Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ouma's Autumn

I found this little book at the Cape Town Book Fair almost by accident. I had a spare few minutes and decided to take a quick tour of the stands, something I don't usually have time for. I spotted some lovely photos and stepped up to the stand to get more information about them. The woman showed me the photos, they were actually cards one of which had the photo below:

I thought the photos were so lovely I bought two cards. Then the woman told me that the photos actually came from a book and she handed me Ouma's Autumn by Patricia Schonstein Pinnock (African Sun Press).

South Africa because of its cruel past has many sad stories. The Group Areas Act has produced some of the saddest. Imagine finding a piece of land, and through hard work, you manage to put up a house. Slowly you meet your neighbours and you all begin your families. Your kids grow up together. Your neighbourhood creates a history intricately woven into the history of your own family. This is your home. And then legislation decides, based solely on the colour of your skin, that that land, that area, that neighbourhood is no longer for you. You're given a moment to collect your things and you're thrown far away to places where only strangers live to buildings with no history at all.

Ouma's Autumn is the story of a little girl and her grandmother (her ouma) and their life in Harfield Village in Cape Town before the Group Areas Act tears them all apart. The story is told in first person from the little girl's point of view, somehow this makes it all more heartbreaking. Like a child would, the truth is told simply, just as seen, with no embellishments.

An example is when her grandfather returns from fighting in WWII. The soldiers had been promised "land and honour" by General Smuts but upon her grandfather's return, after he "left that part of a man which makes him believe life is something good" on the war fields of Europe, the General's promise was forgotten.

"And at home there was no honour waiting for him. General Smuts gave the boys who returned a wheelbarrow and a shovel and only the injured got a pension. Sam (her grandfather) asked for the piece of land he had been promised but he only got to understand that he'd been short-changed."

They lived in Hartfield, the girl and her Ouma, on a "...small road called Pembroke, so small you must watch for it..." The girl was left at home with the old woman while everyone else went off to school or work.
"Every morning I sat on the stoep with my Ouma watching life in the road. We knew all the families in the area and everything that happened."

Because of their daily seat, they were one of the first to spot the new danger. "Then one day Group Areas came to the neighbourhood... and my dreams began to fall apart."

This is a lovely little book, a book that teaches what is now history, in a simple, personal, matter of fact way that will take up a firm place in your mind, not easily nudged to the side. It has beautiful photos taken by Donald Pinnock. I tried to find the book on the internet and the only copy I found is $47.75, it is ranked at Albris as a collectible, I can believe that in a way. Scary I nearly passed this lovely book by.


Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Gosh, that was a lucky find, Lauri!

I've got Don Pinnock's The Rainmaker waiting to be read in my teetering TBR pile.

Gutsy Living said...

I love the photo. It looks modern with the shopping carts. Also the way you described the little girl's story. It almost sounds like material for a film, although, perhaps it's already been turned into a film I'm unaware of.

Lauri said...

Yes GW I think it could make a lovely film.

Judy- I'd never heard of the author or the photographer before and suddenly their names keep coming up everywhere.