Wild life enthusiast and keen birder.Travelled extensively in the USA and Southern Africa.
When Two Worlds Meet (Part one)
As Jennifer looked at her watch she realized that she would have to hurry to pick up her daughter Mary at the aftercare centre at Stirling Primary, and then the phone rang. “Not now!” Her heart sank as the phone seemed to call out an urgent need to be answered. Here, at the Nahoon Nature Reserve Office of the Cape Nature Department, she was certain that someone was in trouble to phone at this time. “I will have to answer”; her conscience dictated her behaviour. So, already worrying that Mary would be waiting outside the school, she answered. “This is Nokwe, the security guard at Nahoon Reef. There are some children robbing the rocks of shellfish near Bats Cave. Can you come quickly?”
Her mind raced because she knew that the removal of critical sea life on that side of the Nahoon Nature reserve was a serious problem. So she made a quick decision. “Nokwe, watch them, I am coming, but don’t let them see you!” As Stirling was on the way to Nahoon she would pick up Mary on the way. So, closing the office in record time, she dashed off to the other side of the Nahoon River Nature reserve via Stirling Primary.
“Where are we going to so fast Mom?” the wide eyed Mary asked as they sped past the East London Golf course taking some serious hits on the speed bumps along the narrow road. “I just got called out because someone is destroying the rock-life near Batscave.” “What are you going to do?” “I will try to catch them” she replied with some doubt in her voice. On arrival at the parking lot and instructing Mary to stay in the locked car, she ran along the walkway that overlooks the reef area towards East London. There was Nokwe crouched behind some coastal bush pointing to the three young people who with levers in one hand and bags in the other, were searching for any kind of shell fish including mussels, oysters and periwinkles.
“What are we going to do?” Nokwe asked. “You go down to the beach at the Nahoon reef and wait for them there”. “Catch them when they come through the narrow gap there and try and get some of the surfers to help you if you can. We have to stop this ruining of the environment on the beach in the Nature Reserve. It has to stop.” “What about me Mom?” a little voice startled Jennifer and Nokwe. “Mary! I told you to stay in the car!” “Yes Mom but I want to help”. “This can easily become dangerous Mary, you have to listen to me!” “Yes Mom”. “Go back to the car and wait for me and keep the doors locked.” “I am going to try and herd them towards Nokwe and hopefully she will get some help and manage to catch them. I am going to walk down the steps and get on the East London side of them and then chase them towards the Reef.
“Mom I know those children! That is Kola, Simla and Francina. They all go to Stirling and are all good sport people. Jennifer’s heart skipped a beat. “Are you sure?” “Yes Mom, I am sure! Let me come with you and we can talk to them! They are good kids. They will listen to you and me.” So plan B or was it plan C went into action. Holding her daughter’s hand, Jennifer walked down the steps toward the rocky beach area. As soon as the children on the beach saw them they began to run. Not towards the Nahoon Reef as Jennifer had hoped, but towards the Bat’s Cave area and East London. “Wait!” Mary called out, “it is me, Mary.” But off they went like the wind along the beach to soon disappear up a dune and into the coastal forest.
Realizing that her plans A, B and C had failed, Jennifer and Mary walked back to the parking area and then drove to the Nahoon Reef area to tell Nokwe. “Why would children who attend a good school be destroying the nature reserve?” Jennifer said, or rather asked Nokwe, who simply shook her head. Jennifer was already putting into place plan D and the next day she was able to discover the answer to o the question she had asked Nokwe.
A visit to the school and then a drive to the informal settlement near Gonubie was an eye opener and heart wrencher for Jennifer and Mary. She arranged, with permission from the children’s mother and the school, to take the children home after school so that she could talk to their parents. Three very scared faces of three young children looked at Mary who could not help wandering what was going to happen to them. Mary asked herself a thousand times if she had done the right thing in identifying them. The eldest of the children, Kola, guided them down the narrow dusty streets in the informal township.
For Jennifer it was indeed an eye opener. Like so many White South African’s she had never been in an informal settlement like this. It really seemed like a “no go area.”Shacks built of corrugated iron roofing metal followed each another in close proximity along narrow streets. There were no yards separating the dwellings and the only water available was an occasional tap. A row of toilets seemed to be the only evidence of any kind of service facilities available. As they arrived at the shack where the children lived, they saw many faces staring at them with suspicion. What was this white woman in her smart car doing in their area with the Booi children?
At the door of another shack stood a lady with a worried look on her face, giving a nervous wave to Jennifer. “That’s our house”, Kola whispered. What a surprise it was when Jennifer and Mary entered the door into the neat kitchen/dining room area. There was an old carpet on the floor, gas bottle under the table and a two plate stove on top. A very old fridge stood in the corner and along the other wall a cupboard. As Jennifer looked into the open door at the rest of the shack she could see that it consisted of only one room with a bed and mattresses on the floor.
“Please take a seat Mrs Johnson,” Mrs Booi pointed to one of the rickety chairs around the old kitchen table. Everything was spotlessly clean and neat and several simply framed certificates for a variety of sporting achievements hung of the walls. One was showing that Nokwe had represented Border Primary Schools at rugby and another that Francina had been named as the player of the tournament at the Border inter-schools netball tournament. There seemed to be nothing in the cupboard.
“This is a mess,” Mrs. Booi started to speak. “The children had told me that they were simply collecting sea food off the rocks like we used to where I grew up in the Transkei near Port St John’s. I had no idea that they were doing that in a nature reserve. What is going to happen to them? I have been so worried since yesterday when they came home late and told me that they were in trouble.”
Jennifer was going through a huge personal crises as she looked at the situation and was battling as to what to say. “I hope you do not mind me asking you some personal questions Mrs. Booi. Tell me something about your life. Where is your husband and how do you manage to support these three children who are attending a rather exclusive and expensive school in East London?”
For the next hour Jennifer heard some of the story of the struggle that this family had faced. She had somehow known that this must have been taking place all over South Africa. However, living in her “bubble” as a privileged South African, where really everything had been given her on a plate, she had never really met something like this face to face.
Grace Booi had grown up in a small coastal village in the Wild Coast. There she had excelled at her primary school but had never been given the opportunity of going to high school. She had got married young and much to her disappointment her husband had left her for another woman after she had given birth to these three children. She then decided to move to East London to give her children a better chance in life. A distant family member had told her about this informal settlement near Gonubie. She managed to get enough money together to secure some space with the local organizer and then managed to build this shack.
She found work with a family in Gonubie, and that had helped to support them. The children had attended the local primary school in the township and to her amazement all three had shown great athletic ability, so much so that they had caught the eye of one of the teachers at Stirling Primary. To her further amazement they had been offered full scholarships to attend that school in East London. Obviously the cost of transport and uniforms had taken most of her money and so she had worked at a second job at night at the local garage when they needed someone.
It was very difficult to put food on the table and they often had to depend on hand outs from local charities just to survive. The church they attended also helped with food parcels and so they were scraping by. Then the Covid 19 epidemic struck! The lady she worked for died and her husband moved to Cape Town to live with his daughter and so her job was gone.
At present she is getting the monthly child grant from the government but that hardly covers transport to school and uniforms. Not too long ago she had no food for a couple of days, so in order to put food on the table she took the children down to the nearby coast and showed them how to find rock food like mussels and oysters and periwinkles. This was something she had done as a young girl growing up on the Wild Coast. She was aware that there were areas that they could not gather food but had not known that they had moved into such an area in the Nahoon Nature Reserve until she got the phone call from Jennifer yesterday.
Jennifer had listened with amazement at Mrs Booi’s story and was moved by the reality of life faced by this woman and her family. “Can I ask you what food you have in your house now?’ She ventured into a place by asking that question that she had never imagined she would have ever asked anyone. “Really not much” Mrs. Booi replied, “but it is coming to the end of the month and then the child grants will mean I can buy some basic food stuffs like mielie meal, samp and beans.” Mary had been sitting quietly listening to this brave women talking about their lives and a tear ran down her cheek. “How is it possible that I have so much and these people have so little? What a strange world we live in”. There can be no doubt that Jennifer and Mary would never be the same again!
(Continued – Part 2 – The Booi children’s story)