now for Mangope it was an ace up his sleeve too, he had attracted a former political exile. He was quite a bit person in the ANC and at this stage now, it was almost like he was defecting to Mangope, so he was really happy to get the guy in and my Dad was really quite excited. He warmed up to the idea of coming back. He was going to be close also to his own father, my grandfather, who was living in Bophuthatswana in a certain part of Bophuthatswana. But you know how segmented Bophuthatswana is, he was living in another part of Bophuthatswana.
So he packs up, sells the surgery, he gives me his home, the house. I loved the house and I moved in and they started to move out. They went to the border the first day, when they got to the border which is a bridge between SA and Lesotho, they get to the bridge and the Boers say, "Hey, you are not wanted here". So he says, "No, I'm not coming to your country, I'm going to Bophuthatswana. I have a job. Here is my letter of employment. Let me through." They said, "We don't care where you're going, you don't come into SA." So he went back, phones Mangope. Mangope says, "Ah! I'll sort it out, don't worry. You just get to the border tomorrow and I'll send my Ambassador from Bloemfontein." They go to the border in the morning, he gets there, here is this Ambassador from Bloemfontein and he says, "This is so-and-so, he's coming to work for our Ministry." And the Boers said, "Look, we have instructions and they are clearly written out here." They have what you call a rotation, they've got this thing at the border, it's some kind of register. You get there with your passport, they look at your name and they go to this register of theirs, page through, look up and down and they check your name and then they come back and they tell you you need to have either a visa or you're just persona non grata here and you're just turned away, don't waste their time. So the Ambassador didn't succeed. The Ambassador said, "I don't know what they expect the Ambassador to do." He needed to get instructions from the Foreign Office and then the Foreign Office would instruct the border, the South African Foreign Office. So the Ambassador said, "No problem, I'll go and get that first thing in the morning. Don't worry, Pascal, I'm very sorry for the inconvenience. Go home and tomorrow morning everything will be sorted out." The guy drives back to Bloemfontein, contacts Foreign Affairs. I don't know what happens in Foreign Affairs, he's back again the next day, same flak. Back this went on for about two or three weeks. So my Dad eventually got fed up with it.
POM Did he want his house back?
NN No. I just said it's OK, he's going away. At this stage they had moved his furniture, the Bophuthatswana government had moved his furniture to Bophuthatswana. It's now sitting in a house, the house that he had been allocated. It was sitting there waiting for him to arrive and unpack and make his house beautiful. He decides this is nonsense. He gets into a plane and flies to Bophuthatswana.
POM How do you do that?
NN Maseru has an airport. He gets into a plane, he goes to Jan Smuts where he stays in transit and gets a plane from Jan Smuts to Mmabatho. He doesn't enter SA, he stays in transit. He gets through the whole thing, I don't know how he gets through it but he does. Obviously when he's in transit there are no checks by immigration and the rest, so there's no cause for them to say what are you doing here or even be aware of his presence there. He just waits for the next plane and as the plane comes from Bophuthatswana he got onto it and landed in Mmabatho. He gets to Mmabatho, he goes straight to the Ministry of Health where now there was commotion. They look at him and they say "Who are you?" He says, "Dr Ngakane". The secretary goes in and announces him I think to the Secretary of Health who phones, obviously, the Minister of Health who then phones the office of Mangope who then says, "That guy can't be here, he's not meant to be here. We haven't sorted out his things." Obviously this was what was going on between them. Then the secretary comes out with the Permanent Secretary and says, "Oh Dr Ngakane, look a couple of things." My Dad says, "Here I am, I'm ready to start work but we've had so many problems." And they look at him and say, "Hold on a second, can we just ask you to wait?" They said wait, and he said he sat around in this waiting room for about an hour and nothing was happening. Then he demanded to see Mangope because they was coming in and not answering his questions and then he decided he's going to demand to see Mangope. Then they said, "Mangope is out of the country." So he said, "No, look, this is nonsense." They said, "Let's put you up in a hotel and we will try and contract Mangope and get him to contact you." So they put him into this hotel and then he decided at this stage that something was a bit wrong. While he was sitting in the hotel watching TV there was a live broadcast and it's Mangope broadcasting from the same town, Mmabatho. So he decided there was something fishy going on. He opens the door of his room and he finds he's got guards outside the door, two people pacing up and down outside his room. At this point something in his head said he had better get out of here. He packed up his things, put them in his bag, hopped out of the window and he was gone into the night of Bophuthatswana. At this stage now he's flying for his life because it is clear that Bophuthatswana had received instructions, long ago had received these instructions, they just hadn't told him, that this person is not wanted. They were still trying to act big politics, they think they're independent, and yet they're still trying to act politics and maybe trying to negotiate with Foreign Affairs or whatever, security and all that and trying to get the clearance and my Dad sort of lands in the middle of all this before Bophuthatswana and Mangope have actually got the go-ahead from his bosses, because he's not a boss, contrary to what he might think. So poor guy. He ran away from the hotel, he remembered he had some relatives in the area and he went and they hid him for the night and day and the next night they put him into a car and drove him to the border where he crossed the river. He couldn't even go to the border post now.
POM He crossed the river how?
NN He crossed illegally, swam across the river, the Caledon River.
POM He swam across?
NN Sure, and got back to Maseru and came home.
POM To your house?
NN To my house now. I said, "What are you doing here?" He said, "You'd better go back to your flat. I want my house back." And that was that. He needed to get his surgery back from the guy he had sold it to, luckily the guy was willing to give it to him. He even had to get his stuff back from Bophuthatswana.
POM Where had he left his wife during this period?
NN She was with me. She was waiting for instructions to say go and get on a plane at such and such a point and I'll meet you in Mmabatho. She was with me. In fact she was no longer even with me because she's so high and mighty, the whole farm issue had become too much for her so she had moved into the suburb with some other relatives of ours. She was staying there and living a posh life just waiting to be flown across to a life of mink and manure. They had to go back to the farm, get the surgery back. Now their furniture was in Bophuthatswana. Now Mangope didn't even want to talk to him, he wouldn't even give him the time of day. It was so funny, it was so funny. He actually got his furniture back. It was pretty dented really. Then he wanted to sue the Bophuthatswana government. So I said, "Go ahead for what it's worth, if it will make you feel better." I don't think he sued in the end. There was nothing he could do.
POM So you returned, he stayed there until?
NN He came back. I found him here in 1989.
POM You found him.
POM Back in?
NN In SA.
POM He came back before you did?
NN Yes I found him here in 1989. I came here on my own, for my own reasons.
POM How did he manage to get back here?
NN Do you know, I have no idea. He said to me - well in 1989 things started changing and then SA had a trade mission and he went to visit the trade mission and he said, "Look things are changing in SA and I really want to go home", and this lady was very friendly, the official there. She was very friendly and she negotiated with their security department and one, two, three in no time he had a South African passport and in no time they said you can go back. He didn't waste any time, he just packed up and left and he came here and he applied for a job in Alexandra Clinic. I think he had already applied for the job, I don't know how he managed that, and he got the job with Alexandra Clinic, Deputy Director.
POM Of Alexandra?
NN Clinic. That's where he is now. He lives just up the road here, he bought an apartment.
POM With his wife?
NN Yes. They live here. I found them here in 1989.
POM In the meantime, let's get back to you, you had been in Zimbabwe, now you go back to Lesotho.
NN I go back to Lesotho and I went to Canada in 1989. I stayed five months. I was in Kingston.
POM Did you have relatives there?
NN I had a friend there. Now at this stage, you see in Lesotho in 1987 I had the baby, the first, her father and I we were meant to get married. Then he went to Canada to school. Then I decided I wanted to come back here so I was, like everybody else, worried about the violence and clearly the schools were not multi-racial at that stage and I didn't want to leave her in Zimbabwe. So I decided it would be OK to take her to because we were not sure of the situation here, how long the violence would be and I didn't want to come with kids and clearly I couldn't send her to any of the township schools, that's a non-starter. I also didn't want to take her to any of the white schools. That too was a non-starter. So I said, OK, let me send her, because her Dad was in Canada, in Kingston, doing an MA in Maths and Statistics and he still had about two years to go, so I thought and I was a bit worried about her in Zimbabwe anyway because now she was beginning to speak and think in Shona so her school work started suffering because of that. So I thought she needed to go out again, she needed now to go out and internalise the English medium because much as I don't like the idea that we speak English all the time and the rest and we behave as if we don't have our own language, the education if you don't have your English, your basic English grammar down pat you're in trouble, really you're in trouble and you go from one class to the other, you continue and you just can't move through and in the end you pass out and you've learnt absolutely nothing. You stand half a chance if at least you have your basic English grounding and that's what I wanted for her. So I decided to send her across to Canada. So I went with her to her Dad. He said, "Bring her across her and let her stay with me." So I took her across and I stayed for about five months and I left her there and then I returned to the country.
POM To Lesotho?
NN Yes. I went from Canada to Zimbabwe to wind up my things and then came here.
POM I thought you entered illegally when you came in?
NN Oh, OK. The time when I entered illegally was when I was in Lesotho moving to Zimbabwe, 1987, because they had not opened up then. What happened at that particular point is I wanted to leave Lesotho, I had been there for years, eleven years, and throughout my eleven years I didn't have a citizenship. I mean I lived for eleven years without a document, I had no ID, I had no passport, I had no status. In fact I was referred to as stateless. Now after the coup in Maseru the Basuto were really tired of South Africans and the government that came in was hostile to the ANC and they tossed them out quickly. They wasted no time in tossing them out. But some of us who were loyal to the ANC but were not part of it, we were not an integral part of the ANC that our livelihood and everything depended on the movement, we were independent, we escaped that mass everybody to the airport, get onto a plane and get out of here. We had something to fall back on. My Dad was working for the government at that stage. He was an expatriate of the country, after expatriate he took a citizenship. So we stayed under him. Now we decided we didn't want to take citizenship because we still had this thing in our minds that when we turn 16 we can go back and apply for South African status but when we tried that the South Africans tossed us out. They didn't want to hear. I faxed them, I telexed them, I was working at that stage, I telexed them, long letters, long documents. I sent them proof of the fact that I was born here. They knew exactly who they were dealing with. They would just reply in three-line letters. First they said what tribe are you of? I faxed back and I said I don't belong to a tribe, I'm South African. And then they wanted to know of which group and then I would say, "Well I'm Tswana", then they were happy with that. They said, "Apply to the Bophuthatswana government", and I would say I don't know anything about the Bophuthatswana government, I never lived there. We actually had a conversation over a telex, you could do that. I don't know anything about a Bophuthatswana government, I never lived under a Bophuthatswana government, I was born in Natal, I left Natal and I am now applying for my status. They said, "Apply to the Bophuthatswana government, end of typing". And that was the end of that conversation.
Anyway I then decided for me to get out, I'd been in Lesotho for eleven years and I had never left its borders. It's a small place, you just hang out like that. People, your friends, are in and out, it can be quite depressing. I decided I want to get out of there and I want to go to Zimbabwe. So I applied to the government for citizenship. They granted me citizenship. Immediately they granted me citizenship I applied for an international passport which was very difficult to get in Lesotho, very difficult. They gave me an international passport and as soon as I had an international passport then I started testing the borders. I went to Maseru Bridge, they wouldn't allow me in. I went to Peka Bridge, they wouldn't allow me in. I went to Ficksburg, they didn't have our details there and I got through and I went on a trial to my cousin, the lady you met the other day in Bophuthatswana, and I stayed with them in Thaba Nchu for a week, I returned through the same Ficksburg, no problems, and then I made an appointment with her that on such-and-such a date come and pick me up with your Mom's van and I'll pack up everything, and I left. I left through Ficksburg, went to Beit Bridge and into Zimbabwe. If they had caught me, basically at this stage it was a case of which borders have got which people.
There was one year when my sister and I went to Transkei, 1982 or 1983, we went to Transkei. South Africa was really fraught with violence and definitely there were no signs of change in the air.
POM How did you get from Lesotho to Transkei?
NN At this stage the Lesotho government had issued us with Lesotho travel documents which they soon took away. They gave them and then they took them back. So we decided to go to the Transkei.
POM Because the Transkei was an independent country, right?
POM And it borders?
NN Yes, you see this is the crazy situation. It's another fragmented so-called country because you go from into Transkei and then to get to the rest of Transkei you have to go through SA, but now there is no bridge, there are no borders. So legally, technically, you're illegally in SA as you drive through and then you get into another part and suddenly you know you're safe now because you're in Transkei. Then you drive another 3 kms and you've now re-entered SA. It's a real crazy situation.
POM I went there last week. I had to produce my passport to go through the international airport in Durban. I flew there and had to go through international departures and have your passport.
NN It's crazy, international too!
POM I got my passport stamped with Transkei.
NN You know the funny thing, talking of this stamp, is when we got to Bridge my sister and I were very aware that we cannot have that stamp in our passports. Whatever happens they cannot stamp our passport with that. We were only going on holiday, we wanted to have some fun and we didn't want any evidence of it because if we needed to leave and use those passports to go somewhere, Britain or somewhere else, people with those stamps in their passports couldn't enter the commonwealth countries. So we were clear about that and we told the guys at the border. We said, "We don't want the Transkei stamp because of this." Do you know that they obliged?
POM Gee. Whenever I go back into the United States I don't find that I'm refused entry because my passport has been stamped Transkei.
NN Not any more. In those days you wouldn't get into the US and Britain with those stamps, Bophuthatswana. That's why a lot of South Africans had two passports, South African whites, they had a British passport and a SA passport because their passport wouldn't allow them entry, smooth entry into some of these places.
POM We're getting to a point where we can stop. It's all so fascinating. How did you meet Shadrack?
NN I met him in Zimbabwe. We had a cousin who came to our home, I didn't know him, we had never met him. This guy just rocked up at home and introduced himself and he said his name was something, something Luthuli, I forget the first name now and he described where he came from to my Mom. He had come from Umlazi and he described his Mom and it turned out that we were related. He was very excited, he was actually an MK soldier. I think it was his first encounter with family in exile since he had left SA many years before. So he was very excited to find that he's got a whole family outside and he used to come and visit us quite a lot and he used to tell us that he stayed in a place called 'Sick Bay', and it was opposite the hospital in Harare. He used to say, "Come and visit me", and basically, I mean you're uncomfortable, how can you go there? And one day I got home and he was there. He said to me, "Come and visit me, I want to go and pick up something from home and come back here so come with me and you will see at least where I am staying so that you can visit me." So I said, "OK fine." So I went with him and when I got there he then said, "Well this is what they call Sick Bay. This is where our soldiers are, a lot of our injured people, not just soldiers, the aged and sick", it was a convalescent home and Shadrack was there. I met him there and we became friends.
POM He was recuperating from the operations he had in Angola?
NN Yes, Angola and he had just had one in Harare. He was in a wheelchair, he was wheelchair bound. A couple of the people there were wheelchair bound and they were quite paralysed. For Shadrack to be walking today is really to me a miracle. He was in a wheelchair, he couldn't do anything. He couldn't move. To get off the wheelchair onto the bed somebody would have to help him and put him into the bed. He couldn't get off that wheelchair, he couldn't do anything. I met him and I used to go there quite often, take him out for walks because they really didn't have anybody who would take them out. They had all the care that they needed. They had the food, they had the medical attention, they had the car.