October 26, 2015

Moving Abroad: The Must-Read "Expat Bible"

I have always said that I started Joburg Expat mainly to help other people in my shoes, because before we moved we had such little information. And it is exactly that aspect of my blog that has given me the most gratification. I love hearing from people who're preparing a move and have come across my blog and find it invaluable.

But a local blog, while a great start, is just one tool in the soon-to-be expat's toolbox. What's also a must-have, in my opinion, is a more general How-To manual for expats, no matter where you move. There are certain general topics - schools, healthcare, the trailing spouse - that apply universally, and one can learn a great deal from someone who's moved around a bit and is willing to share (and can write!).

One such "expat bible" is Clara Wiggins' The Expat Partner's Survival Guide. At $3.99 on the Kindle, it's an absolute steal, in my opinion. See below why I liked it so much and highly recommend it to anyone contemplating a move overseas, whether they're the trailing spouse - excuse me, expat partner - or the main breadwinner. The fact that Clara has since then moved to - you guessed, it South Africa! - is an added bonus.

Book Review: The Expat Partner's Survival Guide

When you move abroad to accompany your partner or spouse on a foreign assignment, who are you? Simply an expat, or the expat spouse, the trailing spouse, the glamorous expat wife? This is a question Clara Wiggins poses right at the beginning of her book The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide.

"The 'trailing' word is hated by many as it suggests someone sort of pathetically following after the successful worker, limply hanging around in the margins, just sort of being there while your spouse works on his or her brilliant career," 

is what she has to say about that, perhaps an indication why she chose to forgo the "trailing" label for the title of her book.

I knew right off the bat that I was going to like this book when I learned that Clara “spends her days writing, looking out of the window and picking things up off the floor.” As one who also spends an inordinate amount of time on picking things up off the floor, I knew that I had not only found a kindred (expat) spirit, but that whatever it was I would learn about expat partners, I would probably be getting a few good laughs while doing the learning.

I was not disappointed during the remainder of the book. Clara's voice is cheerful, uplifting, occasionally funny, and she keeps it moving along at a nice clip. To me, that's immensely important. I have to like the author if I'm going to stick with them for 300 pages of a self-help book, otherwise... sorry, there just isn't enough time in my day to spend on uninspired reading.

Here is an example of her tongue-in-cheek humor:

“And some of you might not actually think the needs of your children are that great – in which case, well done, you have passed one of life’s parenting tests – you will not let your kids dictate your life (goes off to change pink cup for blue cup on demand of youngest daughter. Sighs).”

Add to her writing skills and sense of humor the fact that Clara has lived in 11 countries – make that 12, now she's arrived in South Africa – and you will trust that she speaks with authority about the expat life. Some of it as a child moving from posting to posting with her British family - she was born in Cuba - and the latter part of it moving her own family of four between different continents. One of the highlights of her own experience is the story how they were evacuated from Pakistan after the Marriott hotel bombing most of us remember well from the news.

So trust me when I sway the author's own credentials and voice are a major strength of this book.

The second strength of The Expat Partner Survival Guide is the voice of other participants. Clara has collected hundreds of personal stories from other expats and expat partners, interweaving them very smoothly with her own narrative. For me it felt a bit like coming across long-lost friends, as I recognized quite a few of the people she interviewed from my own connections in the expat world, like Maria from I Was an Expat Wife and Apple Gidley of Expat Life Slice by Slice.

The huge bonus of these vignettes by other expats in the most far-flung corners of the world is that collectively they cover a great number of countries, so you get quite a bit of country-specific information in the process as well as a wide range of opinions on how certain questions should be tackled - for instance whether to give birth abroad or return home, what time of year not to arrive in a new country, or how to think outside of the box to find meaningful employment abroad.

Third, the links at the end of each chapter to websites/blogs/books of note for that particular topic are invaluable. The reason it's taken me rather long to finish the book is that I was constantly sidetracked on exploration of further information, always spot-on and informative. The fact that they are all listed in a tidy summary according to topic, rather than sprinkled throughout the book, makes it very easy to go back and explore later, leaving you in control and organized. In fact, Clara has gone one step beyond by generously re-listing all those links on her website for easy lookup, chapter by chapter - what an awesome resource to her readers.

I like that Clara is always ready with sound advice you can translate one-on-one to your situation. For instance:

"If they've been pleading for a pet, perhaps this is the time to tell them you'll get one" 

regarding the dicey topic of when and how to tell your children you're moving and leaving their friends behind. Sometimes she is outright philosophical.

"Many a family have fallen foul of the lure of places like Australia... only to find that the problems you have at home tend to come with you,"

she says at some point, which I know to be oh so true. You can't escape everyday life, no matter where you are. Here is another good one:

"I've always thought arriving in a new country is a bit like starting university. You spend your first six months or so madly making friends with anyone who will have you, and the next six months trying to shake some of them off."

And here, once again, the kindred spirit - she must be my spiritual twin:

"Some of us are born list-makers. I, for example, seem to make lists for everything. I am even one of those annoying people who writes things on lists that I've already done just for the satisfaction of seeing that it's been accomplished."

The book is organized into chapters along the following topics: before you go, the move, arrival and early days, accommodations and transport, shopping and keeping safe, domestic staff, settling in, culture shock, relationship with your partner, Third Culture Kids, schooling, pets, work, health, if it all goes wrong, male trailing spouse and same-sex partner, and repatriation. I've covered these exact topics on my blog in various intensities and know that Clara has covered them well. In these chapters you will find everything you're racking your brain about before the big move - and occasionally things you may not be thinking about but should!

Clara doesn't shy away from the more difficult topics, like same-sex spouses, expat partners divorcing while living abroad, or catastrophes and natural disasters. Her mantra: Even though you can't know what'll happen, you can do a few things to prepare for certain events, and here is what you can do...

Even though The Expat Partner Survival Guide gives you plenty to think about, it never feels overwhelming. Throughout the book you feel calm and confident and perhaps a bit excited about all the possibilities. It's upbeat and informative at the same time. At some stage Clara even distills her advice down to three pieces of the most important advice for expats and their partners.

But I'm not going to divulge that here, you'll have to read for yourself to find out.

October 19, 2015

Another Best Expat Blog Award for Joburg Expat

So I received an email, out of the blue, from an organisation called Money Transfer Comparison. You may be forgiven if you've never heard of them. Neither had I.

They wanted to let me know that their editors had selected my blog as the winner of Top Expat Blog in South Africa for 2015.

Naturally, I went and checked out their website. The name, frankly, sounded kind of sales-pitchy and didn't inspire much confidence - what would they know about good writing?

I must say I stand corrected. They really seem to have done their due diligence and delved deep into each blog they reviewed. What they wrote about mine shows they've spent some time on Joburg Expat and understood my point of view:

"Sine lived in South Africa from 2010 until 2013, but still blogs about her experiences there. She does a particularly good job of clarifying the realities of living in a country, on a continent, that is often entirely misunderstood by outsiders.

Johannesburg, a city that is viewed as dangerous and unknown, is seen through her eyes as a “normal” city with its own very particular charms (mostly the sun).

Her clarity in describing the cultural context of the country makes her our choice for South Africa (also, her decision to name one of her daughters “Impatience” gives her a special appeal!)."
Nice, isn't it? Thank you, Money Transfer Comparison. Now I know who you are. And I'll give back some love by mentioning you to my readers.

Dear Joburg Expat readers: If you want to learn more about exchange rates, how to save money with international money transfers, hedging your transfers, and why it's best not to use banks, visit Money Transfer Comparison.
And now, if you enjoy reading expat blogs from around the world, check out the entire list. There are some really good writers featured there!

October 12, 2015

Your Expat Child in a Private School in Johannesburg

*** To go directly to the list of private schools in Johannesburg, click here ***

South African schools - it's a topic I've written about multiple times. It's also one of the most asked-about topics when readers contact me. When I recently posted a reader question on the Joburg Expat Facebook Page regarding which of the private schools on his list were the most desirable, the response was overwhelming but also interesting: Not a single responder was attempting to rank the schools in any way by labeling any "good" or "bad." Everyone was purely intent on sharing their own experience, listing additional options, and giving helpful hints on how to secure a place - something that has become increasingly difficult in South Africa's overcrowded private school scene.

While I absolutely loved the school our kids went to, I realize in hindsight that it was not as exceptional as I thought. It was a good school, of course, but there are a ton of other excellent choices out there - and each of them packed with students, as one reader pointed out, so the parents must be happy with them. Finding the perfect school in South Africa is a little bit like selecting the perfect safari lodge: Each of them is unique and wonderful and you can't really go wrong with any of them.

Interhouse competitions at South African schools are always affairs of great spirit and fun.

Selecting the right school is more about location than anything else, given Johannesburg traffic. Our school ended up being the perfect choice for us primarily because of where it was located. Nothing gave me more pleasure during our years in South Africa than watching our kids leave the house in their school uniforms in the morning to walk to school while I got down to the business of reading the morning paper with my tea on our beautiful sunny terrace.

Location is one of the most important criteria you should consider when selecting a school in Johannesburg. 

There are others, such as cost, the school year calendar, special needs accommodation, academics and sports, and I've elaborated about them here, but trust me when I say that location of school vis-a-vis work and home should be your first consideration. 

To this end, I've not only created a detailed alphabetical listing of Johannesburg private schools, including some distinguishing information such as religious affiliation and founding date, I've also grouped them a second time by Johannesburg suburb. I hope that you will find this list handy. If I've left off the wonderful school your kids went to, I apologize - please do send me a friendly note so I can amend my list accordingly.

Before we get to the school listing, here some important notes and explanations:
  • International students are only permitted to study at a South African school with a valid study visa/permit (typically as an accompanying dependent of a work visa holder); make sure you apply early for your kids' study permits
  • South African schools are either preparatory schools (typically divided into Junior Prep Grades K-3 and Senior Prep Grades 4-7) or high schools (Grades 8-12). The term “college” often refers to a school that encompasses both prep and high school.
  • Some of the prep schools only offering Grades K-7 are "feeder" schools tracking into some of Joburg's most excellent high schools/colleges, so don't write off such schools just because the system looks unfamiliar to you.
  • Most, but not all, schools on this list are members of the Independent Schools Association of South Africa (ISASA).
  • All schools offer South African matric examinations except some of the international schools where noted.
  • All follow the South African school year (January-November), except some international schools where noted.
  • In South Africa, Kindergarten is called "Grade 0" or "Grade Nought." Pre-K options are often noted as "000," meaning a nursery school with two years prior to Kindergarten or Grade 0 is offered. I've decided to stick with "K" and "Pre-K" in this school listing, using the American terminology.
  • Some South African schools take on boarders alongside day students; where applicable, this is noted in my list.
  • Conditions such as dyslexia and ADHD are considered special needs in South Africa and might be better accommodated by a special needs school (of which a few are included here) than a mainstream one; if your child has any special needs, make sure you check thoroughly what your school of choice is prepared to do to help your child.
  • Many South African schools are parochial, i.e. cater to only one gender, as is noted below. Some schools admit both boys and girls but offer separate tracks, and this is also noted where applicable.
  • On the map below, don't forget to factor in traffic, as distances that look short on the map are not necessarily short in real time. Checking Google Maps during rush hour may give you an approximation of traffic patterns.
  • I would like to thank my fellow expat and friend Natalie for her valuable research and contribution of her local knowledge in making this such an extensive list.

Private Schools in Johannesburg - Alphabetical Listing

American International School of Johannesburg
Northern Suburbs, Pretoria, Co-ed, Pre-K to 12, Founded 1982 (offers American High School diploma and/or International Baccalaureate, no matric, follows American school year)

Auckland Park Preparatory School
Melville, Girls only, K-7, Christian, Founded 1921

Beaulieu College
Kyalami/Midrand, Co-ed, Pre-K to 12, offers Equine Studies, Founded 1996

Bellavista School
Birdhaven, Co-Ed, K-7, Special Needs

Brescia House School
Bryanston, Girls only, K-12, Catholic, Founded 1966

British International College
Bryanston, Pretoria, Co-ed, K-12, (offers Cambridge A-Level examinations, follows South African school year)

Charterhouse School
Roodepoort, Co-ed, K-7, (SA curriculum plus Cambridge International Primary Programme; Cambridge exams in Grade 6)

Crawford Schools
Sandton, Fourways, Lonehill, Bedfordview, Pretoria (all owned by AdvTech), Pre-K to 12, Founded 1993

Christian Brothers College (CBC)
Boksburg, Boys only, Pre-K to 12, Boarding (since 2013) and Day, Catholic, Founded 1935

Dainfern College
Dainfern College
Dainfern, Co-ed, K-12, Christian Ethos, Founded 1997

Deutsche Internationale Schule Johannesburg
Parktown, Pretoria, Co-ed, Pre-K to 12, Bilingual German/English, Founded 1890 (offers dual track South African matric and German Abitur, follows South African school year)

Grayston Preparatory
Sandown,Co-ed, Pre-K to 7, Private since 1994, Founded as Government School 1977

Heronbridge College
10 km north of Fourways, Co-ed, Pre-K to 12, Christian, Founded 2001

Holy Rosary School
Edenvale, Girls only, Pre-K to 12, Catholic, Founded 1940

Japanese School of Johannesburg
uhm... having trouble reading Japanese characters, waiting for update from school.

King David School
Linksfield, Victory Park, Co-ed, Pre-K to 12, Jewish, Founded 1948

Kingsmead College
Melrose, Girls only, Pre-K to 12, Christian, Founded 1933

Kyalami Preparatory School
Kyalami, Co-ed, K-7, Founded 1999

Lycée Jules Verne French International School
Morningside, Pretoria, Co-ed, Pre-K to 12 (Pretoria Pre-K to 5), Bilingual French/English, Founded 1992 (offers French Baccalaureate only, no matric, follows European school year)

Michael Mount Waldorf School
Bryanston, Co-ed, K-12, Christian, Founded 1960

Pridwin Preparatory School
Pridwin Preparatory Boys' School

Melrose, Boys only, K-7, Christian Ethos, Founded 1923

Reddam House School
Bedfordview, Waterfall, Co-ed, Pre-K to 12

Redhill School
Morningside, Co-ed, Pre-K to 12, Founded 1907

Roedean School
Parktown, Girls only, K-12, Boarding and Day, Anglican, Founded 1903

Sacred Heart College
Observatory/Houghton, Pre-K to 12, Catholic, Founded 1889

Saheti School
Senderwood, Co-ed, Pre-K to 12, Greek-Orthodox, Founded 1974

St. Andrew's School for Girls
Bedfordview, Girls only, K-12, Christian, Boarding and Day, Founded in 1912

St. Benedict's Catholic School
Bedfordview, Boys only, K-12, Boarding and Day, Catholic, Founded 1958

St. David's Marist Inanda
Inanda, Boys only, Pre-K to 12, Catholic, Founded 1948

St. Dunstan's College
Benoni, Co-ed, Pre-K to 12, Anglican, Founded 1918

St. John's College
St. John's College
Houghton, Boys only, Pre-K to 12 (plus co-ed Sixth Form year offering Cambridge A-Levels), Boarding and Day, Anglican, Founded 1898

St. Katharine's Preparatory School
Parktown, Girls only, K-7, Founded 1916

St. Martin's School
Rosettenville, Co-ed, Pre-K to 12, Boarding and Day, Anglican, Founded 1908 (closed briefly under apartheid 1956, reopened 1958)

St. Mary's School
Waverley, Girls only, Pre-K to 12, Boarding and Day, Anglican, Founded 1888

St. Peter's College
Sunninghill, Co-ed (college only, for last 8 years; prep school still divided into boys and girls tracks), K-12, Anglican, Founded 1998

St. Stithians College
Sports Day at St. Stithians

Bryanston, Co-ed (but separate girls' and boys' tracks for senior prep and college), K-12, Methodist, Founded 1953

St. Teresa's School
Rosebank, Girls only, Pre-K to 12, Catholic, Founded 1930

Summit College
Kyalami, Co-ed, Pre-K to 12, Boarding and Day, Founded 1989

The Ridge School 
Westcliff, Boys only, K-7, Christian Ethos, Founded 1919

Trinityhouse Schools
Randpark Ridge, Little Falls, Palm Lakes, Heritage Hill, Northriding (all owned by AdvTech), Co-ed, K-12, Christian, Founded 1995

Unity College
Chartwell, Co-ed, Grade 1 to Post-Secondary (ages 6-20), Special Needs

Private Schools in Johannesburg - by Suburb

Here it is, my handy-dandy color-coded map. Please don't hold me to too high a standard with respect to actual proportions. I tried to do my best here, but some distances may be off, and some schools might not appear EXACTLY on the spot they are. Also, you may not agree with the division of suburbs I've used - there are many different ways of dividing them up. However, I do think it's probably a good start, especially if you are still in the process of moving to Johannesburg. Following the map is a more detailed listing of all the suburbs and schools.

[Click on image to enlarge]


(including Waterfall, Kyalami)

American International School of Johannesburg
Beaulieu College
Kyalami Preparatory School
Summit College


(Including Dainfern, Broadacres, Fernridge, Douglasdale, Northriding, Craigavon, Beverley)

British International Preparatory School
Crawford Lonehill
Crawford Fourways
Dainfern College
Heronbridge College
St. Peter's College
Unity College


(Including Morningside, Wendywood, Sandown, Sandhurst, Hyde Park)

Brescia House School
British International College
Crawford Sandton
Grayston Preparatory School
Lycee Jules Verne French International School
Michael Mount Waldorf School
Redhill School
St. Stithians College


(Including Randpark Ridge, Cresta, Blairgowrie, Windsor East, Victory Park, Northriding)

King David Victory Park
Trinityhouse Randpark Ridge
Trinityhouse Northriding


(Including Houghton, Melrose, Saxonwold, Killarney, Westcliff)

Bellavista School
Deutsche Internationale Schule
Kingsmead College
Pridwin Preparatory School
Roedean School
Sacred Heart College
St. David's Marist Inanda
St. John's College
St. Katharine's Preparatory School
St. Mary's School
St. Teresa's School
The Ridge School


(including Oriel, Bedford Gardens, Edenvale, Linksfield)

Crawford Italia Preparatory
Holy Rosary School
King David Linksfield
Reddam House School
Saheti School
St. Andrew's School for Girls
St. Benedict's Catholic School


(Including Blackheath, Auckland Park)

Auckland Park Preparatory School
Japanese School of Johannesburg


Charterhouse School
Trinityhouse Little Falls
Trinityhouse Palm Lake


Christian Brothers College


St. Dunstan's College

South Johannesburg

St. Martin's School

More on Schools in South Africa

October 8, 2015

Wilhelm Verwoerd, Nelson Mandela, and a Family Torn Apart

In Part One of this series I talked about Wilhelm Verwoerd and the legacy of his grandfather Hendrik. I left it off with Wilhelm leaving for Europe in the 1980s, where by virtue of being exposed to a more liberal worldview he became increasingly disillusioned with that legacy. 

Meeting Nelson Mandela

The human encounter with Africans of all stripes helped Wilhelm develop his political sensibilities and made him realize he didn't want to go back to South Africa. He no longer wanted to live within his family, nor its cultural group. Ironically, it was his new black friends who helped him bridge this divide: "In our culture we respect our ancestors," they told him, and so should he. It was an unsettling time for sure: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the release of Madiba, as Wilhelm lovingly calls Nelson Mandela, the feeling that something had to be done.

Wilhelm met Mandela in the 90s upon his own return to South Africa when he was still not sure how he could get involved, and his family, aware of his mounting alienation, was begging him to not take action. Their meeting took place at a house in Stellenbosch. He had written Mandela a letter after his release from prison, expressing sorrow and commitment to the cause, but had never heard back. When he now stood opposite him at last, he started speaking, wanting to express all his admiration. But Mandela stopped him. "Can I ask you something?" he said. "How is your grandmother?" Mind you, she was 96 at the time, but this was the surviving widow of Hendrik Verwoerd, who had been assassinated in 1966. Would Wilhelm be so kind as to convey his greetings, Mandela said, and then refused to talk about the past but started to discuss the future, what they could all do together to make a home for all in South Africa. That grace, says Wilhelm, was the straw that broke camel's back, and henceforth his support for Nelson Mandela was unconditional.

When Mandela became president, one of his first acts was to invite all the widows of former prime ministers. Wilhelm's grandmother wrote back and declined but invited him, Mandela, to tea, should he ever pass through Orania, where she was living by this time. To understand what this request meant, you have to know about Orania: It's an Afrikaner-only town in the Karoo, complete with its own radio station and currency and aspirations of complete self-determination to preserve Afrikaner culture. It's tiny, to be sure, but the vision of its founders was big: to create a separate state, or volkstaat, where white Afrikaners could live and govern themselves outside of black majority rule.

Despite all this, Mandela did indeed go to Orania in 1995 as part of his conciliatory outreach to all South Africans. Betsie, Verwoerd's widow, decided to deliver a speech to Mandela to publicly plead for the protection of Afrikaners in the new South Africa, and Mandela, seeing she was too frail to hold up her notes, stood next to her and held the paper for her while she spoke. This genuine human response - very common among black South Africans, he says - is indelibly etched into Wilhelm's memory of Nelson Mandela, and it confirmed why he admired him so much. It felt greatly liberating, a confirmation that he was part of a broader movement, that he was finally coming alive. But it came with a cost: His father cast him out of the family for "selling out to the terrorists," and for 10 years he embarked on a most difficult journey, with his "poor mother, a pious woman, caught in the middle."

Can we live together peacefully?

Wilhelm's life work has been to battle dehumanizing inequality, first as a researcher at South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, later in Ireland, where his wife was posted as ambassador and where he helped survivors and former combatants of the Northern Ireland conflict reconcile with each other, and now back in South Africa through his brain child Beyond Walls, a conflict resolution consultancy. He doesn't sound entirely optimistic about the future. He feels that things are getting worse, that Mandela's legacy is at risk.

"You arrive at the airport in Cape Town and you drive by long stretches of road with nothing but shacks. Then suddenly it's beautiful, with fancy restaurants. That's South Africa," he says. He now lives in a mixed settlement, a rare breed in a country where housing is still mostly segregated along color lines. "There are issues," he admits, but he likes to think it's possible. It has to be. Typically, observes Wilhelm, when there is conflict along racial lines, "we retreat into our tactical and class corners. But if we live together, we have to work it out because we literally share common ground."

While Wilhelm Verwoerd's speaks passionately about finding ways for everyone to live together peacefully - whether it is in South Africa, Northern Ireland, or Israel and Palestine - the rift within his own family is far from healed. His cousin is today's leader of the aforementioned Orania settlement - a position that could not be farther from his own. When he found the diaries his grandmother had kept, he came to understand his grandfather better. The personal story humanized him somehow. After that Wilhelm started to interview the older generation. What kind of a person was Hendrik? How could he not see the impact of his policies? Through these talks Wilhelm came to view paternalism as a root cause for how generations of Blacks were treated. The idea that they couldn't look out for themselves and needed to be taken care of. Among the police, he says, there was crude racism. But even worse was the zeal borne out of church teachings among "refined" and educated people. To a man they were very indignant to be called racists.

Police brutality in Apartheid-era South Africa. Source: Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.

When you newly arrive in South Africa, you might get a glimpse of this idea of paternalism that is still alive and well today. I say glimpse, because no matter how immune you consider yourself to be to the vagaries of prejudice and racism, it's all too easy to adapt and perhaps adopt some of those same behaviors, whether you want to or not. I remember how shocked I was when I first overheard a white contractor tell his black employee what he should do. It was as if he was talking to a child. Some of this is well-meaning, and some of it is steeped in centuries of history that cannot be undone in a mere decade or two.

What's needed to achieve harmony and integration, according to Wilhelm Verwoerd, is acquiring "practical wisdom" that allows us all to become peacemakers. If we can only unleash "the power of carefully facilitated storytelling."

As a storyteller, that is a vision I can work with.

October 5, 2015

Meeting Wilhelm Verwoerd: Grandson of Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, Architect of Apartheid

To think that I had to move many thousand miles away from South Africa to learn all about this man who is so inextricably linked with its history: Hendrik Verwoerd.

Any South African will immediately know his name, but as an expat you may not be as familiar with it. Other names loom larger*. But did you know that Hendrik Verwoerd, more so than anyone else, was responsible for devising the series of laws that became known as Apartheid?

The Injustice of Apartheid

It's not like the racial segregation of the Apartheid era was set in stone overnight. It evolved by way of laws introduced by the new nationalist Afrikaner government beginning in 1948, increasingly restricting the freedom to own property and move around for any non-White persons. And the mastermind behind these laws was minister for native affairs and later prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd**. Even though he is on record to have called Apartheid a "policy of good neighborliness," it was nothing of the sort. It was designed to uphold white Afrikaner domination and keep Blacks, Coloureds, Indians, and any other non-White citizens in their place - quite literally in terms of where they were allowed to live, but in all other areas of life as well.

There is no better place to understand what a life under Apartheid meant than the Apartheid Museum

Like I said, it's a bit ironic that of all places it was here in Nashville, Tennessee, that I got to meet Hendrik Verwoerd's grandson Wilhelm Verwoerd. He had been invited to speak at a local boy's private school, Montgomery Bell Academy, after meeting its headmaster at a conference in Cape Town. (I was immediately reminded why I miss Dainfern College so much when I stepped onto the lawns surrounding MBA: Same beautiful grounds, same distinguished architecture, same soaring speeches by its teachers that make me already shudder in anticipation of the droning and utterly boring speeches I will be subjected to during my kids' next awards assembly at their public school.)

After being introduced, Wilhelm immediately captivated us with a short video: The names of the countless South Africans killed in police custody between 1962 and 1989 scrolling steadily down the screen, accompanied by the beautiful notes of N'kosi Sikelel' iAfrika, the protesters' freedom song that has since been incorporated into the national anthem. The spate of arrests of anti-apartheid activists had skyrocketed after the so-called sabotage act was introduced in 1962, allowing the government to detain such protesters indefinitely. Many of them mysteriously died in police custody, with the government claiming the most ludicrous reasons for their deaths. Steve Biko was the most famous of these victims. If you don't know his name, you'll absolutely have to watch the movie Cry Freedom with Kevin Kline and Denzel Washington:

What makes Wilhelm, the grandson's, story so compelling is that he broke with his family over the politics of Apartheid. Not only that, he joined the ANC in the early 1990s, shook the hand of Nelson Mandela, and campaigned for his election with a raised fist. 

An Old Afrikaner Family

To  understand what an utter shock that must have been to his family, you have to understand where he came from. Born in 1964, he spent his youth in Stellenbosch, home of one of the most prestigious Afrikaans universities (it will be 150 years old next year, Wilhelm pointed out). His was an old Afrikaner family, much like all the other white families around them. All the boys played rugby, and their education was quite militarized. Every Wednesday they wore military uniforms. Speakers from the army frequently gave presentations at his school, warning of the "total onslaught" and calling all to "fight the communists." With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to dismiss such fear-mongering as overblown, but during those days, the fear of communism spreading down the African continent was great, as I've touched on in my writings about Ian Smith, the last leader of Rhodesia.

Wilhelm's family was also deeply religious and active in the Dutch Reformed Church. Throughout the 70s and 80s people would come up and tell him what a great man his grandfather had been - a leader who finally brought freedom to the Afrikaners. At the root of this, says Wilhelm, was the Boer War, even though by then it was over 70 years in the past. There was a strong need to avenge the humiliation of the Boers' loss and their suffering in British concentration camps.

When Hector Pieterson was killed during the Soweto uprising in 1976, that was thought to be the start of the revolution. While Whites around the country mobilized in the early 1980s and his brothers were drafted into the South African army and deployed to fight communism, Wilhelm was sent away to study in Holland.This is where things changed for him, mainly by virtue of living together with South African Blacks in one single house. He felt as if he was bombarded with information - about living conditions, about brutality, about lack of opportunity - and gradually became deeply troubled about the role his own family had played to perpetuate such blatant inequality.

The great tragedy, he says with today's hindsight, was that his grandfather, Hendrik, did not understand what the system of Apartheid was doing to his fellow Christians. Had he only ever met with black South Africans who could have challenged his belief that separate development was best for everyone, perhaps his eyes could have been opened.

I have my doubts, but that's easy for me. He wasn't my grandfather#.


This concludes Part One of this two-part series. Stay tuned for Part Two: Wilhelm Verwoerd, Nelson Mandela, and a Family Torn Apart


*The great Nelson Mandela of course, who I've written about here and herePaul Kruger even, the republic's first president who is immortalized in the park bearing his name, which is one of the most iconic wildlife parks in the world. You may have heard about the Rivonia Trial and the prisoners taken during the raid on Liliesleaf Farm. If you've read Michener's The Covenant, you may also be familiar with the infamous King Shaka, and after him, King Dingane, who fought against the Voortrekkers at the Battle of Blood River.

**Interestingly, Verwoerd was South Africa's only prime minister not born in South Africa but rather in the Netherlands - there is no shortage of historical figures who were most adamant about preserving their "tribe's" heritage even though they weren't an original member of said tribe.

#Hendrik Verwoerd was born in 1901, making him exactly the same age as my late grandmother. I find it fascinating to think that Wilhelm sat around the Sunday table hearing stories told in much the same fashion as what was talked about at our Sunday dinners, discussions that occasionally veered into the "forbidden" territory of the Second World War, which my grandfather had fought in and about the outcome of which he was understandably bitter. In this our families have similarities, but only to a point. My grandfather wasn't assassinated.