Old friends met or remembered
In the last few weeks we have made contact with a lot of old friends, or their families. All of them were friends from student days in the 1960s, and all of them had attended conferences of the Anglican Students Federation (ASF) at Modderpoort in the Free State in 1963-1965. So these meetings brought back memories of student years. Perhaps others who were there will see this and also make contact.
Nomtha and Antony Gray
First was Nomtha and Antony Gray. Nomtha is the daughter of my friend Stephen Gawe, and she contacted me through a blog post she read, in which I described our experiences of culture shock when we went to the UK to study.
Nomtha’s father Stephen Gawe was a student at Fort Hare, and was elected vice-president of the Anglican Students Federation in 1963. He was also on the committee of the national Students Christian Association (SCA) which, in 1964, was on the verge of being torn apart by apartheid. The ASF was a unified federation for all Anglican students at universities, teacher training colleges and theological seminaries. The SCA had four sections — Afrikaans, English, Black and Coloured, and the Afrikaans section wanted these four sections to become completely separate from each other, and Stephen Gawe had to attend executive meetings where this was discussed. He also attended the annual congress of Nusas (the National Union of South African Students) so for him the July vacation was rush of going from one congress to another.
In August 1964 Stephen Gawe was detained by the Security Police under the 90-day detention law, along with 3 other students and was held for several months. Eventually he was charged with being a member of the then-banned ANC, and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. His father was the Anglican parish priest at Zwelitsha, near King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape.
On his release from prison he was banned. He applied for, and was given, an exit permit, which allowed him to go to study in the UK The exit permit was given on condition that he never returned to South Africa, so it was, in effect, permission for permanent exile.
He studied at Oxford University, and while he was there he married Tozie Mzamo, on 19 August 1967 (click here to see wedding pic etc).
On completing his studies he became a social worker in Southampton, and he and Tozie had two daughters, Nomtha and Vuyo. After the first democratic elections in 1994 he was able to return to South Africa and he joined the diplomatic service. We had a reunion in July 2001, just before he went to take up a new post as Ambassador to Denmark.
Ten years later his daughter Nomtha got in touch after reading the blog post that mentioned his wedding, and when she and her husband Antony visited South Africa in December 2015 we met them off the Gautrain and had a drink together in Centurion. It was really good to meet them.
Palesa Vuyelwa Dwaba
Then last week there was another comment on a blog post by Palesa Vuyelwa Dwaba, who said I had mentioned her father, Sechaba Noel Lebenya, in the post on Tales from Dystopia II: Enemies of the State. I was writing about an official list of enemies of the apartheid state, and listed those I knew, or thought I knew.
So I wrote to her, and said I had met a Noel Lebenya at the Anglican Students Federation Conference at Modderpoort in July 1964, and I thought he was possibly the person on the list. I fished out an old photo of him taken at the conference, and she confirmed that it was her father, and said that he had died in 2005.
In July 1964 he was a 1st-year social work student at the University College of the North at Turfloop, and he lived at KwaThema, near Springs. Another friend, Cyprian Moloi, who had been a student at the Federal Theological Seminary at Alice the previous year, and had been at that year’s ASF conference, was serving as a deacon in KwaThema, and those of us who were not (like Stephen Gawe) attending other student conferences, spent quite a bit of the rest of the vacation running around seeing each other, and talking incessantly about anything and everything.
I also found a group photo of several of us at Modderpoort, all wearing blankets, because Modderpoort was one of the coldest places in South Africa, and the winter of 1964 was one of the coldest winters ever. I had borrowed my mother’s car to drive to Pietermaritzburg and take some fellow students to Modderpoort, and as we drove up Van Reenen’s Pass with a full load the engine temperature dropped to “cold” and the heater stopped working — the water was simply not hot enough to warm the cold air. From Bethlehem to Modderpoort we passed patches of snow — but the snow had fallen a fortnight earlier.
I lost touch with Noel Lebenya after 1965. I went to study overseas in 1966, and on my return in 1968 I was in Durban and then Namibia. His daughter Palesa filled me in on some of the details, but her parents separated when she was quite young, so she is still hoping to learn more details of his life. He seems to have spent some time on Robben Island, and perhaps with his social work background he was starting a centre for the disabled in Daveyton in the early 1990s and continued to work on it for about 10-12 years.
It was good to have news of him from his daughter Palesa, and the picture of him, looking older (don’t we all?). Palesa completed her LlB degree at the University of Johannesburg last year, and is now articled as an attorney, but the picture is of her half-sister’s graduation.
Of the other people in the blanket photo, I last saw Henry Bird in the early 1980s. He was living in Eshowe, and working as an estate and general agent, when we were living in Melmoth. David Short visited us in 1987, and is living in Bedfordshire, England, where he is a shepherd; he has a web site here. I saw Jerry Mosimane in Johannesburg a few times in 1968, after my return from studying in England, but lost touch with him after moving to Durban.
Martin and Wendy Goulding
Yesterday we visited Martin and Wendy Goulding in Melville, Johannesburg. Martin also attended ASF conferences in the early 1960s, and we have seen them more often, since they were living in Durban when I went there in 1969.
Martin has retired as a chemist in a glue factory, and they usually live in a cottager in the Drakensberg foothills, but they were in Johannesburg to help their daughter Elizabeth with their latest grandchild, Rebecca, aged just four weeks when we visited.
When we were students Martin had an old Morris Minor and we did some of our frenetic running around and seeing people in that, except that it often broke down, and so the journeys either took longer than expected, or had to be completed with another vehicle.
In July 1965 he drove to Johannesburg from Durban to give me a lift back to Pietermaritzburg for the next university term. The car died in Villiers, and he had to hitchhike the rest of the way. We hitchhiked back to Villiers, and discovered that the car dynamo was dead. We spend an uncomfortable night sleeping in the car, and fortunately discovered someone in Villiers who could sell us another dynamo on a Sunday morning.
Back in Durban Martin said that one of the stories that had always impressed him was the story of the sinking of the SS Titanic, and while the ship was sinking the orchestra sat on the deck playing “Nearer my God to thee”. We then went for a drive in the Morris Minor, with Martin sitting on the roof playing “Nearer my God to thee” on his ‘cello. A traffic cop stopped us and stopped our fun by insisting that all passengers must be inside the vehicle.
Barbara van der Want
Perhaps the most astounding of all these old friends meetings was when we had knocked on the Gouldings’ gate, and Martin had just opened it to let us in, I heard someone calling me from across the street, and it turned out to be Barbara van der Want (formerly Hutton), who happened to be passing at that moment and saw me.
I knew she lived just down the road at Westdene, but I hadn’t seen her since about 1973. She too had been at most of these student gatherings in the 1960s. We did not have much time to talk, as she was off to a meeting, but she did have time to tell me that another friend, Pam Trevelyan (nee Taylor) had died last year.
One of the memories we chatted about with the Goulding was of a journey we had taken in a short September vacation in 1965. We were meant to go in Martin Goulding’s Morris Minor, but it broke down, and we went in a borrowed car from Pietermaritzburg to Johannesburg — Martin, Pam Taylor, Isobel Dick (now Beukes) and me.
After seeing friends in Johannesburg, we went east to Holy Rood Mission, on the Swaziland border near Piet Retief, and spent the night there. It was just the four of us, sitting round a table lit by candles and paraffin lamps, and we were telling each other the sad stories of our love life, tales of unrequited love.
When it was late, and we were about to go to bed Pam disappeared, and came back and gave us each a card, on which was printed. “Thank you for telling me your story. It is the saddest story I have ever heard. Please accept this card as a token of my deepest sympathy.” She said her father had had them printed to give to people who came to him with sob stories. And now it was sad to hear that Pam had died.
It has definitely been old friends month.
And perhaps there is just space for a couple more pictures and stories.
After one of those student conferences at Modderpoort a group of us went to a Sunday service at Meadowlands, which was Cyprian Moloi’s home parish (that was when he was still a student, before he was ordained). There was quite a big group of us, with John Davies, the Anglican chaplain at Wits, and his family. Mark Davies, aged 4, was deaf, and John Davies said that the only way a deaf child could see what the church was about was if people in the church showed him love, and did not scold him for being too noisy, as he had no idea how much noise he was making.
After the service we were gathered found the door, and Barbara van der Want (Hutton), leaned forward to look around some people to see Mark Davies coming out of the church, and Cyprian pulled out a packet of cigarettes and offered her one saying, “All right, I know what you want.” All the smokers roared with laughter. As a non-smoker, I didn’t get it at first, but it appeared that at the conference Barbara had been bumming cigarettes off everyone so that she no longer had to ask.
That same night I borrowed a friend’s motorbike to take Barbara home to Kensington , where she lived. It was a puny 75cc bike, and could not make it over Sylvia Pass with both of us aboard, so we went the long way round via Gilooly’s farm. We planned to go to Evensong at Barbara’s home parish of St Andrew’s. Because of the detour, we were late, and because of the cold, we were both wearing blankets, as we did at Modderpoort. That set the cat among the pigeons. Churches were a good deal more fussy about how one dressed in those days, and the following Sunday the Rector, Tom Comber, preached a special sermon on it, in which he said that the only garment one needs to wear to church is the garment of charity.
And to close off, here’s an extract from my diary for 3 July 1964, at the ASF conference, which mentions both Stephen Gawe and Noel Lebenya.
I woke up feeling sick, so did not go to Mass, but got up for breakfast at 8 am. Then Miss D. Aitken, principal of the Rhenish High School at Stellenbosch, spoke on Evolution, Science and Christianity, which was largely based on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
In the afternoon the Bishop of Bloemfontein gave a review of The Primal Vision which was interesting, but not of much use to people who had not read the book, and most hadn’t. Reports from discussion groups showed that most people had dismissed it as being of no value whatever.
In the evening we sang songs, and then later on a few of us – John de Beer, Noel Lebenya, Stephen Gawe and I, sat around talking long after midnight. Noel told us about his many girlfriends, and his steady in Bloemfontein. The rest of us argued with him about this – saying that if he expected to be able to trust his steady, she should be able to trust him. He is a nice guy, went to school in Thaba Nchu, and then worked for a while, and is now in his first year at Turfloop, doing social work. He had taken to wearing a blanket around the place, and it seems to suit him. His grandfather was a Mosotho.
Everyone else drifted off to bed, and only Stephen Gawe and I were left. We played a couple of games of chess – he beat me easily both times. Then we talked about people at the conference, and who would be suitable to elect to the executive at the AGM tomorrow. Mike Stevenson was the obvious choice for President, if he would stand again. Stephen thought Clive Whitford for Vice-President, and I thought Jeremiah Mosimane would be better. He is doing 2nd year BA at Turfloop. We both thought Mavourneen Moffett would be good as Secretary. Then, as it was about 4 am, we said Mattins together, and prayed, and went to bed, lying next to the fire in the common room.
One of the nice things about blogging is that it one suddenly gets discovered by old friends, or their children, so the last few weeks have been very interesting.