A fam­ily’s sac­ri­fice for SA’s free­dom

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

THE flat in the North Lon­don sub­urb of Muswell Hill, 36 Wood­lands Gar­dens, had been home to the Septem­ber fam­ily since the 1960s.

Reg Septem­ber held in his hand a letter he had read and reread, paus­ing as the mem­o­ries scat­tered his thoughts over the dis­tance of time and place.

Reg had been im­pris­oned for five months dur­ing the 1960 State of Emer­gency. He was banned af­ter his re­lease and a year later the state or­dered him to re­sign as sec­re­tary of the Coloured Peo­ple’s Congress (CPC).

In 1962 he had been ar­rested and charged for at­tend­ing a CPC meet­ing. While Reg had been out on bail, the un­der­ground lead­er­ship of the SACP in­structed him to leave the coun­try.

His last hid­ing place in Cape Town be­fore leav­ing in March was the Zeeko­evlei home of David McA­dam of the Cape Town Boys Choir. Af­ter his first night in the house he was wo­ken early by the rau­cous sounds of birds. From Edgar Mau­rice, a child­hood friend who vis­ited later in the day, he learnt his neigh­bours in the area in­cluded flamin­gos, pel­i­cans and cor­morants.

Edgar had brought a por­ta­ble ra­dio, a val­ued gift which al­lowed Reg, while in hid­ing, to be in touch with the world.

His route from Cape Town to Jo­han­nes­burg be­gan at Bel­lville sta­tion. He was met by Kathy Kathrada in a town out­side Jo­han­nes­burg.

“I was put up at Kathy’s place,” was Reg’s sparse re­call. “Un­for­tu­nately he was ar­rested one night and I was moved to Dur­ban. Ap­par­ently the com­rades there had con­tacts on a cer­tain ship go­ing to Dar es Salaam. But it was dis­cov­ered the au­thor­i­ties were keep­ing an eye on the ship.

“Ap­par­ently they had traced it back to Bar­ney (De­sai), who had trav­elled on the same ship pre­vi­ously.”

Reg even­tu­ally found his way to Swazi­land, where he was joined in Oc­to­ber 1963 by his wife, Hetty. Their children, Mark, 3, and Peter, 1, re­mained be­hind in Heath­field with Hetty’s mother. They joined their par­ents in Lon­don in 1965.

The light-blue aero­gram letter Reg held in his hand was dated 30 De­cem­ber 1970 and was from Ni­cholas Septem­ber, Reg’s fa­ther. It was a re­sponse to a letter from Reg and in his re­ply the old man’s long­ing is sim­ply ex­pressed: “I wept in glad­ness af­ter so many years”.

The writer’s large, un­even script fills the page and spells out the thoughts and spirit of a man at peace with his lot in life.

But it is not so with his son’s po­lit­i­cal choices. Reg and Hetty are cau­tioned to “both think se­ri­ously” about what they were do­ing. They are en­cour­aged to for­give “and for­get the past”.

The letter was the last com­mu­ni­ca­tion between Reg and his dad, who passed away on 20 Fe­bru­ary 1971. He had been a keen fish­er­man and life pres­i­dent of the Coastal An­gling Club and “the old­est reg­is­tered angler” of the Western Prov­ince An­glers’ As­so­ci­a­tion.

Read­ing the letter, Reg, the 47-year old chief rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the ANC with over­sight of the UK and Western Europe, learnt his older sib­lings Gwen and Ce­cil had died and two of his neph­ews had em­i­grated: “Small Ce­cil gone to Aus­tralia. Ed­man gone to Canada.” His sis­ter Jessie would die in the same decade.

By the time Reg re­turned home, two decades later, none of his im­me­di­ate fam­ily was alive to wel­come him and reac­quaint him with the fa­mil­iar things in life that had con­tin­ued de­spite his ab­sence.

Reg had last seen his fa­ther in the months be­fore he left for ex­ile. Theirs was a tacit acknowledgement to fo­cus on the present and not to pon­der the rea­sons for the long spells of ab­sence and sud­den, un­ex­pected vis­its. Con­ver­sa­tions were mostly about fish­ing or cricket; the health and well­be­ing of Reg’s sib­lings. The walk from the front door to the street was marked by com­ments on the state of the gar­den.

Thoughts of those whom he loved and had sur­ren­dered to death would have been on the mind of Regi­nald Septem­ber when he cast his first vote for a New South Africa in 1994.

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