Same town, sep­a­rate lives

Although some black and white res­i­dents of Ex­cel­sior say they have no prob­lem with each other, seg­re­ga­tion is still ob­vi­ous, writes Su­san Com­rie

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chance, the law has changed, so we have to be to­gether.”

Nkopane adds: “Dit is reg. Daar is geen prob­leme tussen ons en die wit mense. [That’s right, there’s no prob­lem be­tween us and the white peo­ple]. It’s re­ally a new South Africa.”

“There are peo­ple in town, they are our friends,” Mokgethi says.

“And they come and visit you, they come to drink tea with you – Mrs Born­man, Mrs Van der Walt…” Nkopane car­ries on nam­ing her Afrikaans friends us­ing hon­orifics.

Back in town, Hester agrees: “There [would be] no prob­lems with that now,” she says un­der the Vierkleur. “We haven’t got prob­lems with the blacks; the blacks haven’t got prob­lems with us.”

This week, racial di­vi­sions con­tin­ued with the open­ing of schools.

Although white fam­i­lies live in town, at Ex­cel­sior Com­bined School in the mid­dle of it, all pupils are black.

“It was a com­pletely white school, but since they started this CVO [pri­vate] school, the white peo­ple moved their kids out,” says Ma­ri­eta Boshoff, a re­tired teacher who taught at Ex­cel­sior Chris­te­like Volk­seie On­der­wys (CVO), a con­ser­va­tive Afrikaans school on the edge of town es­tab­lished soon af­ter schools were de­seg­re­gated in 1997.

“You know what hap­pened … they brought chil­dren from [Bot­sha­belo and Thaba ’Nchu] in buses and it was over­crowded, and the chil­dren at that stage weren’t too used to be­ing to­gether,” she says.

A woman who an­swers the phone at Ex­cel­sior Com­bined in town tells me it was a “po­lit­i­cal is­sue”, that it was “mostly the more right-ori­ented peo­ple who took their chil­dren out”.

“When the gov­ern­ment says they must mix, the whites moved out, and made them­selves that CVO school,” one of the women at the fu­neral tells me.

“It’s be­cause of racism,” Seoe agrees. “Most of the farm­ers, they are the ones whose kids are there. Imag­ine how it could be that you don’t want your kids to be with blacks, but on your farm you are work­ing with blacks?”

Other peo­ple we speak to say it is a lan­guage is­sue – al­though English re­mains the medium of in­struc­tion at Ex­cel­sior Com­bined School, af­ter Se­sotho be­came com­pul­sory, the few re­main­ing white chil­dren left.

Last year, the CVO school, which was re­named Ex­cel­sior Akademie, was forced to close af­ter strug­gling to sur­vive with only 12 pupils. The pupils who were left ei­ther moved to the board­ing school in Brand­fort, 80km away, or to Bloem­fontein.

In the cen­tre of town, the ma­jes­tic sand­stone Dutch Re­formed church at the end of Kerk Street is built to seat sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple.

But at the 10am ser­vice on Sun­day, I count fewer than 50 peo­ple in its pews.

In Mahlatswetsa, the 11am ser­vice is burst­ing with peo­ple and alive with singing. Although the cor­ner­stone says NG Kerk, this church is Unit­ing Re­formed Church, the post-1994 amal­ga­ma­tion of the black and coloured branches of the NG mis­sion churches.

Down the road, in a tiny cor­ru­gated iron shack, Steyn Mabina is get­ting ready for Sun­day’s ser­vice. This is the NG Kerk in Afrika, a splin­ter group that re­sisted the merger be­cause they wanted to re­main NG Kerk.

“If they’ve got a big meet­ing in the town, they call us to go there. We go and lis­ten to what is hap­pen­ing in NG Kerk,” Mabina says.

In town, the con­gre­ga­tion at the main church is so small that, ac­cord­ing to Hester, they can’t af­ford to hire a per­ma­nent preacher, while in Mahlatswetsa the con­gre­ga­tion meets in a makeshift struc­ture.

We ask sev­eral peo­ple why the two churches don’t come to­gether, but no one re­ally an­swers. In Ex­cel­sior, it’s just the way things are done.

PARTY PLACE

Club Roc­cafella in Mahlatswetsa,

where amaBerete stormed an af­ter-tears cel­e­bra­tion of a lo­cal ANC

ward coun­cil­lor

RACIAL DI­VIDE Lo­cal ANC ward coun­cil­lor Mat­sheo Seoe says there are still prob­lems with

racism in Ex­cel­sior

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