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Healing the past in order to move forward

Linda, second from left, with Lizzie, Mama Shirley, Kathy and Mary Jean at St John's in 2023

Graham Bresick was very involved in the parish initiative ‘Home is where the Heart is’. His article in the Easter 1992 Parish Profile posed the question whether we were ready for the new South Africa or not. “How far can we move forward together without understanding the past?” he asked. He gives more background to Linda's story, as she has retells it here.

“The Group Areas Act (1950) enabled the then National Party government to declare certain areas for use by a single race only. It was one of a number of apartheid policies that impacted families at St Johns Church and in the parish** (see below).

“Linda Pedersen’s account below describes the impact on the Sasman family at Emmanuel church in the 1960s. It shows how within our parish boundaries one family was forced to move out of their home in Putney Rd, Wynberg, that was later occupied by another member of the parish. There are no figures on how many parish families endured similar experiences. Given the proximity of Newlands, Claremont / Harfield, Kenwyn etc to St Johns church, there will have been a few. The ensuing heartache and pain was repressed by most who were traumatised by such experiences. This was clear during a parish initiative in 1992.  Talking about it was too painful. A death in affected families not long after removal was not uncommon, adding immeasurably to their loss.”


Linda tells her story:

“My experience of the Group Areas Act was unusual. During the early 1960's we moved into a small house in Wynberg - an area, which had been designated as a ‘white’ area, and the ‘coloured’ people who had been living there for many years had been ordered to leave.  As a child I was unaware of the political issues but I was aware that it was unusual to be living amidst people who were ‘different’  - this made no difference to any of us who lived there or if it did I was unaware of it. As children we just played together. As neighbours, we shared our daily living routines and needs if we had any. There was peace and generosity and a sense of community, which my mother, brother and I appreciated deeply.


“We had moved into a house, which had been vacated by one of the first families affected by the Act - the Sasmans. As I grew up I heard a lot about them for they had been loved and respected by the community and there was a deep sadness about their departure as well as the fact that Mr Sasman had passed away a few months after their move.


"Over the next seven years we would witness the slow but steady breaking down of the close-knit and solid community as people were moved out family-by-family.

I remember seeing the arrival of the white VW Beetle cars with the GG registration plate. This meant that someone had received the dreaded letter informing them that they were the next family to be moved.


"There was no fuss made. People left with dignity and grace. There would be prayer meetings and sad farewells but some people chose just to move out quietly and quickly - perhaps to avoid humiliation if they resisted.  All I remembered was the growing emptiness and sadness of the street.


"Years went by and we had our own loss, which meant that we had to leave the area as orphans and we would then live a very different kind of a life with many changes, but I cherish the memories of those years as being safe and solid.


Article by Dot Syce in Parish newsletter

Article by Dottie in Oct/Nov 1992 Parish Profile

"A decade later I met and married my husband at CCK but we moved to another church shortly after that.  However, I maintained ties with St John's Parish through friendships and connections with family-members.  In fact, it was at a family lunch with my sister-in-law Lynn Pedersen that my attention was drawn to an article in a Parish newsletter. It told the story of the effect of the Group Areas Act upon members of St John's Parish.  In particular, there was the account of one member of Emmanuel Church - Dotty Syce - formerly Dotty Sasman. She told of how her family had been ousted from Putney Road and she expressed the pain as they were wrenched away from their community. I recognised her as being the Dotty I had always heard about.


"The home she spoke of was the house where my family and I had lived for almost a decade. I felt Dotty's pain and I remembered the pain of that community as there were all uprooted and forced to live where they did not choose to be.


"This article moved me deeply and I felt led to write to her, explaining who I was and how I felt about having lived in her house, so full of memories as well as pain and of how having lived for a while in her community had enriched and shaped me.


"To my relief, Dotty responded to my letter in such a positive way and we arranged to meet at Kirstenbosch.  We had an immediate rapport and we swapped tales about the community we had both known - I as the ‘white’ girl and she as the ‘coloured,’ who had to leave it all behind. Dotty invited me to meet her family and friends and what a wonderful experience that was!


"I remember in particular her 50th birthday party as well as her mother's funeral where I once more saw people who had lived in Putney Road, who had faithfully attended the funeral.


"Consequently, we were asked to speak together during the Lenten course at St John's and were astounded at how moved people were by our joint story. Some people just came and held us. It was a true privilege to have participated in this event and to receive people's love and forgiveness. I don’t think I need to spell out how that felt as a white person.


"The years went by too quickly and unfortunately we didn’t manage to visit each other very frequently so we lost touch for quite a long while.  It was a shock when I bumped into Dotty's brother Tony and he told me that Dotty had passed away three months before. I felt very sad and regretful for my neglect of a friendship that had held such promise but at least I have the happy memory of that time. I've realized only recently how deeply affected Dotty was by our contact so I'm grateful for that.


"I trust that one day we will renew our friendship in a better place with all joy!" concludes Linda.

Graham Bresick in 1989

** The Group Areas Act had wide impact on St John’s Parish. After Emmanuel church was planted, its confirmees were no longer confirmed in St Johns church. In another context that would make sense and even be welcomed, but it was seen at the time, as the parish bending to apartheid policies.

In 1966 the primary school Graham Bresick attended in Broad Road, Wynberg - a 1km walk from home - was closed when the area stretching north of Broad Rd (including Putney Rd in Linda’s article) was declared a ‘whites only’ area. The school was moved 5 kms away to Lansdowne - no longer in easy walking distance.  During the 70’s Graham and Jenny met at parish events and later started courting but had to do so secretly to avoid being noticed and risk arrest. Both lived in Wynberg but on opposite sides of the railway line separating races. Their relationship also transgressed another apartheid policy – a story for another time.


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