Gloria, Mitta’s mother.
It was so good to be invited back to Soweto to stay overnight with the Lebaka family. Gloria thought Mitta was lying when she said I was back, and only believed I had returned when she saw me in her yard. She is the ultimate matriarch, never married, politically active, and hugely influential member of the community. She lived through apartheid and loves to tell stories of her past…and present; ‘I’m still looking for a guy to marry me!’ she says, as she dresses up for a gathering with the local women, with a huge grin.
She talks about her experiences before apartheid ended. ‘ I worked in the Carlton building, which was the highest building in Johannesburg, weaving goat wool. There were different staircases and lifts for black and white. When we became free that was cancelled. One of my bosses, Susan, was from France, I miss her, she treated us well to start with. But, the other bosses told her “we don’t treat them like whites” and in the end she became worse than the South Africans. I think she would be very old now. In those days, darling, it was worse than now. Today we are treated like human beings. Before apartheid finished you wouldn’t have been allowed here. The police would have beaten us, they wouldn’t allow a white person here- they didn’t want us to mix. We would be arrested. Mandela didn’t kill anyone and he was put in prison just for saying what he wanted to say. Now we have been given a platform to say no. It was like the wall of Berlin coming down.
We had to apologise if we touched a white person, we were called Kaffir and couldn’t use the same toilet. It was worse in Lesotho- we were given yesterdays’ bread..that’s why we are so excited- we are free. Of course there are still problems, some schools are still segregated and some uncultured whites still cause problems in the shopping queues.’ I pointed out that I was the only white person I had seen that day. Gloria stated ‘yes , but it’s ok because the people know you are not white South African, if you were you wouldn’t be here.’