Home at last, af­ter be­ing ‘killed’

Capetalk pre­sen­ter Sara-jayne King’s best-sell­ing book is a poignant re­minder of apartheid

Sunday Tribune - - NEWS&VIEWS - BRON­WYN DAVIDS

THE au­thor of best-sell­ing au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Killing Karo­line, is prov­ing that the tit­u­lar char­ac­ter is alive and well and liv­ing in­side Capetalk late night pre­sen­ter, jour­nal­ist and au­thor, Sara-jayne King.

Karo­line was born on Au­gust 1, 1980, in a hos­pi­tal in Sand­ton to a white Bri­tish woman, Kris, and her white South African hus­band, Ken. The cou­ple had met at col­lege in Eng­land, where they stud­ied for ca­reers in the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try.

Days af­ter the birth, Kris re­alised that her baby did not look like Ken and was mixed race, and she had to own up to a li­ai­son she had with a Sotho chef who worked at her fa­ther-in-law’s ho­tel, where she and Ken also worked.

Baby Karo­line was fer­reted to Eng­land un­der the pre­text that she was sickly and needed to re­ceive med­i­cal treat­ment there. In­stead, she was put up for adop­tion, just a month-and-a-half af­ter her birth.

She was adopted by Mal­colm and An­gela King from Sur­rey, who named her Sarah Jane (she later changed the spell­ing). Kris and Ken re­turned to Jo­han­nes­burg and told Ken’s fam­ily that baby Karo­line had died in Eng­land.

Launched last month, King’s first book has al­ready shot up to num­ber two spot on the South African non-fic­tion best-seller list, hot on the heels of the num­ber one best-seller by Trevor Noah.

“I am a cit­i­zen, a proper South African,” said King, who spent the first 26 years of her life in Eng­land.

“I love it. To come from a coun­try, at that time of apartheid and be its worst night­mare, this mix­ing of races, this aw­ful, aw­ful thing, to have to be taken out of the coun­try in se­crecy and all the rest of it and Sara-jayne King (baby Karo­line) as a child, above left, and now, right, at her home in Camps Bay, Cape Town. In the main pic­ture, she is in front. She wrote a book called Killing Karo­line which deals with her birth to a Bri­tish woman and Sotho man dur­ing apartheid. to come back and to live here.

“I walk down the street, it’s like I’m lift­ing two fin­gers up, I just think: ‘Yeah, you tried and failed’ be­cause I came back and I live here, I pay tax, it is my home.”

“And I will never leave. Eng­land is not home. I will never go back to live there. I will die here. There’s a lot of emo­tion; there’s a lot of pull at­tached here.

“When you’ve been taken from some­where you came from and you have been es­sen­tially killed from that part of your life and then to come back and live as your true self… is huge. I don’t view it as be­ing on a per­ma­nent hol­i­day, this is home, this home,” King added.

At her home in Camps Bay, sur­rounded by the two big “loves of her life” – her “very sig­nif­i­cant other” and her dog Siza – King darts in and out of the darks, lows and lights of her life story, all while ap­ply­ing her make-up with dex­ter­ity.

Dur­ing her first year at the Univer­sity of Green­wich in Lon­don, where she was study­ing law, King con­tacted “the bi­o­log­i­cal mother” who had al­ways kept the adop­tion agency in­formed about her where­abouts, which in­cluded the times she lived in Ger­many and Italy.

Kris had in­formed the agency that should King wish to con­tact her one day, she should do so through Kris’s par­ents who lived in Eng­land.

“So on the ba­sis of that, I con­tacted her. I wrote them this kind, hes­i­tant let­ter be­cause I did not want to up­set them. They were hor­ri­fied be­cause I don’t think that she had told them that she had given their ad­dress.

“Her par­ents wrote that they knew about me. They wrote: ‘This is a fam­ily de­ci­sion, we don’t want to have any­thing to do with you. We have for­warded your let­ter.’ It is so strange, not from the point of view of why don’t you want to have any­thing to do with me and why don’t you want me to be part of the fam­ily, but from the point of ‘why leave your de­tails?’”

Kris even­tu­ally replied, said King, and “I was so stunned when she sent this let­ter, say­ing es­sen­tially: ‘Leave me alone. You were the big­gest mis­take I ever made. I don’t want to be in touch with you. I don’t want con­tact with you’.”

With her let­ter, Kris in­cluded Karo­line’s “clas­si­fied white” South African birth cer­tifi­cate and the name and photograph of her bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther.

“She holds all the in­for­ma­tion that there is. It is hard; there is this part of me that I will never know. I don’t even know if she has given me his right name. I’ve tried to find him. I hired pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors to find him and there’s no trace of him. He would have been 67. She is 59 years old,” she added.

“It is this thing with adoptees, called the pri­mal wound. You have it in you that your bi­o­log­i­cal mother did not want you and has re­jected you. It is re­jec­tion from a pri­mal level and a pre-ver­bal level. There would have been a part of her that knew that I may not have been her hus­band’s child.”

When King first vis­ited the adop­tion agency in 2001, a pic­ture of a lit­tle blonde white boy with brown eyes fell out of her file.

“I said ‘who’s this?’ and was told by the adop­tion agent, ‘that’s your brother’. So she sent a pic­ture and this is why it seemed so strange to me.”

King found her half brother, Alex, via the in­ter­net. They com­mu­ni­cated for years and when she came to South Africa in 2007, from a year of liv­ing in Dubai to re­hab in Jo­han­nes­burg, they met and have built up a some­what ten­u­ous con­nec­tion for over 10 years now.

While King ex­celled aca­dem­i­cally, ob­tain­ing her hon­ours law de­gree and a mas­ters de­gree in jour­nal­ism from the Univer­sity of Can­ter­bury, she was en­dur­ing dark times which in­cluded the sec­ond re­jec­tion by Kris, and the loss of both her older adop­tive brother Adam and her fa­ther Mal­colm, within a few years.

She was plunged into a life of eat­ing dis­or­ders and al­co­hol abuse, and be­came ad­dicted to over-the-counter med­i­ca­tion.

As King grap­pled with the puzzles and in­con­sis­ten­cies of her life, she carved out a ca­reer in broad­cast jour­nal­ism and talk ra­dio and cur­rently has a late-night Cape Talk ra­dio slot which she “loves” be­cause she “can talk about any­thing”.

“The part that I love is find­ing guests. It’s fun and it’s awe­some, I won­der ‘how am I go­ing to fill 20 min­utes?’ then I get a guy who can just speak for half an hour,” said King, who does six 20-minute in­ter­views in three hours every night from Sun­days to Thurs­days.

About the fu­ture, King hopes to have a baby one day, which “is go­ing to be the most amaz­ing thing, I can’t wait; it will be just the joy of hav­ing my own child, look­ing into the face, find­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties”.

Mean­while, she said she would con­tinue to do what she does best: broad­cast­ing, walk­ing her dog on the beach, play­ing her mu­sic (she’s an ac­com­plished pi­anist, singer and cello player) and writ­ing more books.

Killing Karo­line all book shops. is avail­able at

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