Apartheid sent my mom on path to an indecent funeral

The depth of pain inflicted to black lives and the callousness with which apartheid treated blacks everywhere is immeasurable, the writer says.
The depth of pain inflicted to black lives and the callousness with which apartheid treated blacks everywhere is immeasurable, the writer says.
Image: Andrzej Sawa/Sunday Times

In Cry the Beloved Country, Alan Paton captures the pain of Mfundisi Khumalo over the death of his son by hanging. But another thing that he discusses was the deplorable life of constant dribbling that citizens were subjected to in engaging with the state.

Mfundisi Khumalo, whose life in Mahlabathini, KwaZulu-Natal, was of openness and simplicity with fellow citizens, was troubled and perplexed by his brother's life of inexplicable parables.

Although on leaving Mahlabathini for Johannesburg the Mfudinsi was overpowered by the folly of worldliness and trivia.

He leaned over the window and with a somewhat loud voice for everyone on the train platform to hear as he bade family goodbye "I will let you know when I reach Johannesburg".

Villagers responded with a mixture of respect, surprise and innocuous envy when they learnt that Mfundisi was off to eGoli.

My father, a teacher by profession, was the eldest of the siblings of three brothers and two sisters. The one sister was a teacher and the other a nurse. The teacher, with her husband, both taught in Nigel while the nurse practised in Cape Town.

Annually during school holidays my aunt and her family would be back home in Lesotho.

We were always envious of the life they lived in the republic and keen to visit Johannesburg.

In 1964, my mother, who was also a teacher, was diagnosed with cancer and was transferred from Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Maseru to Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto.

My father, together with his brothers-in-law, would visit her in hospital. It is here that on one of the visits they had the Mfundisi Khumalo's moment of anxiety of constant dribbling that citizens had to engage with in their dealings with the law and amongst themselves.

They would frequently regale us with an encounter they never forgot of, an instance where a tsotsi intruded where they were accommodated.

I also finally visited eGoli when my father and other family members visited my mother at Baragwanath Hospital during Easter holidays in 1964.

With much deeper concern, my father would engage his sisters when they were home in Lesotho on how they survive in what he considered and experienced as a life of deception, aggression and backdoor transactions.

But my father was soon to know the answer to his question in the most inhumane of ways.

My mother succumbed to cancer in October 1964.

Twenty years later in 1984, I came to know the gory details of my father's encounter with apartheid and its state-inspired notion of the dilemma of citizenry dribbling the law - the mortal remains of my mother had to be repatriated to Lesotho.

In 1982, I got employed by the Bophuthatswana government. Two years later, I was taking a state vehicle to a government garage in Mmabatho, a routine task that was not to be routine on that day.

Upon filling in the forms, an elderly man took interest in the form I was filling.

He asked me "son, is this your name?" I told him "yes rre, Pali Lehohla is my name".

With excitement he asked "are you the son of the late Masekake Lehohla?" and I said yes I am. He said "in October 1964, the remains of your mother had to be registered against my residential address in Soweto. The Nigel address of your aunt would not work.

"Authorities demanded an address in Soweto and Paki Moaki, who is also your relative, refused to risk his address."

Rre Moseki took the risk and the mortal remains of my mother could leave to Lesotho for burial.

Last year, in discussion with my eldest brother, I came to realise that in fact my mother, before interment, never got extended the rights of passage through a night vigil. She got buried upon arrival.

All this as a result of the apartheid laws. The depth of pain inflicted to black lives and the callousness with which apartheid treated blacks everywhere is immeasurable.

Dr Lehohla is SA's former statistician-general. Meet him on www.pie.org.za and @PaliLehohla on Twitter.

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