One of my most important figures is my mom. What we grew up with at home, was to be engaged in the world, curious and critical in our thinking.
That started with, just reading a newspaper. My mother was a news junkie. In fact, both my parents are news junkies. When we are growing up was sacrosanct, it’s like… Not that we were forced, but my parents made sure they watched the news on TV or listened to it on the radio all the time. Every Single Day.
It was important, particularly the high points of things happening in our country. I distinctly remember the day of the announcement in February 1990; that Mandela and all political prisoners will be released. The ANC was unbanned. My mother and I danced around the little coffee table in the front room. How my father would shout at the TV when PW Botha would make some arcane announcements in the 80s.
It was a ritual to buy the newspaper! Fridays the Mail & Guardian, Saturdays the Argus, and Sundays the Sunday Times. It remains a ritual until even after we’ve left the house and as we grew older and moved out. Our family WhatsApp groups were about family stuff, yes, but also of long conversations about the day, whether what has happened over the last four years of Trumps or Zuma weirdness or some other political scandal. Those are the type of conversations we had, all the time. We often wondered if we were the only family who use their family WhatsApp group to have detailed conversations about these things.
I suppose these are one of the most important things she left us with, that which she instilled in us. Being part of the world, engage in the world and have an opinion, be critical. Always think critically. The second thing is education, the importance and value of education- particularly for women and black women. It wasn’t that she said it, but her actions mirrored it. My brother and sister, 18 months apart was still tender under 5 years old when she went back to university full time. And my father? He supported her 5000 percent, driving up and down to campus to fetch and drop her. Her classmates would spend Saturday afternoons with her in study groups and she got offered a scholarship. A full- flexed scholarship to study in the United States! But, of course, she turned it down. She had four children and a family, and she wasn’t going to just uproot us. This was to proof that there should be ambition for oneself. And that translated in all of us. There was no question, no discussion or gap year conversation with her. They supported us all with our first degrees. My sister Inga went to film school and my dad was particularly proud of her. He raised us with technology, as he loved the film industry. Education was a major thing to our family, even in our extended family.
Another thing I saw mirrored in my mother’s actions from a young age was the fight against injustice. Wherever you find it and wherever you see it- don’t be scared to speak up about things that are wrong. Not just wrong legally, but wrong in principle or morals. She did that, in the work that she did. Ocean View Development Trust literally started in our kitchen and became what it is because my mother did that. From a hair-brained idea, everyone knew her for and that became a reality.
I have worked in the NGO sector and in the trade union and in the work I do now, it’s all framed by social justice. My sister works in government, in the department of Arts and Culture. Even in her work in bringing the hopes and dreams of our countries founding fathers and mothers of our constitution to reality. We are incredibly proud of her delivery in her roles as a Principle Civil Servant. Those are the three things. Education, being critical and involved in the world where social justice is concerned.
Now in her passing, we’ve had moments to reflect how absolutely honored and blessed we are, as we are realizing our contemporaries might not have had the same experience of childhood and family life. You know, home is wherever your parents are and right now my mother is in my heart. Our home was filled with love! Raising four children with such weirdly different ages was be challenging. I was a 13-year-old teenager when Inga was born. There was laughter, family drives and television programmers. That is where my brother and sisters love for geography and nature comes from, because my parents did not have money to take us on expensive holidays all the time. That was our thing, sitting down and seeing and appreciating parts of the world that “wasn’t meant” for black families and black children to be concerned about. Our family life laid a foundation on how we build our families. There was love, laughter and joy. And in our adult lives, we stuck to maintaining the family principles. Even with my brother not in Cape Town, we made special effort to video call, even though she didn’t like the lack of intimacy in video calls.
My Dad too did things way ahead of his time, as a man with four children in the 70s. He would do the shopping, not because my mom was busy but because she hated doing the shopping! We hated that she does the shopping. She would not buy nice things. Whereas dad would make sure there were each one’s special things in the shopping. My father also cooked. I can count on my finger the number of times… I do not think I ever had a plate of food made by my mother, except for her dishing the food.
Liezel remembers once when they’d parked outside Sun Valley Mall, my dad had run into the shops when a security guard started attacking a black woman who was accused of stealing. My mother jumped out of the car and made the biggest scene ever! So much that the security guard said he would attack her. She said ‘Try it! Try it! We are in control of this country now!’ For context, this was in the 90s. Liezel was so embarrassed but this formed part of her standing against social injustice. Through all her community meetings, and even in the things you are scared to do, just do it. We grew up with this and now mirror it in our own homes as well.
We are blessed to have these precious memories of my mom and are extremely proud of her achievements. She was a published, internationally renowned writer. She was the first black woman to publish Afrikaans poetry. Nobody did it before her and we didn’t even know that. She holds a lot of respect from fellow black writers in the community, the community of artists and writers. She paved a way for many black women after her. Our parents instilled in us a passion and love for reading. As a child of the 70s, there was TV but my love for reading surpassed my interest in television. We grew up with books in the house, my dad read three to four books at the same time. We were lucky to have a dedicated study in our home. There were books, encyclopedias before the time of Google. When my husband and I moved recently, we have about 20 boxes with just books. My daughter has her own library in her room, books we bought and that she is received as gifts. If you want to steal her heart, get her books.
“This taught us the responsibility to find, learn, research, so that you may be objective and critical of the world you are in”
Done by Helga Jansen