As I really enjoy the history of many things, mainly because its like a story where you can create a timeline and actually see yourself as part of a specific period in time, which is actually history, I would like to introduce to you the first of a few history lessons on the history of the People of Paarl.
I managed to get someone who will be able to tell you the story of The Ou Tuin. For those of us young generations who do not know where this place was, it was situated along the Berg River near the Paarl Municipality building.
HUMBLE BEGINNING, HUMBLER ENDING
Why is it so that I cannot remember what I had for breakfast two days ago, but can clearly remember relatively unimportant events that happened more than fifty years ago? Maybe the brain stores those memories in a different compartment exactly for moments this, at the start of a nostalgic journey like the one I am going to embark upon today. It is a journey of approximately sixteen years, at least ten of which is so vividly etched within that compartment I referred to earlier, and I am privileged to share them with you.
On a fateful day in September of 1967 I witnessed, as an impressionable sixteen year-old, how my father turned around for the last time, with tears in his eyes, to the empty shell of a building that was our home for the past sixteen years. He walked, head bowed, to the truck loaded with all our possessions, and our lives, to be transported to a place completely unknown to us. The excitement of moving house was completely drowned by the knowledge that we were not relocating because we wanted to, but were told to by some people in authority who deemed our skin colour inferior to theirs and therefore rendering us not acceptable to live near to them. This was part of a process which sounded the demise of a close-knit, poor, largely uneducated, but proud community, a community many people looked down upon, sometimes scornfully, but a community that made me who I am today and of which I was, and still is, immensely proud to have been a member of. The community I am referring to was made up of the good (and sometimes bad) people of the “Ou Tuin”.
It may seem strange that I start my story at the end of an era, but I felt that there are not many people around today who remember what happened 48 years ago, and even fewer 10 years before that, the time this journey started, and the time reference is therefore important. I believe we need some geographical clarity about the Ou Tuin as it was perceived by the authorities on the one hand, and the one embraced by its residents on the other. The area bounded Breda, New, Weiss Streets and the Berg River was generally regarded as the Ou Tuin by the authorities and historians alike. In our small world, however, our daily lives revolved around the area Weiss, Breda, du Toit Streets and non-descript street joining du Toit and Weiss, referred to by the authorities as “off-du Toit” Street. It is ironic that this short alley, which the authorities did not even bother to name, was the heart and soul of the Ou Tuin which I came to know and love and remember today, more specifically number 5 off-du Toit Street, our official street address at the time.
I was told by my late mother that I was born at exactly 08h00 in what was then a one bedroom house on the banks of the Berg River on 16 May 1951. I was reminded about this during my adult life every year on that date and at that exact time when my mother called me, without fail, to wish me on my birthday, until the day she passed away. I was also told very early on that a certain Nurse Goetham delivered and cared for me for the first few days of my life. I remember how I admiringly watched her (she was one of at least two mid-wives in the area) faithfully doing her rounds delivering babies in the Ou Tuin. It was amazing how one develops an affinity for someone quite remote from oneself, based purely on the notion that this person somehow had been part of an important occasion in one’s life. I remember one day walking up to her as a teenager and asking her if remembers me, and to my astonishment she knew everything about me, who my parents are, how many brothers and sisters I had. Suffice to say my admiration for her just grew tenfold on that day.
I find it almost appropriate that my first real memories of my life would be my first day at Holy Trinity EC Primary School. Today I find it hard to believe that the public park on the corner of du Toit and Dercksen Streets once housed classrooms from Grade 1 to Grade 7 (I am using the modern terminology for those unfamiliar with the old terms) and playgrounds big enough for rugby and netball to be played during breaks.
Clad in my khaki “uniform” (church schools seemingly did not have a uniform in those days) I found myself right in front of the queue before we entered the classroom of Miss Fortuin, who thinking back, I thought was the nicest, most beautiful teacher any six year-old could wish for on that daunting first day at school, and as it turned out for the rest of that year. I ran home after school that day exclaiming that I came first in class, obviously thinking that the position in that queue determined that status. I remember how my parents mocked me for that, and maybe that made me realise that I had to live up to that standard academically for the rest of my primary school life, which fortunately, with teachers like Miss Fortuin, I managed to achieve.
The Ou Tuin presented many challenges for any youngster growing up, and the general dearth of role models within the community unfortunately resulted in wrong choices being made by young boys and girls. Many of us will therefore be eternally grateful for the influence of our teachers at primary schools like Holy Trinity, Bethel Congregational in Templer Street and Zions Primary in the Main Road and later Noorder Paarl High School. Other teachers at Holy Trinity, like Miss Mathee, Mrs Ann Sendin, Mr Karriem (he came all the way from Worcester), Mr Willy Hartle, Mrs Eileen Sampson and our principal Mr Weber became part of our lives. These are the people who nurtured us, taught us values, educated us and I am today what they influenced me to be.
Extra-curricular activities always seem to stand out in the memory of any child, and, despite being deemed to be some sort of a dysfunctional community in certain quarters, the Ou Tuin was no exception, but more about that later.