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
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.
Club Roccafella in Mahlatswetsa,
where amaBerete stormed an after-tears celebration of a local ANC
RACIAL DIVIDE Local ANC ward councillor Matsheo Seoe says there are still problems with
racism in Excelsior