Michael’s parents had met in South Africa during the war. His mother grew up in the Free State town of Heilbron, and his father hailed from Yorkshire. After the war, his father became assistant Commissioner of the police in Uganda,where Michael and his sister spent the first nine or ten years of their lives living the colonial lifestyle. When the time came for the children to go to secondary school, they were sent to public schools in England, where I’m sure they were desperately homesick for their parents and for Africa.
Because of the time taken to get from England to Uganda, they only returned to their parents during the long summer holidays, and spent Christmas and Easter with various aunts and uncles in Yorkshire. Their summer vacations were spent visiting exotic places like Lake Victoria and the former Lorenzo Marques. Understandably, Michael’s heart lay in Africa, where his fondest childhood memories were grounded.
He longed to go back, but we couldn’t afford to go for a holiday. At that time, various South African companies were sponsoring people from overseas to fill a skills shortage. I encouraged Michael to apply for a sponsorship and he was accepted by the large mining company, Anglo-American.
Two weeks after Abigail was born, a decision was made to sell our house and move to South Africa for two years, so we left all our furniture in storage, mostly in my parent’s house.
I seemed to spend the next month or so whipping damp nappies off every radiator in an attempt to have tidy house, should a prospective purchaser just pop in.
Although the excitement of travel and adventure bubbled away inside me, I was also really sad to leave our little cottage. There’s something special about your first home, especially the one that becomes your babies’ first nest.
The flight to Johannesburg took 24 hours, because South African Airways were not allowed to fly over north and central Africa due to anti-apartheid sanctions, so we flew all around the west coast, stopping in the middle of the night at Isle de Sol to refuel. Fortunately Abigail slept for much of the flight. Poor Catherine, who had just turned two, had earache, and screamed for the whole journey. Michael and I took turns to pace up and down the aisles trying to comfort her. When we landed at Salisbury as it was then, my husband kissed the ground. From there it was a relatively short flight to Johannesburg.
November was a colourful time of year to arrive in the Transvaal, now called Gauteng, because the roadsides were lined with purple jacarandas and bright pink bougainvillea. I don’t think I actually expected to see lions and elephants in the streets, but Johannesburg wasn’t really what I had imagined. The first thing I noticed was the number of black people walking around. It did seem as if all the black people were poor and all the white people were rich, but for the two years that we were there, I didn’t feel that I had any political calling. After all, we hadn’t really immigrated. It was just a two-year chapter. Looking back now I am appalled at my naivety and the lack of research I did on the country we were going to live in. I was so wrapped up in my family and the adventure we were going to share that I barely even read the newspapers, let alone thought about the implications of apartheid.