Why did I write this book?

I have been to several book club meetings where my book was discussed. Inevitably, the first question I am asked is, “Why did you write the book?” Even though I believed I had answered this question in the Introduction, some things have shifted in the past two years.

This photo of me was used for my South African Alien’s Registration card. It appears that I am looking querulously into the future: what did it hold for me? Would I be able to see through the great shadows that were cast over the land? I see more clearly now that I needed to untie the knots that my childhood experiences had created in my heart and mind.

I look at the cruelties in today’s world from this aspect. What I see is people’s inability to feel the humanity of those they are oppressing.


All the way to India!

The book has found its way to India in the luggage of my granddaughter who is visiting the family she stayed with a few years ago while studying under the NSLI-Y program (National Security Language Institute for Youth). The family lives in Indore, in west-central India. 

Dr GovindaKrishna Rahalkar, a retired veterinary surgeon, also writes family history. His wife, Sashila Rahalkar is a former secondary school principal.


GovindaKrishna Rahalkar.png

Whaling station on Durban Bluff

Sadly, there was an active whaling station off of Durban when we lived there, originally started by Norwegians at the beginning of the 20th Century. When the wind blew a certain direction, the smell was awful.

Following the Second World War, Durban became a major center for the catching of sperm whales on their migrations. 

One day Dad took us around the end of the bluff, and we walked along the beach to the station. We collected whale teeth! The whaling station was closed in the 1970s, and is now a restricted military area.

Odhner memories Whaling station Bluff.jpg


The yellowing news clipping below shows Durban harbor clogged with shipping during the Suez Canal crisis of 1956. I remember this well: we used to count the ships sitting off the coast.

Egyptian president Nasser closed the Suez Canal for four months 1956-57, as the result of a complicated series of events involving Britain and France (in a secret military pact), with Israel, as aggressors, the U.S., the Soviet Union, and the United Nations lined up against them. 

Ships that could not use the canal were forced to sail from Europe and the UK by way of the southern tip of Africa. Durban, with it's natural harbor, was the last port of call for vessels sailing to India and further east. The increased number of ships could not be berthed all at the same time, so they had to wait outside the harbor until there was space.

The Suez Canal was of great strategic importance during the world wars. Troop ships from Australia and New Zealand sailed through the canal. The waterway was also the main conduit for oil tankers sailing from the Middle East to the Mediterranean and beyond.

I also remember how amazed I was when my American classmates were clearly ignorant of the location of the Suez Canal! 


Photo source: https://www.fad.co.za/Resources/album/HARBOUR1_1956.JPG

Photo source: https://www.fad.co.za/Resources/album/HARBOUR1_1956.JPG

Reserved for the Sole Use of the White Race

"Under Section 37 of the Durban Beach By-Laws, this bathing area is reserved for the sole use of members of the White race group."

We were the privileged ones.

These words were posted at the entrance to all the beaches in Durban with the exception of one beach where nonwhites were permitted. The admonition was written in English, Afrikaans, and Zulu.

One day, alerted by telephone that someone had been pulled from the water and needed a doctor, Dr Jay Sanghai, an Indian, rushed to the scene. When he arrived, the policeman wouldn't permit him to go onto the beach because he was not white.

The child, who was a white boy, died as they waited for the white ambulance the policeman had called.


Durban Girls College

In my book I describe something of the life of a schoolgirl at Durban Girls College. It has long been a prestige private school serving girls from preschool to matriculation (12th Grade). It was a very British school when I was there.

The photo above is a class photo from around 1950. I am fifth from left in the front row. As you can see, we wore school uniforms and most of us are sitting in the same position. There was a militaristic feel to the school, post World War II. The British school and the apartheid government made for a very authoritarian environment. My family is surprised, even today, that I obey even "small" rules that most people ignore. I think it comes from those school days.


Rachel's class photo, Durban Girls College early 1950s.jpg
Durban girls college.jpg

"Two evil spirits in South Africa" . . .

"There are two evil spirits in South Africa, and I name them: These princes of the church, these so-called churchmen, who have become nothing else but political agitators who openly preach rebellion. The second evil spirit is the contemptible English Press which stops at nothing, whether it is murder or crime or manslaughter or sabotage. Everything is grasped at with only one object, and that is to break this party which is the only bulwark in the whole continent of Africa." [J.C. Greyling, Africa South 2, No. 1 (Oct-Dec 1957: 29, as quoted in "The Press: Strijdom's Last Barrier by George Clay and Stanley Uys.]

The English press was blamed for international condemnation of South Africa's apartheid policies. Newspaper reporters were not allowed to express sympathy with defiance in any form. They were forbidden to mention the names of people who were arrested and detained by the police. Laws prohibited altogether the publication of certain information. This was the beginning of an extreme form of censorship imposed upon South Africa, rigidly adhered to, with threat of arrest and interrogation of any reporter who transgressed one of the many laws enacted to control them.

As Nadine Gordimer said, "control of communication was essential to the maintenance of apartheid as a whole." ['Censorship and the Primary Homeland,' Reality, Jan 1970]


Johannes Gerhardus Strijdom  was Prime Minister of South Africa from 30 November 1954 to 24 August 1958. He was an uncompromising Afrikaner  nationalist, and a member of the largest, white supremacist faction of the National Party  who further perpetuated the party's apartheid policies during his rule. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._G._Strijdom   

Johannes Gerhardus Strijdom was Prime Minister of South Africa from 30 November 1954 to 24 August 1958. He was an uncompromising Afrikaner  nationalist, and a member of the largest, white supremacist faction of the National Party  who further perpetuated the party's apartheid policies during his rule. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._G._Strijdom


Durban to the Drakensberg

On this map of South Africa, you can see how far the mountains are from the city of Durban. It used to take us 4 hours to travel the distance of about 150 miles. Some of the roads were unpaved in the 1950s so they could quickly become a thick, muddy soup if it rained. The tires would slip into grooves left by the previous car, too. So we had to leave home early enough in the morning to avoid the afternoon thunderstorms.

There was one particularly bad piece of road, called Bobbejaan's Hoogte, or Baboon's Heights. It was an S-shaped uphill curve. Sometimes Dad had us all get out of the car so he could gain traction. We had to try to get back in in a hurry while the wheels were still turning. One time, Mike's fingers were slammed in the door. He shrieked. Someone opened the door, but he couldn't move his hand--it was frozen to the shape of the door jamb. In the confusion, the door was re-slammed on the poor fingers!

On hot days, the car would inevitably overheat. When we stopped by the road, steam hissing out of the radiator, there would appear, just like magic, a group of little boys all offering to bring us water. They were always rewarded with round copper South African pennies, much treasured by little kids.

That mountain, Thabana Ntlenyana ('beautiful little mountain" in Sesotho), is the highest point in Southern Africa, at 11,424 feet, or 3482 k.  [www.freeworldmaps.net]