Being descended from those who were forced to leave their own houses, explains novelist and freelance writer MIA ARDERNE, makes you a great deal more sensitive to the complexity and importance of that deceptively small word, “home”.
Iregularly rearrange my furniture. Just like my mother. The pandemic forced us all indoors and inwards, increasing the need to find peace in my space. Sometimes this is as simple as singing Joy’s Paradise Road alone in my flat at the top of my lungs while doing my laundry in a huisrok with a Scotch. Sometimes it’s not, and my need to escape my own mind leads me six benzos and two bottles deep into the unconscious.
“We had 24 hours in which to vacate our home,” reads my grandmother’s account of her family’s forced removal in 1964. “My husband was compelled as a result of the Group Areas Act to sell our property in 80 Church Street, Parow. He resisted until he was charged in the Bellville Court with the illegal occupation of his own home.”
Illegal occupation of his own home. What a concept. When there’s intergenerational trauma, leaving one’s space is not always associated with leisure or an Eat Pray Love trip. It’s something steeped in pain and resilience and survival and force and memory.
“I was obliged to sit on my stoep every day and guard the furniture,” continues the written testimony of Mrs GL McCrae – my grandmother. She is describing how they were locked out of their own home. “For a period of two years we were homeless, had moved three times, and were living with relatives and friends.” Their furniture went on to be stored in a friend’s garage over this time.
Nesting is something I associate with familiar objects, furniture and artefacts. It’s the AMC pots, and the lappies I got from my ma as trousseau. The inherited yet pristinely kept furniture that was once in my ma’s house now comforts me in my flat in the gentry where I still feel like an impostor.
Our property in Parow, forcibly sold to a white man for R3 500, has a present market value in excess of R1-million.
It’s my father’s curry almost ready on the stove; stealing a steaming potato while Heart FM 104.9 plays on a Sunday. A string of interwoven anecdotes I’ve heard retold over countless Sunday lunches. Like this one.
Unable to afford a car, my gran bought a bicycle. The nearest public library was 25km away, a distance she cycled every Saturday with a five-year-old and an eightyear-old on the back, as she considered it an essential part of their education.
Reflecting on the cocoon of home, the safety and familiarity of it, I often think of that cocoon being turned inside out, violently so, with everything precious being strewn out on the street, like my grandmother had. I reflect on the parallel today, in the middle of this pandemic, when the City of Cape Town plans to evict hundreds in the impending mass displacement in Woodstock, six decades after the Group Areas Act. I think about the absurd privilege of flying away as a choice.
Home is where you cry. You cry where your furniture is. Like my gran has. Like my mother does. I cry, curse, sing, pray and rearrange my furniture, until I’m whole.