I met a man from Hangberg on the eve of Freedom Day. He was waiting on the side of the road in the dark in the hopes of a lift, as his money had slipped out of his loose trousers at some stage, and public transport is tricky on a Sunday anyway. Peter Hendriks* is trained as a home-based carer who tends to elderly peoples’ feet in his free time, through a church in Constantia. “They are too old to cut their toe nails and look after their feet.” he said, “And that is why I have this bag with me, with all my goodies in so I can do their feet nicely for them.”
Peter is 65 years old, fit as fiddle and cheerful. He serves old people, not considering himself too in the autumn season of his life. ‘Even when they are rude to me, it is usually because they are lonely or in pain,” he tells me with empathy.
We chat about where we come from. He once lived in the leafy Kronendal area in Hout Bay, until he was around 22 years old. “Then we were moved to Hangberg,” he says in a matter-of-fact manner. They were moved out of the area in the late 1960s. “I am still trying to get my claim for my mother’s home.” He goes on to say that he is not asking for much or for his own rights to the land, as he does not want to have ‘big eyes’ for material things. “But I would like to get compensation for my mother’s home at least.”
One cannot comprehend enough compensation for the message and upheaval that the innocuous-sounding ‘move’ imposed on that young 22-year-old man finding his way into adulthood. The message – that he and his family were worth less due to their heritage and skin colour, and the upheaval – of a family uprooted and moved from their base in a leafy suburb to flats on the outskirts of town, unwillingly and without choice.
“We do have a beautiful view,” says Peter positively as we comment on how high up the mountain his home is. My young brother Allan, who has strong ties to Manenberg, says with surprise, “This looks just like Manenberg” as we drive down the hill that overlooks the bay. Same story, different location. And that is the wickedness of the legacy of forced removals. The actual impact on a family, let alone an entire community, is impossible to comprehend. The ramifications are immeasurable. Any compensation will never be enough.
This was going through my mind as Freedom Day dawned. What does freedom look like for someone like Peter who may receive some cash for the upheaval and legal lie that he was worth less than other human beings. I get the sense that he no longer believes that lie, a realisation that leaves me with some shallow and short-lived comfort. For the most part, I am left wondering at the current upheaval in the country – I see the multiplication of the effect of decades of ‘legal lies’, enforced separation and South Africans forced out of economic and familial stability.
Yes, any compensation may never be enough. But it would be a start …